Sonoran Hot Dog Recipe



Why It Works

• Soft bolillo-style buns ensure the right bun-to-dog ratio and sturdiness needed to hold all the fillings.

• Baking or air frying the bacon-wrapped hot dogs ensures the bacon is evenly crisp while the hot dogs remain juicy.

Great American food cities like New York and Chicago have regional hot dogs that define them, and Tucson, Arizona is no different. The Sonoran dog didn’t start hitting the local Tucson food scene until 1993—which was coincidentally around the same time that I moved to Tucson from Columbus, Ohio. Since moving here and biting into my first Sonoran dog, I’ve fallen in love with the vendor cart staple and have taken the time to learn how this unique style of hot dogs became so popular in Tucson.

Serious Eats / Jackie Alpers


Our beloved local franks, known as Sonoran hot dogs, start with a soft and slightly sweet bolillo-style roll that’s filled with (take a breath) a heaping scoop of pinto beans, onions—both griddled and raw—a bacon-wrapped hot dog (the star here), diced tomatoes, signature stripes of a fresh jalapeño sauce and yellow mustard, and a final zigzag of mayonnaise. It’s a hot dog that requires two hands to devour, and I’ve devoted more than 20 years to eating as many as I can throughout Tucson. Since its local debut at hot dog carts in Tucson, this hyper-regional dog has been popularized beyond Arizona, and is now well known throughout the US. Here’s how the Sonoran hot dog became popular in Tucson, and my tips for how to make a real-deal version at home.

The Rise of the Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson

While many people in the US link the Sonoran hot dog to Tucson, it actually originated in Sonora, Mexico. One of the first restaurateurs to popularize it in Tucson was Benjamin Galaz, the owner of Tucson’s BK Tacos and Carne Asada. Galaz told me that while still living in his hometown of Nacozari de García in northern Sonora, he learned how to make Sonoran-style hot dogs from Rolando Mendivil, a local hot dog cart owner. It was a skill Galaz brought with him to Tucson years later, where he opened up his own food cart featuring his hometown hot dogs. Shortly after opening his first cart, Galaz partnered with Daniel Contreras (who later opened and now owns El Güero Canelo).

Shortly into their partnership, Galaz and Contreras disagreed over their business and parted ways to run their own separate carts. Both would go on to sell carne asada and hot dogs, and both would succeed. Today both Galaz and Contreras have set aside their food carts and now own highly successful brick and mortar restaurants. Since the success of Galaz’s first hot dog cart in Tucson, dozens of restaurants, carts, and food trucks started selling their own versions of Sonoran hot dogs, and the specialty has become a culinary symbol of Tucson’s regional cuisine.

In 2019, both Galaz and Contreras contributed recipes to my cookbook, Taste of Tucson; Sonoran-Style Recipes Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona. Galaz showed me how to make carne asada and Contreras shared his method for creating Sonoran hot dogs. I’ve now eaten just about every Sonoran hot dog in town—from vegan dogs to the double weenie “Sammy” dog (two franks in one bun, IYKYK), and after years of refining, researching, and experimenting, I’ve come up with my own recipe. Read on to learn my tips for how to make it.

The Best Bun for a True Sonoran Hot Dog

Any great sandwich (or in this case, hot dog) starts with the right bread, and the Sonoran dog is no different. Here the bun needs to be soft and supple enough to sink your teeth through, while also sturdy enough to hold the bacon-wrapped dog and its heaping mound of assorted toppings. In my many years of eating Sonoran hot dogs, I always thought that bolillo rolls—Mexican crusty and soft long white rolls—were the bun of choice, but after researching more, I discovered that was not the case. Most buns served at Sonoran hot dog vendors in Tucson are similar to bolillo rolls, but are slightly sweeter and softer. 

Maribel Alvarez, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, explained that because regular hot dog buns could not hold up to the Sonoran dog’s heavy toppings, special buns using flour made from local white Sonoran wheat—the same flour used in local tortillas—were created. These buns were made and shaped in the style of bolillo rolls, but they rely on Sonoran wheat flour’s relatively lower protein amount to make them softer and slightly sweeter than most bolillo rolls.

Serious Eats / Jackie Alpers


Contreras told me that El Guero Canelo makes their own buns, but most hot dog vendors buy their buns from local bakeries. My favorite buns are at El Sinaloense, a hot dog cart permanently located in an otherwise empty gravel lot in Tucson. Their buns are slightly narrower than their competitors at Guero Canelo and BK’s, which produces a better bun to hot dog ratio.

To learn where El Sinaloense gets their buns, I went straight to the source. As I stood at their grill platform to ask, I glanced to my left and saw a pickup truck piled high with boxes from Alejandro’s Tortilla Factory. The chef confirmed the visual cue with great enthusiasm.

