I have formulated, I believe, the ultimate answer.
If you purchase a package of hot dogs from your local grocery store, bring it into your home and prepare as directed, then that time investment makes it a meal, not a snack. If you wander into a gas station at two in the morning, fetch a somehow moist-yet-stale bun out of the steam tray, pick up a cooked sausage with a pair of tongs and spurt on your preferred condiments, then that, my friends, is a snack.
The date of creation of what is known today as the hot dog is difficult to ascertain. Sausages have been around for as long as man has craved sausage (forever), so the question really becomes who first thought to wrap a sausage in a bun? Popular fiction would have us believe that one Claude Maximillian Overton Transpire Dibbler created the phenomenon, and that's as good an answer to that particular question as you're likely to get, and I'm cutting my own throat with that one.
What are hot dogs made of? That's a question one should never, ever ask. It could elicit an answer of meat trimmings and fat, salt, garlic and paprika, and sodium nitrates. Or someone could tell you the truth, and you'd never eat a hot dog again. I mean look at that magnificent fibrous beast up there. Would you want to miss out on that?
If it's not pink, it's not a hot dog; at least not in the traditional sense. Thankfully the hot dogs at my local Quik Trip (Georgia's answer to 7-Eleven) are incredibly pink. That's because they are 100 percent Kent Beef Hot Dogs, slow-roasted over metal rollers from dawn until dusk, and then a little bit after dusk.
Honestly I'm not sure how long they've been on there, but in my experience the longer the better. That's why I assembled my two hot dogs (two for a dollar!) at 2AM last night, when they've been sitting on the heated metal so long they've formed a protective carapace not unlike that of a particularly healthy cockroach.
You'll have to excuse the shaky quality of this assembly video. It was late, I only have two hands, and halfway through a police officer came out of the restroom, which made me nervous. He followed me back to my apartment later, perhaps making sure muggers didn't relieve me of my beefy treats.
Unlike many snacks, eating the hot dog is not where the heart of the gameplay lies. More of a game of chance, the true joy involves placing the snacks inside their protective shells, slipping them into the bag along with whatever else you might have purchased at the gas station at 2AM (three cans of Rooster Booster, in this case), and then seeing what they look like when you finally get them home.
This one fell out of the passenger side of my Nissan Pathfinder when I opened the door. Now that's tasty.
Speaking of taste, there is something about the gas station hot dog that makes it taste more satisfying than homemade. Is it hours upon hours of rolling? The combined breath of thousands of convenience store patrons settling on its glistening surface? Close proximity to the taquitos?
Whatever the reason, gas station hot dogs carry a deeper taste than all others. The salt is definitely more profound, as is the chemical aftertaste, which hot dog connoisseurs refer to as the "money shot".
And the beef? Nothing about these tastes like beef, but that's how we like it. If I wanted beef I would have taken a large bite out of a cow.
Four years ago I purchased a genuine hot dog roller from Fry's Electronics in Alpharetta, Georgia in the hopes of capturing the magic of the gas station hot dog at home. I purchased the cheapest sausages I could find, steamed buns in the oven over a pot of water, and just let them roll all day long. After a dozen hours I assembled my prize, dribbled on some mustard, and took a large bite.
It tasted like ass. Possibly cat ass, but nailing that down would require a taste test I'm not prepared to commit to.
After a good cry I came to the logical conclusion: My house was not a gas station, so I could never, ever create a gas station hot dog there. Without daily tanker deliveries, shady customers, and the constant low hum of the drink machines, my homemade dogs would never achieve true greatness. They'd never be snacks.
No, these wondrous creatures thrive in the dirt and grime of food retail's lowest common denominator. The gas station hot dog should not be shunned for its lowly origins, but celebrated for achieving so much with so little.