I don’t think I’ve ever been as surprised by a food test as I was by this week’s test of hot dog-cooking methods. Granted, we started with Olympia Provisions uncured frankfurters, which are basically the Rolls Royce of hot dogs. Even so, I never imagined a plain ol’ hot dog (I ate these without a bun or toppings of any kind) could taste so good.
I was never a major hot dog head. I think I unwittingly absorbed much of the 1990s pseudo-health babble that basically convinced us that hot dogs were made out of pig’s buttholes dunked in bleach and that you’d get a heart attack if you even looked at one (I also avoided egg yolks for a time back then, which you couldn’t pay me to do now). A lot of the 90s anti-fat crusade turned out to be flawed, and these days it’s hard to get a straight answer about which part of a hot dog is actually bad for you. I think the common sense approach probably applies: don’t eat one every day, but an occasional hot dog is probably fine.
These days I have probably two a month, usually on the golf course, always with a bun and slathered with as many condiments as I can find (I’m talking mustard, ketchup, relish, onions, and mayonnaise, and absolutely kraut and jalapeños if they’re available). I always enjoy them in limited circumstances but for a family cookout I probably would’ve told you I preferred hamburgers. After this week’s test, though… I may be a changed man.
A great hot dog can compete with a burger.
Whether you eat hot dogs a lot or a little, the same question still applies: what’s the best way to cook a wiener? Before this, I probably would’ve told you a steamed or boiled dog, ballpark style, was best. I think that was based more on looks than anything else. Nothing beats the look of a steam-plumped frank. Yet this week’s winner turned out to be a method I’d never even tried before. You learn something new every day, I guess.
I fully expect to have 10 weird, bespoke methods of hot dog cooking shouted at me in the comments, but these seemed like the basics:
- Sous vide.
I suppose I could’ve wrapped one in bacon, Sonora-style, but we all know those are amazing so we wouldn’t be discovering much, and it might cheapen the magic of buying them outside a bar at two in the morning.
Listen, I knew microwaved wasn’t going to win this contest, but a lot of people tell me they actually do eat them this way so I felt duty-bound to include it. I didn’t know how long to cook it for (hot dogs are pre-cooked, so really you’re just heating them up), and I thought 30 seconds seemed like a reasonable amount of time to start with.
Turns out I was wrong. 30 seconds made this bad boy look like a victim of Robocop. I could’ve grabbed another frank and tried this one over again, but I just didn’t feel like wasting another perfectly good frank in order to learn that, duh, microwaving isn’t the best way to make a hot dog. I think we all knew that.
Obviously, it exploded and thus looks like absolute hell. Major point deductions for the look alone. To make matters worse, all that yummy fat that should be inside of the dog when you bite into is now mostly all over the plate and the inside of my microwave. The meat squeaks when I bite into it. It has a rubbery texture and a saltier taste than the others — presumably because a lot of the liquid that would normally dilute that salt has leeched out. Not great, Bob. I’m sure I could’ve put it in the micro for less time or covered it with a wet paper towel or stuck it inside a water-filled Tupperware first (editor Steve’s suggestion) to make a better version of this, but I feel fairly confident that none of those steps would’ve saved microwaved from the bottom spot.
You don’t microwave a hot dog because you think it’s going to taste great, you do it because you’re Milhouse’s sad divorced dad. 4/10
Once again, I did what seemed pretty reasonable to me in theory. I cook bacon in an oven, why not hot dogs? So I stuck a dog on a sheet pan and baked it at 350 for less than 10 minutes. That relatively low temp and short time wasn’t enough to keep it from bursting a little, and here, again, I felt like experimenting to find the ideal time and temp to bake a hot dog seemed contrary to the ease of preparing that makes hot dogs hot dogs.
Not to mention a waste of perfectly good dogs.
This one also exploded, and consequently, it looks fucked. Wrinkly skin and with the interior partly dried out. Taste-wise, it’s less salty and not nearly as rubbery as the microwaved but the skin is kind of tough more than it’s snappy. and
There isn’t much about this method to recommend it above any of the others. 5/10
6. Sous-Vide/Water Bath
Is a sous vide (or more properly a water circulator or water bath, since sous vide means “under vacuum” in French, and you don’t really need, nor did I use, a vacuum sealer for this) a hopelessly fussy method for cooking hot dogs? Absolutely. That being said, if I needed to make 150 hot dogs all cooked to the same exact temperature for some reason, I could do it this way pretty easily, so it’s not without its potential usefulness.
For the purposes of this test, I cooked a dog at 140 degrees for an hour — as per the instructions on Anova’s website, the company that makes my circulator.
The sous vide dog comes out with nice, taut skin, with no bursting or blistering, but also less plump than a boiled dog. The appearance is pretty close to the uncooked version, which is good and bad — it looks nice and uniform, but also not a ton of plumping, and no char on the skin, if you’re into that. Biting into it, there’s a light snap to the skin, and the inside is juicy and nice. This method probably leads to the least liquid loss, so the inside stays pretty moist. Still, if you’re going with a water-based cooking method, it seems like the plump is what makes it. This one looks a little sad compared to a nice, plump steamed or boiled dog.
I think you could sous vide a dog and then finish it in a hot pan for just a few seconds, but that’s a lot of work and time for a dog, and it takes away the sous vide method’s only real upside — that you can do a lot more of them at once and have them all be finished at the same time. 7/10.
I just threw this sucker into simmering water and left it there for about 15 minutes. I didn’t do a separate steamed dog because I can’t imagine it would taste too different. Plus, this way you get the satisfaction of producing half of a Limp Bizkit album.
This looks like a classic ballpark/golf course frank, so it’s very appealing to me. Looks-wise, undoubtedly the best of the bunch. I love the way it plumps up and curls just a little. “Tumescent” is really the only way I can describe it.
Biting into it, there’s a nice snap to the exterior, and it’s very plump and juicy on the inside (not surprisingly). Taste-wise it’s difficult to judge against the sous vide, but I give it the slight edge based on the obvious plumpness difference.
Very solid experience overall, but the biggest and most obvious drawback is that does miss some of those Maillard flavors. 7.5/10
If you’re making dogs for the family for a holiday like the 4th of July, chances are they’re going to be grilled, and there’s a lot to recommend this method. The flame produces a nice Maillard reaction, adding a depth of flavor you don’t get with a water-based method and a different texture on the skin. You also get nice aroma waft from the combination of fire hitting skin and fat hitting the grill (I’ve just invented the term “aroma waft,” you have to pay me five dollars every time you use it) which is an important part of the hot dog ritual. “Hey, whatcha cookin’ over there?” your neighbors will ask, to which you can respond enthusiastically, “Mind your own goddamned business, Dave.”
I have a crappy propane grill, so admittedly I’m not getting the flavors you’d get with a charcoal or wood-fired grill, but in any case, I just tried to get a reasonably even char without letting the franks burst too much and lose moisture (which wasn’t that easy on my crappy grill).
The skin is slightly blackened in places and the dog has shrunk inside its skin slightly, which I don’t love. I like when a hot dog is supple and taut against its skin. Biting into though, it definitely makes up for what it loses in the looks department with taste. The skin has a nice snap to it, a tiny little crunch when you bite into it that the water-based ones don’t have.
That caramelization on the outside is so nice, and you’re getting so many flavors you just don’t without a char. 8/10.
3. Pan Grilled
You don’t need to own a barbecue or go outside for a grilled dog, a cast iron (or really any) pan works just fine as well. You don’t get quite the same taste or texture as a flame-kissed dog, but the upside is a slightly more even char.
It’s a little wrinkly, like the grilled version, though with more even char. Biting in, the skin has a nice snap, with a tasty interior… The skin seems slightly more tender than the flame-grilled version.
This gets the very, very slight edge over the flame-grilled version — though maybe they’d be flip-flopped if I used a charcoal grill that imparts some flavor. For now, I don’t get enough flavor difference for the flame-grilled to overcome the pan-grilled method’s slightly improved texture. 8.5/10
2. Beer Braised
This is basically the cooking method seen in The Irishman, which Zach already attempted to recreate in full here. Basically, I seared the dog a bit on all sides in the hot cast iron (which doesn’t take much longer than a minute or two) then poured in about a half bottle worth of Modelo. Modelo just seemed summery (as most Mexican beers do to me), and honestly, there aren’t too many mass-market light lagers better than Modelo.
Then I cooked it until all the beer burned off.
I’m honestly shocked at how god damn beautiful a dog this method produced. It looks similar to the pan-grilled, but with this gorgeous sugary glaze coating the skin, almost like maple bacon or honey-baked ham. My mouth is watering long before the first bite.
Biting into it, there’s definitely a brightness it gets from the beer, both sweetness and acidity in a sticky glaze. It has a depth of flavors that the others don’t. The skin not only snaps, it crackles a little. It doesn’t quite melt in your mouth like the day’s big winner. It’s very close though. The texture is glazed and sticky, which none of the others have.
The effect of the beer is downright magical. Highly recommend. 8.75/10.
1. Pan Fried
This seemed fairly obvious, but I’d never tried them this way. Zach, who lives in Berlin, says it’s standard practice for Berlin’s famous “currywurst.” I just put a little vegetable oil in the bottom of my hot cast iron fry pan and rolled the frank around in the oil. It took less than five minutes, and I was, in all honesty, blown away by how good it was.
The skin is a little dark on the outside, and it burst a little (once again I underestimated how little heat it takes to burst these things), so there’s a little light wrinkling on the exterior. Biting in… Ooh, that caramelization on the skin (plus a little of the interior) is actually really, really nice. The exterior has crackly, snappy skin, but it melts in your mouth. I had to call my wife over to taste my favorite two cooking methods and she actually closed her eyes and went “Mmm” while she chewed. It was that good. (I’d actually done the same thing so it was nice when she confirmed that it wasn’t just me being impressed with myself.)
With this method, the skin burst a little, but the hot oil basically cauterized the wound, and created this additional layer of crunchy caramelization. It was incredible. Obviously, this isn’t the healthiest method for cooking a hot dog, but if you’re already calorie splurging and you’re just cooking a hot dog, I can’t imagine what little oil it soaks up is that much worse for you than the other dog-cooking methods. Of course, that’s really a question for your nutritionist. All I know is that it tasted fantastic.
Far better than I realized any hot dog could ever taste. 9/10
Vince Mancini is on Twitter.
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