I asked my friendly neighbor Chuck what he had planned for the 4th of July, and he said, "I don't know, but my wife wants a hot dog."  Of course, she does!  A hot dog craving comes right along with every road trip we'll take this week and every firework we'll see.  And there's a reason behind it.

Chuck's wife and over 100 million other people will be satisfying hot dog cravings this week, and that leaves room for a lot of people to eat two or three, or seventy-three.  In all, 150 million hot dogs will be consumed around the 4th of July, and if you're looking to do it in record time you'll need to eat at least 72 in 10 minutes.  That's what Joey Chesnut did in Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest last year, with the buns soaked in water of course.  Maybe we won't go that far.

What is it about hot dogs and the 4th anyway?  We feel like we should eat them this week even if we don't like them all that much, or make a habit out of it the rest of the year.  The grocery stores put Franks and buns right out there in front of us in the Patriotic displays, and we end up buying three packages and a plastic flag too.

This marriage of hot dogs with Independence Day does relate back to the hot dog-eating contest.  Every year since 1972, in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest goes down with about twenty competitors and thousands of spectators.  According to legend, it started on July 4, 1916, when four immigrants held a hot dog eating contest at Nathan's Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. Even if a hot dog around the grill this week doesn't settle any arguments, it might hit the spot.

Are adults craving the dogs, or is it kids?  At my house, we always throw on hot dogs to keep the kids from griping about the "black marks on the chicken."  They'll eat a hot dog with the same grill marks, but that's a battle I choose not to fight.  Hot dogs are the always the backup plan for anyone that doesn't want grown-up meat, and then grown-ups end up eating half of the hot dogs because it's the 4th of July.

Maybe it's the history of the hot dog, or maybe we crave them because they just feel like summer.  Whatever it is, 38 percent of our yearly hot dog consumption happens during the summer months and most of it over the 4th of July holiday.

So what's the best hot dog topping?  Mustard of course!  That's what most people say, so don't even think of ruining it with ketchup or with piles of chili.

Have a great Independence Day!  Apparently, it will be even better with a hot dog.