Beyond the Bun
BY DEB SEYMOUR
Everyone loves to go to a ballgame to see their favorite team – or even their favorite pitcher or hitter – in action on a beautiful spring afternoon, on a sultry summer evening, or on a chilly fall night.
But let’s face it, the ballpark experience isn’t just about the game itself; it’s also about the ballpark crowd and the sounds of the game, the music and announcements blaring throughout the park, the family and friends you’re with, and, lest we forget – the food and the drink.
Every MLB ballpark features the iconic hotdog and beer – and the hotdog has even been known to appear in international ballparks where baseball is played, but hotdogs aren’t standard fare.
Yet there’s a reason for the old Chevy commercial jingle “baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet” – back in the day, hotdogs were considered about as American as baseball and the flag.
Nevertheless, the world’s first sausage might date back to 64 AD, when Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar’s cook, Gaius, stuffed intestines with ground meat in a moment of culinary inspiration. Upon eating the sausage, Nero allegedly asserted: “I have discovered something of great importance.”
Now, you may argue that a sausage isn’t a hotdog and a hotdog isn’t a sausage; but through 2,000 years of culinary inspiration and translation, the original sausage evolved in many different forms throughout the world, and the hotdog is one descendant thereof.
A uniquely American evolution of the hotdog, however, was the notion of putting it between bread – and hence, the hotdog bun was invented. Babe Ruth (allegedly) once devoured a dozen hotdogs and eight bottles of soda between the two games of a doubleheader.
Now that’s a lot of hotdogs and soda!
Since the earliest days of baseball, peanuts have become a common ballpark food item, in addition to the hotdog. Cracker Jacks, conceived in the 1890’s, became a stadium staple early on, as well. The first boxes of Cracker Jacks with a “toy surprise” inside appeared in 1912.
Over the years, many other staples have been added to the list of food offerings at ballparks. Some of these include: soft serve ice cream (particularly ensconced in a small plastic helmet embossed with your favorite team’s logo); chicken fingers (often memed as one of the priciest aspects of attending a game at Yankee Stadium); hot pretzels; nachos; cheeseburgers; cotton candy; and sunflower seeds.
But we’ve come a long way from ballparks offering just the staples. Let’s talk about some of the “more specialty” items we’ve come to expect at the various ballparks in MLB. A number of the most interesting items appear at Minor League Baseball parks, as well.
Last summer I attended a game at the ballpark of the AA Bowie BaySox, a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles in Bowie, MD. (I wrote about that game in a BallNine Up N’ In story, but not for the food offerings on sale – mostly for the game itself and the appearance of Giancarlo Stanton on a rehab stint for the Yankees’ AA Patriots. I also described the use of the pitch clock and the zero-shift in that game.)
As far as the food offerings were concerned, though – just about everyone knows Baltimore is famous for its Chesapeake Bay blue crab; and yet Baltimore is also famous for its pit beef. At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the delicious aroma of pit beef permeates the air during a game; and if the wind is blowing in just the right direction, you can smell the unique aroma of pit beef for blocks around the park.
Now, the Bowie BaySox may play in a minor league ballpark lacking many of the trimmings of a major league park, but they are no stranger to pit beef. The food offerings include all the basics you would expect: hotdogs, peanuts, cotton candy, and ice cream – but there’s also pit beef. The BaySox may be a AA farm team of the Orioles, but they represent the Baltimore region in more ways than just by modeling iconic Oriole-style orange and black uniforms.
It’s not easy to compare Major League Baseball ballparks in terms of “best food offerings” in the 2020’s, because in the roughly 200 years since baseball was invented, every ballpark has evolved into featuring signature concession stands – and offers foods local to their region and for which they’re most well known.
Many journalists have written lists and count-downs of the best ballpark food to be found in MLB. I’ve combed a number of these (doing the research for you!), and what follows is a sampling of some of the edible delights you can now find at your latest ballpark concessions, not including the most standard fare we’ve already described.
Among the latest stadium food crazes is the introduction of alcohol into items you’re purchasing to eat or drink (that aren’t beer, wine, or a cocktail). On my last trip on a very hot July day to the New York Mets’ CitiField in Queens, I purchased a lemonade from a “special” lemonade concession. What was so special about it? You could have the vendor pour any type of several kinds of alcohol into your lemonade, and all of a sudden it became a rather hard lemonade.
I passed on the alcohol that afternoon, but I paid almost the same amount for the icy cold beverage as if I’d actually had it spiked.
You’ll find alcohol in just about everything you can think of at the ballpark these days; in your cheese for your cheeseburger or your ice cream in your ice cream sundae.
Other popular ballpark food trends include vegetarian and vegan options, as well as gluten-free options. But here are some specifics for the hungry and thirsty, and fair warning: these are not intended to help you with your diet.
A variant on the traditional nacho, traveling Tostitos Nacho carts at Angels Stadium (the Big A) now serve up loaded, or stuffed, nachos in a helmet.
At the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, you can find an 18-inch Reuben hotdog, as well as an 18-inch SI Cover dog, which features fried mac ‘n cheese, jalapeno-Granny Smith apple slaw, barbecue aioli, house-cured beer pickles, and green onion. Both from Big Dawgs.
The Reuben Dog from Chase Field. (Photo via AZ Diamondbacks / Twitter)
Smorgasburg at CitiField is featuring mini pizza cupcakes, including pepperoni, Margherita, plain, or otherwise; while Boardwalk Eats at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia’s got the donut burger all ready to go for you. Yes, it’s a burger with your choice of fixings on a glazed donut.
Comerica Park in Detroit’s Grab ‘N Go section’s got the Coney (Island) dog egg roll, which is exactly what you’d think it is: pigs in a blanket – except in an egg roll. On the other hand, Dodger Stadium is now featuring a California roll bowl, which is essentially a California sushi roll, decomposed, served up in a Dodgers logo-embossed bowl.
Oakland Coliseum’s got Party Pop’s boozy popsicles. These popsicles include a variety of frozen cocktails served in a round, plastic-covered form on a plastic stick. Looking for something sweet to eat, instead? Section 114 of the Twins’ Target Field offers up grilled pb&j’s with candied bacon between two slices of fresh sourdough bread.
The Big Red Machine Burger in the Scout’s Club at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati loads up your burger with beer cheese, potato chips, sauerkraut, and smoked sausage onto a hot pretzel. Now don’t take a nap during the game after eating all that!
And then you have some popular food chains expanding into more ballparks, too. Smashburger, for example, can now be found at the Rockies’ Coors Field. Shake Shack is now at Nationals’ Park, at the Washington, DC Navy Yards.
The Big Red Machine Burger with a beef patty, Big Red Smokey, sauerkraut beer cheese and crushed Grippo's on a Servatii pretzel bun. (Photo via Cincinnati Citybeat)
And you don’t want to miss trying some poutine at the Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre, which, until there’s a new team in Montreal, is probably where you’ll find the best poutine in a major league baseball stadium. The Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium, on the other hand, somewhat unsurprisingly, features a version of nachos with barbecued brisket.
Go on an eating frenzy while you watch a baseball game this season! The choices are endless, and I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here. Remember, the ballpark experience isn’t just about the game – though that should probably top your agenda.
Branch out – try eating something you’ve never experienced before. The diet starts tomorrow.
*Historical ballpark food information sourced from https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-ballpark-food
*Current ballpark food selections sourced from: