NYC-Style Dirty Water Dogs with onion sauce

Who says your 4th of July hot dogs have to be grilled?  Take a flavor trip to the big apple with these NYC-style Dirty Water Dogs With Onion Sauce.  Your family will love the sweet and savory sauce on the salty, tender hot dog.

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2 NYC-style Dirty Water Dogs with onion sauce on brown paper with a jar of onion sauce on the side

To complete my 4th of July meal, I like to serve the dogs with Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad, a Vinegar Based Coleslaw, Kansas City Style Barbecue Beans, and a Texas Sheet Cake for dessert.


The expression ‘dirty water dogs’ refers to the hot dog pushcarts in New York City that cook the hotdogs in vats of water that looks ‘dirty’.  Many hot dogs are cooked in the same water, releasing their excess salt and fat making the water look ‘dirty’.  

Dirty water dog water is broth that is highly seasoned with ketchup, chili powder, cumin, and salt.  The term ‘dirty water dogs’ does NOT refer to the use of disgusting water from the Hudson river as rumor would have one believe. 

The History Behind Dirty Water Dogs

Dirty Water Dogs are said to have been popular because of the new metal food carts that were going around NJ/ New York around the time. The carts are made of stainless steel with hinged water boxes for the dogs along with bins and/or shelves for condiments. They would store the hot dogs in these large vats because it was much safer than trying to cook them on an open flame out in the street.

Nowadays, many vendors use the same carts and due to permits, this method has stood the test of time. If you go to New York sometime, you might be able to catch a hot dog vendor (usually with a blue and yellow striped umbrella) to try and get a taste of this classic dog. Here in this recipe, we will be doing our best, and even adding a bit of a twist to really make this meal memorable.

Jar of red onion sauce for NYC-style dirty water hot dogs


The onion sauce is made from onions that are cooked in a tangy, rich tomato sauce with a touch of heat until thick and delicious.  It’s a classic at Sabrette’s Hot Dog carts in the city.  You can buy their sauce jarred in the grocery store, but it doesn’t taste as good as making it at home. 

INGREDIENTS REQUIRED For Sabrette’s Onion Sauce Recipe

  • Red wine – use a dry red wine and one that you enjoy drinking.  If you can’t drink it, don’t cook with it.
  • Cornstarch
  • Ketchup
  • Balsamic and red wine vinegar – use ordinary, grocery store brands for this recipe and save the aged, good stuff for another time.
  • Dijon mustard
  • Brown sugar
  • Hot sauce
  • Cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, nutmeg, and Kosher salt
  • Olive oil
  • Red onions and garlic
  • Beef broth
  • Hot dogs – use an all-beef brand.  I like Nathan’s.

Hand holing a NYC-style dirty water dog with onion sauce


Short answer:  No, it isn’t difficult at all.

First, you simmer the onions in a simple, red wine sauce until thick. The most difficult part of this step is watching it, stirring it, and ensuring that it doesn’t scorch.

Second, make a beef broth and spice mixture to simmer the hot dogs.

Warm the bun, add the hot dog, and top with the sauce. 

Pretty easy, right?


Hotdog toppings should be what you and your friends and family enjoy.  Don’t listen to the purists who think that only Philistines put ketchup on their dogs.  If you like it, use it!

Some suggestions for toppings:

  • Ketchup, yellow mustard, even mayonnaise
  • Pickles, pickle relish, or Italian Giardiniera
  • Chopped onions, tomatoes, lettuce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Everything bagel seasoning, celery salt, or Barbecue rub
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Hand holing a NYC-style dirty water dog with onion sauce



Now you can make those delicious NYC-style Dirty Water Dogs With Onion Sauce in your own home.  Perfect for the 4th of July, these hot dogs will satisfy your entire family.



For the sauce:

  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large red onions, peeled and sliced as thin as possible
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced

For the hot dogs:

  • 32-ounce container beef broth
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 8 all-beef hot dogs (I used Nathan’s)
  • 8 hot dog buns
  • Assorted toppings:  ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, pickles, banana peppers, if desired


Make a slurry for the sauce:

In a large measuring cup, whisk the wine and cornstarch together until there are no lumps.

Whisk in the ketchup, vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, hot sauce, and cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering – about 1 minute.

Toss in the onions and salt.

Saute the onions, stirring often, until they begin to soften and turn brown on the edges.  Don’t let the onions burn – about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and stir to combine. Cook for another minute.

Pour in the wine slurry, stir and reduce the temperature to low. 

Cover the pan and slowly simmer the onions for 1 hour. Stir often to prevent the onions from burning.  If the mixture is too dry, add water and stir.  Don’t allow the mixture to burn!

The sauce is done when the mixture is thick, but not runny or pasty dry.  Taste and adjust for salt.

Meanwhile, add the beef broth to a 4-quart saucepan.

Stir in the vinegar, nutmeg, chili powder, and cumin.  Bring to a simmer.

Add the hot dogs and simmer them for about 10 minutes.  At this time, you can turn off the heat and allow the dogs to stay in the water until needed.  If they cool off too much, just increase the heat and warm the water until the dogs are hot.

To steam the buns, while the hot dog pot is simmering, use tongs to hold the buns over the steam from the pot until hot.

For serving:

Place a hot dog into the steamed bun and top with a large tablespoonful of the onion sauce.

Top with mustard, banana peppers, sauerkraut, or more ketchup, if desired.

Enjoy hot.

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Simmer
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: NYC-Style Dirty Water Dogs With Onion Sauce, New York City food, hot dogs, onion sauce, Copycat recipes, 4th of July, summer food

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