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This cookout staple is an American favorite. I’m not a fan

Essay by Brandon Griggs, CNN

(CNN) — It’s Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff of summer in the US, which means Americans are practically required under federal law to gather friends and family, fire up the grill and cook something. For many people, that means scarfing down some hot dogs.

I will not be one of those people.

In the vast smorgasbord of festive foods, hot dogs have never done it for me. I’m not a vegetarian or a picky eater, and I’m not on some nitrates-free health kick. I just don’t care for them.

During peak hot dog season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans consume an estimated 7 billion hot dogs. That makes me a statistical outlier at best, and at worst, maybe a traitor. Who doesn’t like hot dogs? It’s almost un-American, like disliking football or Dolly Parton.

I pass no judgment on hot dog lovers, and I understand the appeal. Hot dogs are cheap, easy to cook, portable and endlessly customizable. They’re the perfect outdoor food accessory: Grab a hot dog in one hand, and you still have another hand free for a cold beverage of your choice.

At the famous annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, perennial champ Joey Chestnut once snarfed down 75 of them in 10 minutes. I watched this on TV, and it was a little traumatic.

This dislike may have deep roots in my childhood. My mother tells me that when I was about a year old, she cut up a hot dog and put the bite-size pieces on my high chair tray, within reach of my grubby little fingers. I popped one in my mouth and immediately began choking. She held me upside down and shook me until I coughed it up.

From then on, my mother says I refused to eat hot dogs. I wasn’t a fussy kid — I’d heartily gobble up all kinds of vegetables (except for beets, which I didn’t learn to appreciate until deep into adulthood). But hot dogs were a no go. Maybe I had some residual hot dog trauma.

As an older kid, I no longer had to suffer through hot dogs at home. But out in the world, it was a different story. At friends’ birthday parties, the parents often served hot dogs, and I didn’t want to be the weird kid sitting there with a few chips on an otherwise empty paper plate. I found that if I drenched a hot dog in enough ketchup, mustard and relish, I could force it down and then turn my eager attention to the birthday cake.

Baseball games were another problem. I love baseball, for all the old-timey reasons: Its leisurely rhythms, the surge of the crowd on a ball hit to the warning track, that exhilarating first glimpse of the field when you emerge from the ballpark tunnel.

But back in the ‘70s, when I was young, ballparks didn’t offer a vast array of food options. Boston’s Fenway Park, where I saw many of my earliest baseball games, had vendors going up and down the aisles yelling “Fenway Franks! Get ya Fenway Franks heeaaah!” Their sales pitches didn’t sway me, but they also sold roasted peanuts. I ate a lot of peanuts.

Right about now you might be thinking, “Why should I care if some guy at CNN doesn’t like hot dogs?” It’s a fair question.

But ask yourself: Have you ever disliked something that almost everyone else seems to enjoy? It feels a little lonely. It also can make you question your judgment. Everyone else I knew loved hot dogs — what was wrong with me?

In such existential moments, you’re faced with a choice: You can pretend to like the thing, and feel sort of phony. Or, while everyone else is zigging, you can embrace your zag.

Admittedly, hot dogs are low stakes. It’s another thing entirely to announce you don’t like democracy, or true love, or grandmothers. Or maybe pizza.

And yet for years, to avoid awkward questions, I hid my distaste. By the time I was in college, I decided to speak my truth.

This didn’t always go well. The summer I turned 18, I shared a beach house with three buddies, including two brothers whose mom paid us a visit one weekend and offered to make us lunch. When I learned what was on the menu I exclaimed, “Hot dogs? I hate hot dogs!” just as their mother emerged from the kitchen with a steaming plate of franks.

She shot me a look. Being the gracious charmer I was, I ate my dog in abashed silence.

In case you’re wondering, I have no issues with the many cousins of the humble hot dog. I will happily eat Italian sausages, andouille sausages and chorizo, which to me have more flavor and heft. Bratwurst are fine if slathered in spicy mustard. But by my twenties I’d pretty much stopped eating hot dogs. I just couldn’t get past how they tasted to me:  sweaty and sour and vaguely curdled.

Now here we are in 2024, and hot dogs — despite nutritional warnings that eating one could take 36 minutes off your life — seem as popular as ever. There are plant-based versions, which probably taste even more horrifying. People are having viral debates about whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich. I don’t think I’m allowed to answer that question.

When I sat down to write this, it occurred to me that I hadn’t eaten a hot dog in at least several decades. My personal experience with hot dogs was a little out of date. Maybe my taste buds had evolved? There was only one thing to do.

In the interest of research, my girlfriend’s dad helped me procure an eight-pack of all-beef franks and some Walmart hot dog buns. Nothing fancy. My girlfriend, her parents and I cooked the dogs up in a hot skillet, plopped them in the buns and squirted them with ketchup and yellow mustard.

I took a bite. My three lunchtime companions all stared at me, curious to gauge my reaction.

The verdict?

Meh. The hot dog was not as terrible as I remembered. But it wasn’t exactly tasty, either. The aftertaste lingered in my mouth like a bad houseguest.

I tried my best, and I’m ok with that. Don’t hate me. So on this Memorial Day, I wish all hot dog lovers out there a frankly delicious holiday. Because of oddballs like me, there will be more hot dogs to go around for the rest of you.

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