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Normally, we post recipes and history, but today we are going to do something just a little different in our grilling series. You see, we are NOT going to give hot dog recipes and while there probably is an interesting history in hot dogs, we are not going to cover that. Today, we are going to give you some ideas on how to choose a great hotdog when you are at the store.

Hotdog vs Weiner vs Frank

Typically, all of these can be used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the hotdog and the other two. In fact, look at the packages when you go to the grocery store. Rarely do they say ‘hotdog.’ A Weiner or a frank is just the meat, sans bun. A hotdog is when the Weiner hits the bun. That’s what she said.

The Office Reference

Couldn’t help it. That’s what she said.

Quick and Dirty on Choosing Hotdogs – The Rule of Three

The most simple way to pick a good hotdog is to look at the first three ingredients in the ingredients list. All hotdog packages have a list of ingredients. Look at that. The only real thing that you need to ask yourself is if the first three ingredients seem normal.

Me Eating a Hotdog

Look for Plain Descriptions In Hotdog Ingredients

If I look at a hot dog package, I am looking for ingredients like pork, beef, turkey, or chicken. As soon as I would see anything that starts to feel a bit icky, like “mechanically separated poultry” or “variety meat”, I tend to move on.

Water is ok in hotdog ingredients

So, it is common practice for ice to be added to hot dogs in the cooking process. The meat goes through enough friction that it would start to cook itself, but that is not desirable for hot dogs and it is cooked/cured at different parts of the process. Most often, water should be one of the first three ingredients.

What are Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM) parts?

Ever heard of the phrase that lips and assholes are in hotdogs? Well, I think that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it does stem from somewhere and Mechanically Separated Meats might be part of that notion. The USDA defines what Mechanically Separated Meats are.

Basically, it is the pink slime that has been in the news for the past several years and it must be labeled as such. So, if you look at an ingredients list on a hot dog package, if it does not contain ‘mechanically separated’ poultry or pork, your hot dog is probably made with better parts. The MSM could have any number of tidbits in it like blood vessels or less desirable parts of the animal.

Variety Meats

This is one to be particularly careful of, but I did not see any hot dogs in my store that had this on the label… even the cheapest ones there. Also from the USDA site:

“Frankfurter, Hot Dog, Wiener, or Bologna With Byproducts” or “With Variety Meats” are made according to the specifications for cooked and/or smoked sausages (see above), except they consist of not less than 15% of one or more kinds of raw skeletal muscle meat with raw meat byproducts. The byproducts (heart, kidney, or liver, for example) must be named with the derived species and be individually named in the ingredients statement.

So, ultimately, look at the first three ingredients of your hot dog package. Do they look reasonable? THAT is the rule of three. Sure, the number of ingredients is also important and I might also pay attention to that, but the rule of three is an easy way to judge a hot dog before you taste it.

Type of Meat – Pork, Beef, Turkey, Chicken

I think this comes down to personal preference. Some brands tout all-beef dogs, but I see no problem with pork. I am more likely to be grilling up a brat anyway, so if it is in my hot dog, what is the big deal? Even chicken or turkey are not a problem for me. In general, I think a combination of pork and beef are probably the best mix for my tastes.

Casing or No Casing?

Once again, this is personal preference. Natural casing is my preference, but purchase what you like. What I like about the natural casing dogs is that it gives a bit of a snap to your hotdog. The ones that have no skin are basically loaves of meat. The casing just gives a chance for a little bit extra to be added to your hotdog.

Summary of Finding a Great Hotdog

  1. Look at the first three ingredients. Do they sound like things you might serve by themselves?
  2. Does it have the ingredients you would want in a hotdog?
  3. Does it have a natural casing and is that what you prefer?

A Brand I Recommend

So, I did a bit of a taste testing round for this deep dive into choosing hot dogs and came up with a favorite. The brand that I found to be best to my liking is Ambassador hot dogs. First, they pass The Rule of Three with the first three ingredients being pork, water, and beef. Second, they have a natural casing so it gets that delightful snap when you are eating a dog. Finally, it has this fantastic smoke flavor that not many other dogs have. They are a real pleasure to eat and I find myself craving these dogs!

Three Ambassador Weiners on my Weber Grill

Other brands that I have enjoyed are Nathan’s and Hebrew National Hotdogs, but Ambassador caught my heart.

Unfortunately, not everybody can get Ambassador. They are available in Minnesota and on near the borders. So, you are going to need to do your own experimentations on what is best for you, your tastes, and your family. I think I have supplied you with enough information to go to your local market and start experimenting so you can find the best hot dog for you!

Alternative Meat Hot Dogs

If you follow along with me, you know that I reside with a vegetarian and that means I am exposed to some meat alternatives. There are many choices out there, but I do want to take a second to recognize the Beyond Sausage, as it is probably the best that I have had. It does really well in both the texture and taste department, so if you have a vegetarian in your life or need to serve up a vegetarian brat at your next cookout, pick up some of these Beyond Sausages and it will make those not-meat eaters happy.

The truth is that I love grilling and I love me a good hot dog, but they just are not all created equal. I hope I have given you some tips on the finer points on choosing a hot dog and your next shopping experience is a little better because of these tips. Hey, you guys and gals. Sign up to get my email. We have lots of fun.

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  1. We’re fans of Hebrew National or Nathan’s all-beef dogs. And well done. Gotta have that char.

    1. I liked both of those as well. The Ambassador had a combination of smoke flavor and snap that I really liked.

  2. I definitely prefer natural casing as well! We like Black Bear brand. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a nitrate free/organic version with a natural casing!

  3. Good advice! I also agree with you about casings – the only way to go, and the best hot dogs always seem to have them. I grew up eating Kowalski hot dogs (pronounced with a V sound instead of a W), from a Polish shop in Hamtramck, which is basically the Warsaw of Michigan. But here’s something interesting: it used to be that Michigan had laws that prohibited anything but the highest standards in hot dog ingredients. This law was challenged (and defeated) by a couple national brands – Armour, Hormel among them – so that they could sell pink slime dogs there. What a shame.

    1. Is that related to the hot dog place in Chicago? I ate there. It was yummy, but I had to wait a looooong time for a hot dog.

  4. All great advice, Ben. Although I’d be OK with a hot dog with variety meats, since I eat and enjoy them in their pure form, why not in a hot dog? And how long has it been since I’ve had a hot dog with that nice snap? Now I know how to find one of those again. Thanks!