Hot dogs get the gourmet treatment

With spring's warm breezes on the way and pitchers on the mound in training, our thoughts turn to hot dogs -- whether throwing one on the grill at home or chowing on a ballpark frank in the stands.

Wave goodbye to the days when a microwaved weenie with a dollop of mustard on a bready bun would suffice, and say hello to the haute dog revolution.

Garland Geeslin, owner of Sassy Hot Dogs, was inspired to open his wacky hot dog truck in Fort Worth after a traumatic hot dog incident. Hungry for a late lunch, Geeslin recalls stopping at the nearest gas station and purchasing one of its few lunch offerings: a hot dog. It only took one bite for Geeslin to notice that the stale, roller-grilled dog was covered in green mold.

"It's an American icon, and it's one of the most abused foods in the country," Geeslin says. He went home and immediately started discussing his concept for a hot dogs-done-right food truck with his restaurateur wife.

But you don't have to head to a restaurant to experience the hot dog revolution. A critical eye for labels and an at-home pantry raid is all you need to get started on your own creative hot dog concoction. A quick glance at the refrigerated grocery store shelf once dominated by Oscar Mayer wieners will show you many more options for "dogs" to put between buns -- like chicken sausages infused with spinach and fontina cheese, and a whole line of fancy sausages from Food Network star Guy Fieri.

To transform a hot dog into a haute dog, you'll need quality ingredients and clever toppings. Arnold Fernandez, a butcher and manager at Country Meat Market in Fort Worth, says that getting an all-beef frank or a homemade sausage will upgrade your hot dog significantly. Look for packages that note "all-beef," or for a butcher shop that makes its own sausages.

The general consensus then suggests that you grill -- not boil or microwave -- your hot dog or sausage, using a gas or charcoal grill, or even a cast-iron skillet on the stove.

The next step is picking a fresh bun. Geeslin suggests using fresh-baked bread, rather than the buns that come pre-split in a bag. Feel free to be creative -- hoagies, French bread, pretzel bread or tortillas will all bring a different flavor than the standard white-bread bun.

The last step allows for the most creativity: the toppings. Homemade chili, caramelized onions and fresh-grated cheddar will take you back to Little League days, but pico de gallo, crumbled bacon and crispy onion strings are sure to add texture and taste.

One of Geeslin's menu items incorporates crumbled potato chips that add an awesome crunch, and prove that you really can put almost anything on a hot dog.