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What is a Half Smoke?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2016
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A half smoke is a unique kind of sausage that is served in the United States capital of Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas such as Maryland and Virginia. Because they are specific to such a small area, they are unknown to many people, even Americans. President Barack Obama is said to have been unaware of half smokes until after he was elected. These sausages, like hot dogs, are often served on buns with condiments such as onions, mustard, and chili, and may be accompanied by potato chips.

Half smokes are made of beef, pork, or a combination of these two kinds of meat. Although the actual origin of the name is debated, some say that term half smoke comes from an original recipe that calls for equal parts of pork and beef. The sausages are usually prepared on a grill but they can also be steamed. Half smokes are sometimes confused with other kinds of sausages, such as Polish kielbasas, because of their large size and appearance.

The key differences between a half smoke and a hot dog are the size and the spice. Half smokes are generally twice as thick as hot dogs, and are much spicier. In fact, some half smokes are made with red pepper flakes rolled into the meat. It is also common for half smokes to have much more texture than hot dogs, as the meat is less finely ground than is standard in frankfurters.

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While many large cities have hot dog stands on many street corners, Washington is dotted with carts full of half smokes and buns. Because of the convenient locations of the carts, they are a common lunch food in the capital. In addition to the carts that sell half smokes, there are also few restaurants that serve them.

If someone should happen to find himself in the Washington, D.C. area and is looking for a decadent but inexpensive treat, a half smoke is recommended. It may be wise to have a drink on hand to give the taste buds occasional relief from the spice. One also may want to bring along an antacid, especially if he decides to go for broke and get the chili topping.

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