I did not anticipate that I’d be sharing so many hot dog-related opinions on the internet this summer, but 2020 hasn’t gone as planned. A large portion of my brainspace is currently taken up by thoughts of warm-weather party foods, the things I’d grill on the roof and feed my friends in the best-case scenario version of this year. In this daydream, hot dogs feature prominently, but not just any old average link. My fantasy barbecue is perfect, with a stunning array of condiments and the premiere seasonal sausages that money can buy. Because I can, I do not settle (the way I might have in 2019) for a humdrum vessel, either. Only the best will do, and the best is a split-top bun.
It’s rare that something is both a feat of human engineering and a bread product, but split-top hot dog buns manage to check both boxes. Also called New England-style, top-sliced, or top-loading buns, split-tops were developed in the 1940s by the restaurant chain Howard Johnson’s to accommodate a fried clam sandwich. They are, as their name suggests, cut into on the top rather than the side, which makes them easier to fill and eat; this innovation predates side-sliced hot dog buns and is, by all measures, the superior way to go. Following in the tradition of the original clam sandwich, split-top buns are commonly used for lobster and crab rolls, as they are able to neatly hold a serious scoop of seafood salad. But I’d argue that anything that uses a bun as a vessel, from bratwurst to meatball subs to simple butterflied dogs, can be improved by using a bun that’s cut on the top.
The benefits of a split-top bun are numerous. First, from an efficiency standpoint, the construction puts the side-sliced versions to shame. Loading up a regular hot dog bun with all of the toppings and sauces you want is a tricky endeavor, involving using just one hand to shovel on the sauerkraut while the bun balances in your opposite palm. A top slit means that the flat bottom of the bun is actually opposite the opening, so you can spread the pocket wide and fill away while sturdily set on a plate or cutting board. Additionally, because the sides don’t need to be kept pristine for slicing, the best top-split buns are baked close together, such that they puff up and connect along the edges like a row of extra long Parker House rolls. This means you have to gently tear each roll apart from the pack, revealing two soft, pillowy sides that cooked while insulated from the oven's direct heat. Whether you opt for Sweet Hawaiian, potato, or even brioche, a top-sliced bun is the way to ensure you're getting both spongey edges and a stable base.
Though they are available for purchase outside the region, split-top buns are a northeastern phenomenon, so by the time I moved to the East Coast and they entered my life, I had nearly two decades of hot dog eating under my belt. I did not think, nor had I ever considered, that the iconic food of backyard grilling and baseball games could be improved upon in any way. Now that I live near enough to New England reap the food-related benefits, however, it's clear that the land of lobster rolls knows what it's doing when it comes to slicing a bun. Top-sliced rolls are the only ones you'll find awaiting their turn on the grill on my rooftop when I'm cooking for friends—even if this year, it's only in my dreams.
$6.00, Fresh Direct
Originally Appeared on Epicurious