Hot dogs are America's favorite Independence Day food, and there are countless ways to dress them up and chow down. This week Donnie Ray shares some of his favorites.

The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is a day for family, fireworks, and cookouts. Just like the rest of you, I have many memories from this holiday whilst spending it at my grandparents farm as a child, the lake, at the park, as well as at the homes of friends and family over the years. It may also be the biggest day of the year for outdoor grilling as well. I remember very few Fourth celebrations that grilling didn’t occur, with those memories being mostly from a young age at my grandparents’ home who weren’t familiar with the outdoor grilling technique. I have also been to see many firework shows on this holiday at places like Miami, Vinita, Shangri La, Duck Creek, and one year from my son’s home in Welch, as we watched the firework displays from Miami, Bluejacket, and Chetopa, all at the same time.

On July 4th 1975, which was the first year I was married, my wife and I were preparing for a family Fourth picnic on Duck Creek, where my grandfather and step-grandmother owned a lot. I don’t remember exactly what we were having for lunch that day, but I’m sure it was sandwiches of some kind. As I was getting things ready to go to the lake that morning, I walked out into my back yard to grab some lawn chairs and noticed the neighbor across the ally from me had an abundance of ripe tomatoes sitting on a wooden picnic table. I did not know this gentleman at the time, as I had not lived there long, but he was working in his garden and I started visiting with him, and eventually talked him into selling me some of those beautiful red vine ripened tomatoes. We sliced those tomatoes up and took them with us to the lake that day, and I still remember those as being the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. Since then, it has always been my goal to try and have me some fresh tomatoes for the Fourth of July feast.

Like most, sometime around the Fourth celebration, hot dogs will show up on the grill, as kids and adults both, love them. I’ve always enjoyed eating grilled hot dogs, hot links and sausages, whether it is on the Fourth, or at a ball park, from a hot dog vendor, or just off the backyard grill, as they are easy to make, delicious, and also inexpensive when feeding a crowd. Hot dogs are like anything else though, you can go simple with them if you like, or you can dress them up some. If you are sticking them on the end of stick and roasting over a fire, I would suggest going with a cheap wiener, but if you want something special, I would buy a premium all-beef hot dogs for grilling.

I don’t know where she got the idea, but many years ago, my late wife, cooked me up some dogs on the grill that she had spiral cut first and then added BBQ sauce to them before grilling. At that time, I had never had hot dogs prepared in this manner. Well, I was so Impressed that I’ve been grilling dogs in this fashion ever since.

Another step in producing a great hot dog is the bun and toppings. First off, the bun must be soft and flavorful. They need to be very fresh buns, if not, steam or toast them. Then comes the toppings, this is where you can really be creative. An acquaintance of mine makes a very tasty hot dog that is one of my favorites, by adding grilled onions, bacon pieces, shredded pepper jack cheese, and spicy mustard.

Another favorite of mine is starting with a spiral cut dog, as mentioned before, and adding chopped onion, and a fresh homemade dill pickle/sweet pepper relish, then add yellow mustard, ketchup, or whatever you prefer. Hot dogs are just another food item that is what you make them and limited only by your imagination. Here is one of my favorite fresh relish recipes that can help you dress up your Independence Day hot dogs, and certainly beats the “Out of the Jar” relish’s any day. Oh, and be sure and have some of those garden fresh ripe tomatoes to serve along with or on top those dogs. Happy Fourth and good eating!!!!

Homemade Dill Pickle/Sweet Pepper Relish

Ingredients

Chopped Dill Pickle Spears Chopped Red and/or Yellow Pepper Chopped Jalapeno A Teaspoon of Minced Garlic A Teaspoon of Sugar Pinch of Salt A Squirt of Yellow Mustard A Tablespoon Pickle Juice

Directions

Mix all ingredients together and serve. Don’t be concerned about quantities on the Peppers and Pickles, adjust and add what flavors you like best, you are not going to mess it up.