Why the Hot Dogs You Buy Matter

Hot dogs inspire passion. Just try handing a mustard-and-sauerkraut dog to someone who takes ketchup and onions, and you’ll see what we mean. (Plus, who doesn’t love snacking on pigs in a blanket?) Passion begets consumption, and Americans spend over $1.5 billion on store-bought hot dogs each year. To determine which all-beef hot dog is best, we bought nine brands at our local supermarket and headed into the test kitchen to cook and taste them.

Much to the chagrin of our 20-person tasting panel, condiments and buns were off-limits—we wanted to taste the hot dogs and nothing but. All dogs were boiled for exactly 4 minutes in water to cover, then sliced into rounds and served warm. Tasters scored each sample on appearance, flavor, texture, and overall quality.

Not surprisingly, our panel preferred dogs with rich, beefy flavor and a good mixture of seasonings. We were surprised to find that sugar level tracked with our final rankings: Our top three dogs all list 0 grams of sugar, and all were praised for their meaty flavor. Those with 2 grams of sugar per dog all finished toward the bottom of our rankings and were criticized for their sweet, “unnatural” flavor.

Texture was also important. Testers wanted firm dogs that had some snap. Samples with a soft, “bologna-like” texture were downgraded.

Who was the top dog? Our tasters heralded Nathan’s Famous Beef Franks dogs for their “meaty,” “hearty,” “robust” flavor and “firm,” “craggy” texture—all qualities that separate them from the overprocessed competition. “Juicy, crunchy, salty, yum,” said one happy taster. 

Did your favorite hot dog make the cut? Read our full review for the lineup of brands, ranked in order of preference (from “good and firm” to ones that smelled “a little like wet socks”). 

Christopher Kimball and Jack Bishop—hosts of Cook’s Country TV’s Taste Test segments—conducted a blind taste test of various brands of hot dogs in front of a live audience to confirm the test kitchen’s research and results.

Which dog did Kimball think tasted as though it were “made between the wars,” and which did he prefer? Watch the video and see for yourself.

Related Links:

Make it Now: Homemade Corn Dogs 

Do You Know Your Sausages? See How Many You Recognize

Bake Your Own Split-Top Hot Dog Buns with This Clever Pan