Chicago Red Hot Poppy Seed Buns

Recipe by Susan Reid

Like Chicago itself (and its famous Chicago-style dogs), the hot dog buns are substantial: no undersized, spongy supermarket buns for their tomato-, onion-, pickle-, and sport pepper-topped creations! In the Windy City you'll find a big, chewy poppy seed bun that has enough oomph to support the skyscraper constructions that Chicagoland natives depend on for a quick lunch. Here's our version.

20 mins
17 to 20 mins
3 hrs 37 mins
10 buns
Chicago Red Hot Poppy Seed Buns


  1. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. Combine all of the dough ingredients, and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — until the dough is smooth and satiny.

  2. Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it's doubled, about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

  3. Divide the dough into 10 pieces; if you have a scale, they'll weigh about 2 1/2 ounces (71g) each. Shape each piece into a rough 3" log, and let the logs rest, covered, for about 10 minutes.

  4. Working with one piece of dough at a time, flatten it, and fold it in half lengthwise, sealing the seam. Repeat: flatten, fold, and seal. By this time the log will have elongated a bit; flatten it one more time, making a 6" oval that's as even as you can get it.

  5. Lay the bun on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, laying the buns about 3/4" from one another, for soft-sided buns; or farther apart for buns with crust all around.

  6. Cover the buns lightly with greased plastic wrap, and let them rise until they're noticeably puffy but not doubled, about 1 hour.

  7. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  8. Mix the reserved egg white with 2 teaspoons cold water, and brush the mixture over the top of the risen buns. Sprinkle heavily with poppy seeds.

  9. Bake the buns for about 18 minutes, until they're golden brown. They may seem slightly "damp." That's OK; they'll dry as they cool.

  10. Remove the buns from the oven, and place them on a rack to cool.

  11. Store the buns in a plastic bag for a few days on the counter, or store for up to 3 months.

Tips from our Bakers

  • The Midwest has a number of culinary traditions, and one of the biggest surprises is the simple hot dog. People in Chicago are very, very serious about hot dogs. The number of toppings and the specific sequence of layering on the dog of your choice are practically mind-boggling.

    First of all, there is the Chicago Red Hot, "dragged through the garden." This means a Vienna Beef Frank, topped with (in order, please) yellow mustard; sweet green pickle relish; chopped onion; chopped fresh tomato or tomato wedges; a kosher dill pickle spear; "sport" peppers (tiny pickled hot green peppers); and celery salt. This is the dog you'll find at Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs.

    Other vendors stray off the trail somewhat, but in general a Chicago hot dog may have onions, sauerkraut, hot peppers, mustard, and the brightest neon green relish you've ever seen riding on top. Sometimes chili, sometimes cheese. Ketchup? Well, all right, if you really must; people in Chicago are way too polite to scoff at you, but you will have branded yourself a non-native at the least. 

  • Can you substitute another type of seeds for poppy seeds? Or leave the seeds off entirely? Of course; you just won't have an authentic Chicago hotdog bun.
  • Can you make these buns with whole wheat flour? It'll change their texture and flavor, but sure. Start by substituting 2/3 cup whole wheat flour for 2/3 cup of the all-purpose flour. If you like the result, substitute a greater amount of whole wheat next time.
  • Want to make these buns a day or so ahead of time? Try the tangzhong technique, an Asian method for increasing the softness and shelf life of yeast rolls. Begin by measuring out the flour and water you’ll be using in the recipe. Now take 3 tablespoons of the measured flour and 1/2 cup of the measured water; put them in a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens and forms a thick slurry; this will take about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer the cooked mixture to a bowl, let it cool to lukewarm, then combine it with the remaining flour, water, and other dough ingredients. Proceed with the recipe as directed. Well-wrapped and stored at room temperature, your finished buns should stay soft and fresh for several days.