Recently I came across a tweet about a small child who only eats the outside of his hot dogs. Don’t think too hard about it: He eats the literal outer layer, consumed, I imagine, by biting at it like you would an ear of corn. What’s left behind is a slightly alarming meat core, pink and irregular. “Gross,” I thought, upon seeing photographic evidence of the four-year-old’s habits. But at the same time, I felt a deep sense of understanding.
The undeniable best part of a hot dog is the charred exterior that forms when it’s cooked over an open flame or under direct heat. While you can prepare them other ways, it is my opinion that unless you end up with blackened blisters and grill marks, you might as well not make hot dogs at all. Aesthetics definitely play a factor—nothing screams Summer Vacation like a dog that’s walking the line between crisped and burnt—but I think the grilled versions are superior when it comes to flavor as well. A flame-licked hot dog is deeply savory and a little smoky, a warm weather delicacy that snaps in just the right way when you bite into it (even without a natural casing, though you could certainly go that route too!), thanks to a layer of seasonal scorch. If I didn’t have a firm grasp on table manners yet, I might only eat that part too.
This is where butterflying comes in, a technique that increases the amount of surface area that’s exposed to fire and smoke. Butterflying is the process of splitting a piece of meat (like a whole chicken or leg of lamb) down the middle but not all the way through, then opening it like a book and flattening it into a single layer. With two clear sides, a butterflied cut is much easier to cook, requiring just one flip for even browning rather than a bunch of smaller turns.
Applying the method to a hot dog means cutting a slit down the length of the link to open and flatten into one piece, creating a wider and more even canvas for blistering and grill marks. I like to press butterflied dogs (my preference is all-pork, like these long bois from Olympia Provisions) cut-side down onto the grill to connect as much of the flat surface against the grates as possible, maximizing char before flipping.
The summer before I left for college I worked at a tiny breakfast-and-lunch-only diner in my hometown called Vally Medlyn’s. I spent the hours between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. asking “How would you like your eggs?” over and over and hoping I wouldn’t have to use the finicky and very loud old fashioned milkshake maker they kept behind the bar. Like any good diner, Valley Medlyn’s had some unique menu offerings listed among the hashbrowns and pancakes, like Joe’s Scramble, which was spinach and a chopped up hamburger folded into three eggs—a local favorite, for some reason. The Kistwich was another such item, and my first introduction to hot dogs split down the middle.
The crisp split hot dogs provide the ideal snap across the whole sandwich, and you never have to settle for a bite without blistery char.
According to lore, the Kistwich had been on the menu since Vally Medlyn’s opened in the 1930s, despite more than a few changes in ownership. It consists of two butterflied hot dogs, red onion, lettuce, and tomato on grilled sourdough with ketchup and mustard, making it a hot dog and a sandwich at the same time, a unique answer to the age-old question. The Kistwich is brilliantly constructed, as the flattened dogs fit neatly onto sliced bread and keep the profile of the sandwich thin and easy to eat. But the real selling point is the Kistwich’s texture. Like a thick slice of fried bologna, the crisp split hot dogs provide the ideal snap across the whole sandwich, and you never have to settle for a bite without blistery char.
Of course, butterflied sausages do not require the sandwich treatment; they are a better filler for the typical hot dog vessel as well. Split dogs (of any variety) hug the sides of an open bun, leaving a deep and spacious center channel to fill with sauces and toppings like chunky relish, a pile of sauerkraut, or fresh salsa. If your plan is to branch out beyond basic French’s, there’s no better way to make space for the extras, and create a level of sear that can stand up to anything you want to add.
This summer might not be one for backyard barbecue parties, but that shouldn’t stop you from eating a hot dog or two—ideally in the butterflied fashion. Cooked on an outdoor grill, indoor grill pan, or even under a broiler on HIGH, split dogs balance juiciness and char like little else, and celebrate the best, meatiest flavors of the season. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine even a picky four-year-old would eat one all the way through.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious