Don't you love simple, hassle-free food? What could be easier to fix and more delicious than a scrumptious hot dog? Easy to make, inexpensive, and fun to eat -- praise the almighty dog in its many variations!
Give me hot dogs anytime, but one time of the year seems most appropriate for preparing them. They are the perfect "celebrate summer" meal. Did you know that July is observed as National Hot Dog Month? On Independence Day alone, Americans enjoy 150 million hot dogs, enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. over five times. And, during Hot Dog Season, Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans typically consume 7 billion hot dogs or 818 hot dogs consumed every second during that period.
Let's have a hot dog today and fix it our way. First, here is a very small dog history lesson to get you in the mood.
Who Invented the Fabulous Dog?
Many lay claim to the origins and no one can say for sure although some early doggy history can be traced.
The name frankfurter comes from the name Frankfurt, Germany, where sausages served in a bun originated. Frankfurter Würstchen, were known since the 13th century and given to the people on the event of imperial coronations, starting with the coronation of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor as King.
Weiner refers to Vienna, Austria, whose German name is Wien, home to a sausage made of a mixture of pork and beef, whose name also derives from a German-speaking city.
German speaking countries often call hot dogs "Wiener Wurstchen," which literally translates to "little sausage."
Frankfurter, wiener, or "tube steak" -- call it what you may, but a hot dog by any name is a heavenly creation. A great dog begins with the right sausage -- pork, beef, veal, (personally I can do without a chicken or turkey creation). It can be skinless or in a natural casing. The cooking can be accomplished with broiling, grilling, steaming, or frying.
Finding a Great Wiener
A great hot dog begins with the right hot dog sausage. What should you buy? Here are some findings to help you shop right. Heck, why not try them all? I'm sure no package will go to waste. You might even want to conduct your own comparison taste test.
This is a report from Dan Kadison of the New York Post.
Kadison says, "Frankly speaking, Hebrew National hot dogs are the best of the wurst. Consumer Reports magazine fed its testers 620 hot dogs representing 23 brands, and when they finished stuffing themselves, Hebrew National's kosher beef franks turned out to be the chosen ones."
He continues, "Not that other wieners didn't come close to cutting the mustard. Nathan's Famous Skinless Beef Franks took second place, while Boar's Head Skinless Beef Franks came in third." (Dan Kadison, "And the Wiener Is...Hebrew National Judged Top Dog," New York Post, June 13 2007)
But, Rachel Ray's site says the best overall choice is Bar-S Beef Franks. It reports, "Tasters flipped for this all-beef hot dog. They raved about its "incredible juiciness" and "nice snap." The judges were also grabbed by its "perfect smoky-and-sweet combination," along with a "great saltiness." Bar-S was the best-selling bargain brand in America last year. One taster said, "It's everything a hot dog should be." (Dorothy Krasowska, "Taste Test: The Best Hot Dogs," Every Day With Rachel Ray, www.rachaelraymag.com, July 22 2011.)
A close second choice for Ray was Kunzler Beef Franks. Here is the scoop: "Based in Pennsylvania's Amish Country, Kunzler still uses its German founder’s recipe from 1901. Our judges loved the 'pure beef flavor' and the way the dogs 'glistened with juices.'"
In yet another review by Epicurious, people had some different choices. A blind taste test of 13 nationwide hot dog brands was conducted with seven judges as the testers. All of the hot dogs were grilled at the same temperature. The hot dogs were individually judged on the flavor, appearance, and consistency. ("Taste Test: All-Beef Hot Dogs," Epicurious.com, June 25 2009)
According to Epicurious, the best overall hot dog is Nathan's Beef Franks. The judges commented on its juiciness, sweet and smoky flavor, and firmness. One judge even said that the hot dog even tasted good cold. The only drawback to the frank was it was a little greasy.
Thumann's Beef Frankfurters came in as first runner-up. One of the testers praised the sweet pickled scent that could be tasted with every single bite. Another judge liked the neutral color and the skin and compared it to a classic frank from New York City. The only complaint was the hot dog was a little skinny.
The second runner-up was Oscar Meyer Premium Beef Franks. The testers liked the brand's distinct taste. One judge commented that it was perfectly seasoned with intense smokiness and garlic that resembled beef jerky. Some of the other testers liked that it was not too greasy and had the right firmness. The drawback of these hot dogs was the spongy texture and weird red coloring.
Loving Your Buns
A bad bun can ruin a good hot dog. Top loader? Side loader? You can find special bakery buns or shop the big commercial brands -- it's your hot dog and you must ultimately decide, but here is a little help.
Chef's Best site (www.chefsbest.org) says a quality hot dog bun has a golden brown outer crust color that looks freshly baked. The bun should not appear undercooked in any way, and the color should not be pale or anemic.
The bun’s aroma character should be simple with wheat notes and a hint of yeasty fermentation that is not over-fermented or sour.
Taste? A bun should be sweet -- mainly because the bun should balance out the saltiness of the hot dog. Salt levels in buns should be at a much lower level.
The bun should have a high resiliency level, meaning that it should go back to its original shape after being bitten or grasped, and buns should have enough structural integrity that hot dogs nestle inside without the bun breaking apart at the seam.
Chef's Best chose Sara Lee Gourmet Hot Dog Buns as the best. Other leading brands included Sara Lee Whole Grain, Pepperidge Farm, Wonder, Arnold, and Ballpark.
Cooking the Meat
Who knows the best method? Hot dogs can be baked, boiled, broiled, grilled, steamed, deep-fried or brought up to temperature in a microwave or a crock-pot slow cooker. Each cooking technique requires different lengths of time to bring hot dogs up to the proper temperature. Most sites on preparation say do not puncture hot dogs when cooking. The juices will run out, resulting in a tough, dry, unappetizing wiener.
Want a simple cooking method? One site, The Paupered Chef, instructs, "First, add a little water to a skillet, just enough to barely cover half the pan. Heat it up until it begins to steam off, then add the hot dogs. Allow them to steam as the water boils off completely (This pulls some of the salt out). You may need to tilt the skillet and drain off the last tablespoon or so.
Next, add a tablespoon of butter for each dog. Because, why not. The hot dog will begin to blister and turn all sorts of savory colors. In the meantime, toast your buns." (Blake Royer, "The Proper Way to Cook a Hot Dog," thepauperedchef.com, October 26 2007)
Dressing Your Dog
Dress up your dog and never fear your new creations. Try the coney, the slaw dog, or any delicious recipe. Your many choices of dog dressings include mustard of many varieties -- yellow, spicy brown, whole grain, Dijon, horseradish, chipotle pepper, habanero, jalapeno; mayonnaise; hot sauce; onions of all kinds; relish; piccalilli; peppers; pinto beans; chili; chopped tomatoes; bacon; coleslaw; pickles; fried potatoes; cheese; and celery salt.
Now, Eat and Enjoy
Biting The Dog
The hot dog - nothing's quite so grand.
Fills the hungry spot and the human hand.
I've yet to meet a dog I didn't like
Sausage and bun make a pure delight.
Visit the Hot Dog City site, sponsored by the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. It's full of facts, trivia, recipes, everything related to the hot dog. Here is the link to the great site: http://www.hot-dog.org/.