Philadelphia has the cheesesteak, Chicago has deep-dish pizza and Portland has whatever the hell kale is — but when it comes to regional cuisine, nothing is quite as unique and delicious as the Ripper at Rutt’s Hut in Clifton. Rutt’s Hut opened in 1928, and it didn’t take long for the eatery to become the preeminent hot dog joint in North Jersey. The original owners, Royal “Abe” Rutt and his wife Anna created the unique Ripper, which brings us to today’s Vocabulary Word:
Ripper – Noun. A deep-fried hot dog cooked until the skin rips open.
Example: “I know it’s only 9 in the morning, but I’m going to get some Rippers. Anyone want to come?”
“One of the keys to our success is consistency,” said Gus Chrisafinis, who is now one of the owners at Rutt’s Hut. “We haven’t changed. You still come in and get the same great food you’ve had for decades. That’s what people like.”
And thanks to appearances on PBS’s A Hot Dog Program and on Travel Channel’s Deep Fried Paradise — not to mention all the food blogs (like SeriousEats.com) and thousands of Instagram pics — Rutt’s Hut has cemented its place as a true New Jersey culinary landmark.
“We get tourists all the time,” Chrisafinis told Best of NJ. “They see us on TV and they just have to try a Ripper. Business is always booming.” During the Patriots/Giants game in November, CBS Sports even gave Rutt’s Hut an on-air shout-out. Other companies would spend millions of dollars to get their products on the air during such a high-profile NFL game, but Rutt’s Hut needed only one thing: A great hot dog.
The Good Stuff
The secret to Rutt’s success, and why it’s been featured on TV and in books, is the famous, the wonderful, the perfectly named Ripper. But a deep-fried hot dog alone won’t get you national attention. The magic is in the sauce: Rutt’s makes their own, top-secret relish.
When asked about the relish, the nice and friendly Chrisafinis got tight-lipped. “That’s a secret,” he said. “Some people have tried to figure out what’s in the relish, but no one has yet to crack it.” And that’s all he would say on the matter.
If you’re thinking this relish is just a fancy word for a pureed pickles, you’re incredibly mistaken. “I tell people who come in for the first time to at least try the relish,” Chrisafinis said. “It’s like nothing you’ve had before. And I’d say 9.9 out of 10 people who try it are amazed. They can’t believe it.”
The thick relish can best be described as somewhat…mustardy with a hint of…magic? It’s difficult to describe, but wonderful to taste, and the famous relish could turn any food into something special.
But relish alone cannot make a meal, and so one must first order a Ripper. And there’s more than one way to cook a hot dog. There are four ways, to be specific. And you need to know how you want your hot dog. Take notes. This is important:
The In-and-Outer: This is a lightly cooked dog, yanked from the hot oil before the skin cracks. This is great for people unwilling to try new things. If you love a traditional hot dog and never want anything else, this is the style for you. Also, you’re boring.
The Classic Ripper: Order a hot dog at Rutt’s, and this is what you get — a delicious hot dog with a nice cracked skin and perfect snap when you bite into it. It’s a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of cooking and presentation. If you make the trip to Rutt’s, this is what you want.
The Weller (Well-Done): This is a Ripper that’s left to cook a little longer. Some hot dog connoisseurs say “well done” is the best way to eat a hot dog, as the charred skin adds to the flavor. This is the hot dog for those with a more sophisticated hot dog palate.
The Cremator: This one’s a hot dog that’s left in the hot oil until it learns its lesson. A cremator (pictured, right) comes out much darker than the Ripper and Well-Doner, and if you like your food cooked as though it has been dipped in the lava of Mt. Doom, then this is the dog for you.
“People who see us on TV know about the Cremator,” said Chrisafinis about the most fried of all their fried hot dogs. “They come in saying that’s what they want, and I say, ‘You ever been here before? I don’t think you want to jump right into a Cremator.’ I usually advise them to try a regular dog first. You got to build yourself up to a Cremator. It’s an acquired taste.”
It’s A Jersey Thing
The national attention is great for business, but Rutt’s Hut will always love its locals. “We have people coming in every day, the same people. This is where they get their lunch every day,” said Chrisafinis. “It’s like a family.”
And when you leave Jersey, nothing else compares. “I miss it,” said Joshua Miller, a former Clifton resident who moved to Pennsylvania for work. “You can’t find a true Ripper anywhere but at Rutt’s. And when you try to explain it to people who aren’t from the area, they just look at you like, ‘It’s just a hot dog, right?’ But it’s more than just a hot dog. It’s a Ripper!”
Chrisafinis has had customers attempt to ship the dogs across state lines, but only rarely. “We’re not really set up for that kind of thing. A few times someone will come in and they have the dry ice and they want to pack up and ship some, but it’s not something we normally do.”
So the only way to get one is to come to North Jersey.
Where To Get One: Rutt’s Hut is located at 417 River Road in Clifton. There’s a lunch counter, a restaurant and a bar. They’re open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the week, and are open until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
“We have people come in and order a Ripper first thing in the morning,” said Chrisafinis. “Some of these guys just got off working the night shift, so that’s their dinner.”
A Ripper costs $2.20 ($2.65 with cheese) and you can order sides such as chili and fires. Rutt’s Hut also offers a full menu of options, and dozens of sandwiches, so even if hot dogs aren’t your thing, you’ll find something you like. (But why did you read this entire article if hot dogs aren’t your thing?)
And what do you drink with a Ripper? “Beer, if you’re of age,” said Chrisafinis. “Otherwise, you gotta have it with Birch Beer.”
For more information, visit www.ruttshut.com.
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