Other proteins will occupy grill grate space this weekend, but July 4th, really, is all about the hot dog.

July is National Hot Dog Month. On Independence Day, Americans will eat approximately 150 million hot dogs in total, projects the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. Nathan's Famous will host its yearly international hot dog-eating championship, where Joey Chestnut hopes to scarf his way to a record-setting victory.



Go ahead, join in. It would be un-American not to. But, this year, don't default to dressing your dogs with the same toppings you did when you were still wearing swimmies.



A hot dog can stand up to strong flavors just as well as any burger can, says Doug Sohn, owner of Hot Doug’s in Chicago -- where Sohn decorates his dogs with everything from prickly pear mayonnaise to blood orange mustard. Go with a well-made hot dog and then pile fresh ingredients on top. You'll surprise your palate (and maybe even sneak in a serving or two of vegetables).



This Fourth of July, declare your independence from boring hot dogs and bite into these variations, suggested by Sohn and published in the all-new Guy Gourmet cookbook. (Order your copy of Guy Gourmet today, and discover more than 150 delicious and healthy recipes from the best chefs in America.)

1. The Frenchie

Dijon mustard + blue cheese + a sprinkling of herbes de Provence



2. The Chicagoan
Chopped onion + sliced tomato + yellow mustard + sweet relish + dill pickle spear + sport peppers + dash of celery salt



3. The Sonoran
Avocado slices + mayonnaise + chopped tomatoes + strip of crisp bacon + chopped onion + canned pinto beans



4. The Olympian
Spinach sautéed with chopped garlic in olive oil + a brushing of Greek yogurt + a squeeze of lemon



Bonus: Grill perfect hot dogs
The mistake most grillers make? Overcooking the poor pup. "Your goal is to heat the hot dog just enough," Sohn says. To prevent the cold-in-the-center calamity, bring the links to room temperature before grilling them. "Then grill over hot, direct heat until they're just a little charred for flavor -- a couple of minutes max." Serve them on a platter, not off the grill where they tend to dry and shrivel. And be sure to toast the buns -- 15 to 30 seconds on each side over direct heat. Upgrade your cooking skills, impress your date, and reinvent your diet with 150+ easy, chef-approved recipes and tons of useful kitchen tips in Guy Gourmet cookbook.

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