The Great Return of the Hot Dog

Simple, really. Hot dog, mustard, potato bun. Delicious.

The way I see it, there are three kinds of people:

1) People who don’t eat hot dogs anymore. They’re grossed out by byproducts, preservatives, and the meat leftovers that usually end up in commercial dogs (which is understandable, as most mass produced hot dogs are crap). But beyond that, they say things like, “Do you know what’s in those?” as they turn up their noses. This is the fancy food crowd, really (but not the entire crowd, as we’ll see), and they don’t even eat hot dogs now that there are good organic options. They’re likely to be the people who eschew street food entirely when traveling, and they probably wouldn’t eat a crispy pig’s ear, even if you cooked it up nice for them.

2) People who have always eaten hot dogs, and never stopped. This is most of America, and most of America still eats a lot of hot dogs (an estimated 20 billion hot dogs per year), according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (part of the American Meat Institute):

According to recent survey data obtained by the Council, Americans purchase 350 million pounds of hot dogs at retail stores – that’s 9 billion hot dogs! But the actual number of hot dogs consumed by Americans is probably much larger. It is difficult to calculate the number of hot dogs Americans may eat at sporting events, local picnics and carnivals. The Council estimates Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs a year – more than twice the retail sales figures. That works out to about 70 hot dogs per person each year. Hot dogs are served in 95 percent of homes in the United States. Fifteen percent of hot dogs are purchased from street vendors and 9 percent are purchased at ballparks, according to statistics from the Heartland Buffalo Company.

3) People who are making the hot dog great again. This is the other portion of the fancy food crowd, I would argue; people who are reclaiming this humble emulsified beef sausage and making it their own. I might be talking about you, dear reader, especially if you spent any time in the last month grinding, emulsifying, stuffing, and smoking your own hot dogs. These things are good. And for this crowd, the hot dog is cool again.

So let’s get to it. For July’s Charcutepalooza Challenge: Blending, I made Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Chicago-style All-beef Hot Dogs. If these had turned out to be mediocre sausages, I don’t think I’d make them again. It’s too much work for mediocre. It’s not the grinding or the keeping everything cold that’s hard. I’m okay with both of those things (although a little stressed about the cold part; freezing grinder parts, chilling in between steps, trying to make sure the emulsion doesn’t break). For me, it’s the second grind:

A bit messy, but worth it.

Maybe I need a better grinder. Reloading the primary grind back through the feed tube is my least favorite step of the whole process. After making these last year (entirely with the Kitchen-aid attachments, start to finish) I decided that I wouldn’t do make these again until I got a new stuffer. So now that I don’t dread stuffing (you should totally get a new stuffer, by the way), maybe it’s time to upgrade the rest of the kit. But I digress…

These hot dogs are great. And here’s the crazy thing: they look like hot dogs (I used hog casings, so they were a little big), they smell like good garlicky-smokey hot dogs, and they taste like hot dogs; they’re beefy, and juicy, and yes, they have great snap thanks to the natural casing (the smoking before grilling helps with this as well, I think). They’re kind of a pain in the neck to make, but they’re worth it. They’re a once-a-year, 4th of July kind of treat. And isn’t that the American thing to do, make hot dogs for the 4th of July? I’ve mentioned before that people are surprised (and generally happy) when you show up bearing sausage that you’ve made. They dig it. But for some reason, this one — the humble hot dog — has even more panache. I think it’s because the American Hot Dog has been transformed, really, into such a processed product that it’s totally distanced itself from the home kitchen, to a point where — as Michael Pollan might argue — it’s not even real food anymore. It would be like if someone made a Twinkie from scratch. (You can make those?!!)

Happily, these are real food, and you can make them. This batch was made with about 3 lbs of beef chuck, plus garlic, coriander, paprika, dry mustard, dextrose, corn syrup, kosher salt, pink salt, pepper (I used black, although the recipe called for white), and crushed ice. I followed the recipe from Charcuterie pretty true to form, although I didn’t use any pork fat or suet. I have the edition of the book that calls for lean beef + suet, not the boneless short ribs (what I used last year), or lean beef + pork backfat (which I can’t seem to find anywhere). See Ruhlman’s note on eGullet regarding the different recipes. I’ve also read that brisket would make a mean hot dog, and I don’t doubt it. That might be the plan for next year.

After the first grind; back into the freezer. It's really just ground beef at this point, but the transformation is on the way.

After the second grind and other 20 minute chill you combine the meat, fat, and spices and mix with the paddle attachment for 5-6 minutes on med-high. I didn't use the food processor. Then you chill again and stuff into casings.

I made a conscious effort not to overstuff these, and I ended up with a few air pockets.

Chilled in the fridge to develop a pellicle before smoking. I think chilling might be the most time-intensive step of the whole process. Not that it's hard, but it does get a little repetitive.

Smoked over hickory chips for about 90 minutes; indirect heat on a Weber kettle grill.

Starting to look more like hot dogs. Time for a party.

And finally, what better way to spend the 4th than with good food and friends? We were pretty happy with our spread and the company!

4th of July. Photo by our friend Jackie Cook. See her work at

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

An added bonus of making this particular batch was that I had some leftover forcemeat that didn’t end up in the casing. So I wrapped it in plastic (about the shape of a liverwurst or a package of frozen Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage), tied the ends tight, and poached it in 160 degree water for almost an hour, until the temp came up to 150. A quick plunge in an ice batch, and I had uncased bologna. Is this bologna? I’m not sure. But it was also good. And the kids liked it, which is even better.

Extra credit? All beef bologna (or something like that).

For further reading:

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Bratwurst-Weisswurst-Hot Dog-Mortadella post. A nice overview of the whole process, including important information on casing your forcemeat in a beef bung, if you want to make real bologna or mortadella! June 1011

“Going to the Dogs” (Ruhlman, Ruggiero) – Background on Ruhlman’s favorite Vienna Beef dogs, and on the resurgence of gourmet hot dog culture in general. Gourmet 2006

The Paupered Chef’s great Homemade Hot Dog post – which predates Charcutepalooza by quite some time. This post gives you a sense of how ahead of the curve these guys are, and how messy parts of the process can be without a vertical sausage stuffer. October 2008


About Scott

occasionally-bearded teacher/musician/cook
This entry was posted in beef, charcutepalooza, sausages, smoke, technique and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Great Return of the Hot Dog

  1. Great pictures! Your hot dog making seemed to go a lot better than mine…

  2. I love all the background you give in this post. I’m reading through all the articles right now! I embraced the hot dogs much like you did. I hate the clean-up. I’ll always hate cleaning those attachments, but the dogs came out beautifully. Fantastic post, and you’re right, I think i could handle doing this maybe once a year.

  3. Scott says:

    Thanks! This was the second time through for me — and last year’s were a much bigger mess. And I think slightly understuffing was the way to go (they were a much more squishy after stuffing, but I only had one blowout on the grill). It also allowed me to twist the links more than I normally do, which kept them closed as they cooked. The clean up is never fun, but I was really happy with how they turned out.

    Now I’ve got to get reading the other posts!

  4. Eric says:

    well done, sir! we thought we were doing it right by picking up some dogs from the farmers’ market, but you really did it up. though i didn’t see any homemade relish on those wieners…

  5. Scott says:

    Ah, but there is homemade mustard!

  6. Pingback: Charcutepalooza Wrap-up: Back to Basics | Smoke Cure Pickle Brew

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s