As a Hot Dogs Hockey Lover there’s rarely a summer day when there aren’t hot dogs in my refrigerator. No matter what fancy thing I may be grilling, they’re always a welcome fallback for when a recipe goes wrong or I have guests over and need a little extra meat to throw on the grill.
On one level, cooking them is a somewhat foolproof process – they come precooked and their high fat content helps keep them moist even after they’ve been on the grill a little too long. But on another, grilling hot dogs is the kind of thing that anyone can do, but, like sex, it’s a lot better if you know a few things.
The first step to grilling the best hot dogs is picking the right ones. We did a taste test here a few years back to find the best national hot-dog brands, but brand isn’t the only consideration.
First, there’s the type of meat. When I talk about hot dogs, I’m always referring to all-beef franks. Sure, there are pork, chicken, and turkey dogs out there, but none of those taste as good to me as beef. In my experience, beef is the only meat that can stand up to classic hot-dog seasonings, like garlic, onion, paprika, mace, mustard, and coriander, and still maintain its bold, meaty flavor.
You also have the choice of cured or uncured hot dogs. Cured hot dogs are made with sodium nitrite, which extends the shelf life, helps prevent nasty forms of bacteria, and gives the meat a reddish hue.
Curing is pretty standard in hot-dog making, but some fear those additives for health reasons (I’m not one of them), so uncured dogs have been gaining traction in recent years. Many of these uncured brands will advertise “no nitrates or nitrites added,” but that doesn’t mean they have none at all. Instead they may contain nitrates (possibly even in larger doses) from natural sources, such as celery, which provide some of the benefits of regular cured dogs.
The final choice is between skinless franks or those in natural casings. Skinless dogs are cooked in a synthetic casing that is removed before they’re packaged, and is what you find on most shelves these days. While hot dogs in natural casings are harder to find, I’m going to be frank (don’t let that pun give you whiplash!) and say you’re doing yourself a disservice not to try to track them down. Hot dogs stuffed into sheep’s casings have that snappy shell that, in my mind.
Natural casing dogs from Nathan’s are easy to find in the summer in New York, and as soon as I notice them beginning to disappear after Labor Day, I buy a bunch of packages and freeze them to get me through the winter.