I can count on one fist the number of lobster rolls I ate last winter. But as the steady stream of summer visitors (if they really loved me, they’d come in February or March, right?) flows through my guest room, I’m averaging about three per week while out and about seeing the sights. I know I am not the only one out there ranking them and looking for the best ones.

I took a friend in from Egypt to the Giant Stairs Trail on Bailey Island because it’s a stunning place to watch the clouds dance over the sea, something you don’t get to see every day in an arid climate. We stopped for lunch at The Salt Cod Café, located just north of the Cribstone Bridge on Orrs Island because its rolls are near the top of my personal list, and the establishment’s outdoor seating provides a quintessential Maine, boat-filled vista over the Harpswell Sound.

As I waited for my customized roll – you can choose mayo or melted butter as the lobster mixer and add bacon, lettuce and/or tomato if you fancy those, too – I asked the two teenagers stuffing generously pre-measured lobster portions into toasted hot dog buns how many lobster rolls they make in a day. As teens do to mothers my age, they rolled their eyes at my weird question. They joked it had to be like 12,000 on a busy day, maybe 7,000 on a slow one. That’s what it feels like at least, they said, because everyone walking through the door seems wants one.

A batch of homemade hot dog buns, fresh out of the oven, are ready for a picnic dinner. And if a homemade bun can improve a hot dog, think of the (lobster roll!) possibilities.

I could not find a credible source, well any source at all, actually, that tracks the number of lobster rolls served in Maine annually. But judging by the amount of time I spend sitting in Route 1 traffic in Wiscasset as Red’s Eats customers make their way across the road at a snail’s pace, I’d hazard a guess that it’s millions, maybe even billions.

That’s a lot of local lobster being served in split-top, flat-sided, toasted buns. Sometimes those buns are made locally. As one story goes, it was baker Portland baker J.J. Nissen who invented the flat-bottomed, top-loading bun as a convenient carrier. The national commercial bakery, Country Kitchen, has a facility in Lewiston. And higher-end restaurants sometimes serve lobster salad on sweet, rich brioche rolls from either Standard Bakery in Portland or Beach Pea Bakery in Kittery. The rolls are distributed statewide on trucks, packed in boxes, wrapped in plastic, and in the case of commercial hot dog rolls probably baked with processed flours, high fructose corn syrup and chemical stabilizers.

I won’t advocate a whole hog switch to a more sustainable bun for every lobster roll served in the state. That suggestion would elicit both cultural and logistical objections. No, I think I’ll leave lobster rolls alone for the moment.


But you and I can be a bit greener in our own kitchens when it comes to serving our summertime hot dogs. In her book, “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter,” Jennifer Reese conducts a time, nutrition, cost and taste evaluation of over 120 common household foods. She uses those factors to determine which is the better all-around deal, an item bought whole or made from scratch. On the hot dog bun, she comes down on the side of making your own because they taste better, cost only about a third what commercial ones cost, (she claims) are only a slight hassle to pull off. I’d add to Reese’s argument that the local milk, eggs, flour and honey you already have in your larder will cut down on both food miles and plastic packaging. And standing in your kitchen instead of standing in line at the grocery store is a more pleasant use of fleeting summertime hours.

Homemade hot dog buns, ready to serve on a patio table. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

This recipe is adapted from one published by King Arthur flour. I use a 50/50 mix of Maine Grain’s spelt flour and King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour for both more flavor and a softer roll.

Makes 8 buns

1 tablespoon honey

1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast


1/4 cup warm water (between 105°F to 115°F)

1 cup warm whole milk (between 105°F to 115°F)

1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

3 to 3 3/4 cups (345 to 425 grams) flour

Oil for coating the rising bowl and rolling dough


1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

Sesame, poppy or caraway seeds, or coarse salt (optional)

Dissolve the honey and yeast in the warm water in a large bowl. Add the milk, butter, salt and 1½ cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

Gradually add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.

Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Because this dough is so slack, you may find that a bowl scraper or bench knife can be helpful in scooping up the dough and folding it over on itself.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly-woven dampened towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.


Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Roll the balls into cylinders, 4 1/2-inches in length. Flatten the cylinders slightly with the side of your hand to make an indentation.

For soft-sided buns, place them on a well-seasoned baking sheet a half inch apart so they’ll grow together when they rise. For crisper buns, place them 3 inches apart. Cover with a towel and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

Fifteen minutes before you want to bake the buns, heat oven to 375 degrees F. Just before baking, lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with whatever seeds strike your fancy.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the tops are slightly golden and the internal temperature of the roll in the center of the pan 190 degrees F. Remove the buns from the baking sheet and transfer them to cool on a wire rack.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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