Mustard, Ketchup, and Beyond: The Ultimate Hot Dog Bar

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A hot dog bar is one of my favorites for a backyard party or 4th of July picnic. With a variety of classic and gourmet toppings for your hot dogs, everyone can create their own perfect hot dog, and you can feed a crowd without breaking the bank!

Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Setting up a hot dog bar is simple and can be customized to fit a theme or your family’s taste. Start with basic toppings and condiments, then be bold, think outside the box and include unique options. Your friends and family will have a blast exploring and experimenting with different flavor combinations.


Here are some quick tips to keep I’ve learned when planning a hot dog bar:

  • Provide at least ten toppings and condiments so there is enough variety for everyone.
  • Make sure to cook any necessary toppings in advance, like chili or caramelized onions.
  • Estimate around two hot dogs per person so there’s enough for everyone to enjoy. There will probably be leftovers, but you don’t want to run out!

When cooking the hot dogs, you can grill or pan-sear them until they are browned. Or, if you are hosting a large gathering, make hot dogs in your crock pot – it is a great way to feed a crowd.

hot dogs in crock pot

🌭Types of hot dogs to include

Include a variety of hot dogs to offer to your guests.

  • Standard hot dogs: Use beef or pork hot dogs for a classic, meaty taste.
  • Vegetarian: Remember your vegetarian guests. Vegetarian hot dogs are available in various options, including soy-based or plant-based alternatives.

🥖Buns and bread options

No backyard BBQ hot dog bar is complete without a selection of buns.

  • Traditional buns: The classic hot dog bun is soft, pillowy and slightly sweet. My family loves New England style buns the best.
  • Pretzel buns: These have a chewy exterior and soft interior, making them a delicious and unique choice.
  • Brioche buns: Their rich, buttery flavor elevates the hot dog experience to a whole new level.
  • Baguettes: Sliced into individual portions, a crusty baguette can provide a satisfying crunch and unique texture.
  • Gluten-free choices: For a low-carb option, offer gluten-free hot dog buns. Or provide lettuce wraps as a substitute for traditional buns.
hot dog bar with lots of toppings

🫙Hot dog topping ideas and condiments

Start with the classic toppings and condiments that everyone loves- ketchup, mustard and sweet pickle relish. These three condiments are the foundation of any hot dog bar and complement the juicy flavors of a freshly grilled hot dog.

Next, include classic selections like diced onions, sauerkraut, shredded cheese, chili, jalapeños and pickles. These toppings can be easily mixed and matched to create a delicious and satisfying hot dog.

Top view of hot dogs on a table with various toppings.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

🥳Themed toppings and hot dogs

Pair the classic toppings with a few fancy ones for making gourmet creations. Don’t try to include all of these. Pick and choose one or two to add to your hot dog bar. Michelle Price loves themed events:

“A themed hot dog bar is always fun. Put up recipes for some fun styles to help people decide what to put on their dog, from a traditional Chicago-style dog to a cheesy chili dog to a bahn mi hot dog. Sometimes choices can be overwhelming, but the menu helps!”

— Michelle Price, Honest and Truly

Chicago dog

A classic Chicago dog starts with a steamed poppy seed bun. Top your hot dog with yellow mustard, white onion, pickles, tomato wedges, green relish and peppers. Don’t forget a dash of celery salt.

Buffalo dog

Spice up your hot dog bar by offering the Buffalo dog. Top a hot dog with blue cheese crumbles, buffalo wing sauce and celery to make this tasty treat.

Mexican-Inspired hot dog

Try a Mexican-inspired dog for a fun twist on your hot dog bar. Cover a hot dog with guacamole, salsa, jalapeños and queso fresco.

Bahn mi hot dog

Put a Vietnamese spin twist on hot dogs, topping them with pickled radish, cucumber, jalapeño slices and fresh cilantro. Drizzle on some Sriracha sauce to add a little heat.

Hawaiian hot dog

Transport your guests to an island paradise with a Hawaiian hot dog. Top the hot dog with pineapple salsa, red onion and bacon bits.

Italian dog

Italian cuisine lovers will adore the Italian dog. Top a hot dog with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil to create this mouth-watering masterpiece.

