On the 4th of July, lively community parades beckon folks to line the streets in the morning and grand firework displays entice those very same people to leave the house at night. This peak summer holiday is time-bound on both ends by annual traditions, as a result, any backyard socializing needs to between sandwiched firmly between these two  bookends. Thankfully pulling together an all-American meal is a snap as nothing feels more perfectly patriotic than enjoying a festive picnic featuring classic chili-cheese dogs.

A proper chili-cheese dog should be a blissful mess to eat and you’ll need to stock up on plenty of napkins when you serve these bad boys to a crowd of your sun-soaked friends, but a thoughtfully constructed chili will make it a much more manageable mess.  My favorite winter chili recipes feature loads of beans and long stove top cooking times, but this summer version, especially created for use on grilled hot dogs, keeps the beans at bay and your kitchen cool by putting a slow cooker to good use.

Eliminating the beans from this recipe helps keep the texture of the finished topping more uniform and paring back the amount of liquid in the mix yields a chili that is far less soupy and more suited to sitting on a bun. The addition of brown sugar, cinnamon and all allspice work to balance the salt found in most hot dogs. Best of all you can mix up this savory blend of beef, bratwurst, beer and a bevy of aromatic spices before you head out to the 4th of July parade.

When you return home your chili will be done and all you’ll need to do is fire up the grill and throw on some all-beef hot dogs. Few things smack of summer more than a char dog brimming with smoky flavor and boasting a crisp exterior. Pile on a little homemade chili, a drizzle of homemade cheese sauce and a few garnishes and you have a dish that summer holiday dreams are made of!

So put some red, white and blue and serve these indulgent all-American hot dogs on the 4th of July with a side of baked sweet potato fries, fresh fruit, a big green salad loaded with fresh veggies and apple pie for dessert. This meal comes together so easily that you won’t have to worry about missing the fireworks.

Happy Independence Day!

Fourth-of-July Chili-Cheese Char Dogs:

Crock Pot Chili for Hot Dogs

  • 2 pounds ground chuck
  • 3 links raw bratwurst, casings removed
  • 1 large onion, diced small (divided)
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced small
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (12 oz) American lager like Budweiser (divided)
  • 1 (14 oz) can of tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

  • 2 Cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
  • 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
  • Dash of your favorite hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For Assembly

  • 8 high quality all beef hot dogs, grilled until deep brown and blistered
  • 8 top cut hot dog buns, toasted on the grates of the grill if desired
  • Reserved Diced Onion
  • Diced dill pickles
  • Pickled jalapenos

For the Chili: Season the ground chuck and bratwurst with salt and pepper and cook them with ¾’s of the diced onion (reserve the rest for garnish) and all of the diced yellow pepper. Stir the meat frequently and take to break it up with the back of the spoon. You want the finest texture possible; big chunks of meat don’t sit on top of a hot dog well. Add the minced garlic and half the beer to the pan.  Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the beer has evaporated.  

Transfer the cooked meat mixture to a slow cooker. Add the reserved half beer and the all remaining chili ingredients to the cooker. Mix well, cover and cook on low setting for 4 hours or high setting for 2 hours.

For the Cheese Sauce: Toss the shredded cheese with the cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.  Bring the evaporated milk to a bare boil in a medium sauce pan.  Add the coated cheese in batches to the hot milk.  Take care to whish the mixture after each addition. When the sauce is smooth reduce the heat to low and keep warm.  Even if this sauce comes to room temperature it can be reheated and whisked to perfect cheese sauce consistency.

To assemble: Place a char dog in a bun. Top the char dog with the hot chili and drizzle with the warm cheese sauce.  Sprinkle with diced onions, dill pickles and/or pickled jalapeños as desired.

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