It's not to early to start thinking about the July 4th holiday. Indeed, many people already have started their observance. Others will take a couple of days of vacation on Monday and Tuesday before celebrating the nation's birth on Wednesday. It's a good bet that many of those who celebrate will do so with hot dogs and watermelon. Both are enormously popular with consumers and summer is peak season for both.
Both foods have a special connection with the coming holiday. Consumption of each reaches its height around July 4th, which explains why July is both National Hot Dog month and National Watermelon month. The numbers related to both are impressive.
Americans consume about 155 million hot dogs on July 4th, though that number is a small portion of the approximately 20 billion hot dogs Americans eat annually. Hot dogs, obviously, are popular and a big business. Consumers spent more than $1.7 billion on them in U.S. supermarkets last year. That total is increased by sales at ball parks -- more than 20.5 million are expected to be sold at Major League Baseball games this year -- at restaurants and at other venues. Clearly, Americans' demand for hot dogs isn't going away anytime soon.
The same can be said for watermelon, commonly assumed to be fruit but really a vegetable from the same botanical family as squash, pumpkins and cucumbers. Americans consume about 5 billion pounds of watermelon annually. About 80 percent are grown in the United States (Florida is the leading producer, but Georgia is in the top five). The rest are imported.
The two hot-weather treats have much in common beside their popularity and a shared month of celebration. Both engender heated debate about the best way to consume them. The choices are more limited for watermelon, but there is what seems to be interminable talk about whether it tastes best with or without salt. The discussion about whether to eat watermelon alone or as part of a larger dish -- say with cheese or in a salad with onions, to name two -- is a growing one. The consensus seems to be that there is no bad way to eat watermelon.
Ditto for hot dogs. Hot dogs are eaten boiled, grilled and even fried. Each has its adherents. What to add to a hot dog -- mustard, ketchup, chili, slaw, relish or sauerkraut. Nowadays, the possibilities for toppings are expanding. The hot dog, it seems, has gone upscale. Fancy buns and condiments such as avocado, bacon, assorted cheeses and tomatoes, among other things, seem to be the rage. The debate about how best to prepare and to serve a hot dog seems destined to continue.
There's no debate, though, about the enduring popularity of hot dogs and watermelon. Both are firmly entrenched on the American menu and both enjoy year-round popularity. Summertime -- July, especially -- is the time, though, when the U.S. appetite for both is the strongest.