BBQ hot dog

You can’t go wrong with a classic BBQ hot dog. Smother your hot dog in BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese and crispy fried onions.

BLT dog

Incorporate the well-loved sandwich flavors into a hot dog with the BLT dog. Top your hot dog with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo to create a tasty combination that everyone will enjoy.

hot dogs on a plate

🥗Sides and Drinks

Include a few sides with your hot dogs. Choose ones you can prepare ahead of time so you have time with your guests. Here are my favorites:

And of course you need lots of cold beverages to wash down all those tasty hot dogs! Lemonade, iced tea, soda and beer are all excellent to have on hand.

Side view of a glass of lemonade with a slice of lemon and mint.

🍴Setting up a DIY hot dog bar

Set up a buffet line on a table on your deck or patio.

Buffet layout tips

Keep the buffet line organized and easy to navigate when setting up your DIY hot dog bar. Here is how I organize it:

  • Start with plates and utensils at one end of the table.
  • Place cooked hot dogs and buns next, followed by all the toppings.
  • Arrange toppings and condiments in separate bowls or containers, organized by theme or category. Labels are very helpful, especially for things that aren’t obvious like sauces.
  • Include the side dishes after all the toppings and condiments.
  • Don’t forget to provide napkins and extra utensils for serving sauces and toppings.

Keeping food safe

It’s essential to ensure the food remains safe to eat. Here are some food safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep hot dogs warm in a slow cooker or chafing dish at the proper temperature (above 140 F).
  • Store cold toppings in bowls placed over a bed of ice to maintain their freshness.
  • Provide separate serving utensils for each topping and condiment to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Check the food regularly to make sure it is still safe to eat, reheating or replacing items as needed.
  • Discard any leftovers that have been sitting out for more than two hours.
Backyard setup for a 4th of July hot dog bar.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

🎉Special event hot dog bars

A themed hot dog bar is a fun and interactive way to serve delicious hot dogs at special events.

Sports events

A hot dog bar is the perfect way to feed a crowd when hosting a sports event watch party. Set the theme using team colors for tablecloths, napkins and plates. Customize your hot dog toppings based on the teams playing to make it memorable.

For instance, if it’s a game in Chicago, include Chicago-style hot dog toppings like pickles, tomatoes, onions and celery salt. Tailgate-inspired toppings like chili, coleslaw and jalapeños are perfect for game day celebration.

Holiday celebrations

A hot dog bar can be perfect for holiday gatherings. OK, probably not for Christmas, but you can serve spooky dogs decorated with edible eyeballs during a Halloween party. Offer Mexican-inspired toppings like corn salsa, avocado and chipotle crema during a Cinco de Mayo party.

For a Fourth of July celebration, go patriotic with red, white and blue decorations and classic American toppings like ketchup, mustard and relish. Add some red, white and blue treats and enjoy! Gen La Rocca describes her family’s Fourth of July hot dog bar:

“We love throwing a hot dog party near the Fourth of July at my house. One of our favorite variations on a traditional hot dog is a bacon-wrapped Sonoran dog that our friends can customize with condiments and toppings like grilled onions or jalapeños.”

— Gen La Rocca,  Two Cloves Kitchen
Top view of air fryer bacon wrapped hot dogs with jalapenos, onions and cheese.

Kids’ parties

A hot dog bar is perfect for kids’ parties, because kids love hot dogs, it is easy for the host to set up, and it is inexpensive. Feature kid-friendly toppings, like shredded cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, relish, barbecue sauce and crushed potato chips.

Consider serving the hot dogs on fun, colorful plates and with creative, themed utensils to make the experience memorable for the little ones.


Gather your favorite toppings and condiments, get creative with your choices and have fun choosing toppings. In no time, you’ll host memorable cookouts and parties with everyone raving about your fantastic hot dog bar. Let your creativity shine and enjoy the smiles and compliments that come your way.

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.


Hi, I’m Anne!

I love to cook and I want to share my recipes with you. I believe cooking should be approachable and fun, not a chore. I want to make simple recipes using everyday ingredients that you can make again and again, whether it is for a busy weeknight, a summer cookout or a special dessert. Read more...

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