If you live in the Tucson area and have access to buns from Alejandro’s Tortilla Factory, or any true Sonoran hot dog buns made with white Sonoran wheat flour, go with those. If not, (that would be most of you living outside of Tucson) I’ve written this recipe with bolillo-style rolls. But if bolillos are unavailable, skip the mass-produced supermarket buns and head straight to a bakery for good quality long egg or brioche buns that measure approximately 7x2x1 inches. This is based on advice I received from Miguel Kaiser, who owns T-Loc’s Sonora in Austin, Texas, one of a few places outside of the Sonora-Arizona region selling Tucson-style Sonoran dogs. I know, brioche buns don’t sound like the closest replacement for a bolillo roll, but Kaiser points out that the egg adds structure and a tender texture that’s similar to the local buns made with the white Sonoran wheat, or the bolillo buns.

The Stuffed Güero Chiles

It’s standard to serve a grilled yellow Güero Caribe chile alongside the bun. These chiles can range from mild to medium, with a Scoville rating varying from 5,000 to 15,000. At Jason’s Mexican Food in Tucson, they take the extra step and stuff the chile with cheese, wrap it in bacon, and griddle it until the bacon is crisp, the chile is tender, and the cheese is melted. It’s an incredible upgrade from the standard grilled chile served at other vendors in Tucson. Inspired by this, I’ve added stuffed Güero chiles to my recipe here.

Serious Eats / Jackie Alpers


The Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog

Any skinless hot dog works well. While the satisfying snap of a hot dog with a natural casing is desirable in many situations, here the casing is a deterrent because it’s difficult to bite through, especially when paired with all of its topping. Contreras uses skinless all-beef hot dogs and pork bacon in his restaurant but he specifies that any variety of hot dog will work, be it pork, beef, chicken or plant-based—and the same goes for the bacon. My personal favorite hot dogs are Nathan’s Famous or Hebrew National all-beef uncured hot dogs. (My husband is a vegetarian, so I also tested Lifeline jumbo veggie dogs wrapped in Morningstar veggie bacon and they came out great.)

Avoid thick-cut bacon. It won’t crisp as well or render as much fat as thinner bacon. I also recommend looking for longer strips, which are easier to wrap around the dog and stay attached to the hot dog after cooking. To get the bacon to stay in place, tuck the leading edge of the bacon under the first wrap of the bacon as shown in the photos below and make sure to place the dog with the bacon seam-side down to hold the bacon in place while cooking.

Bake the hot dogs (Gasp!). Most local vendors cook their bacon-wrapped hot dogs on a commercial flat-top grill for speed and convenience. This makes sense when you’re preparing hundreds of orders on the fly. But when making a smaller amount at home, I’d argue it’s better to bake the bacon wrapped hot dogs alongside the bacon wrapped chiles in your oven or air fryer. When I began testing this recipe, I cooked my first few batches of franks and chiles in a cast-iron skillet and on a two-burner griddle, and I had to constantly tend to the hot dogs and chiles, which cooked at different rates and splattered everywhere. The result was withered hot dogs wrapped in unevenly cooked bacon. After extensive testing, I determined that oven-baking or air-frying the bacon-wrapped hot dogs and güero chiles is not only easier, but also produces evenly crisped bacon without the greasy mess in the skillet.

Tips for Legit Sonoran Hot Dog Toppings

Make a fresh and simple jalapeño salsa. The salsa recipe included here is the simple salsa that Contreras taught me how to make at his restaurant El Guero Canelo. There are so many toppings with this hot dog that keeping the salsa simple lets the fruity, fresh, and spicy jalapeño flavor shine through. When pulsing the salsa in your blender, don’t be tempted to add any water at first. The natural high water content of the jalapeños ensures they blend easily into a smooth and vibrant green salsa.

Top the dogs with a combination of sautéed and raw onions. The combination of both griddled and raw onions is a staple for all Sonoran-style dogs, and I’ve used the duo here. Any type of raw onion can be used, but I prefer white onions.

Stick with canned pinto beans. Canned beans are commonly used in hot dog cart and restaurant versions for their convenience, and that’s the same reason I stick with them here. The hot dogs come together relatively fast, and only require a cup of beans for topping the dogs, so it’s practical to start with cooked beans. Once rinsed and drained, warm them through with the sautéed onions. With the assortment of flavors from all the toppings, there’s no need to dress them up any further than that.

Give the chopped tomatoes a quick squeeze. Chopped fresh tomatoes are standard on all Sonoran dogs. I found freshly chopped tomatoes packed right onto the bacon wrapped dog immediately turned the hot dog soggy. To avoid this at home, take a moment to squeeze out as much moisture from the tomatoes as possible to prevent the hot dog from getting too mushy. 

Squeeze and zigzag the sauces. The three sauces crown everything. The lengthwise placement of stripes of bright yellow mustard and green jalapeño sauce and the zigzag of mayonnaise is both decorative and strategic. In restaurants and hot dog carts the sauces are stored in standard thin-tipped squeeze bottles that help achieve the hot dog’s signature stripes and zigzags. To achieve this at home, I recommend purchasing squeeze bottles of mustard and mayonnaise. My favorite yellow mustard is Plochman’s, but any brand will work here.



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