Any way you choose, you can’t go wrong with the adaptable hot dog. Follow these tips for the best ways to put on the dog at your next cookout and check out these recipes for easy add-ons to make “the dog days of summer” truly delicious.
1. The hot dog is at the center of the bun so buy quality. National brands like Hebrew National, Eisenberg Black Angus Sirloin Franks, David Berg 1/4 lb Beef Franks and Niman Ranch Fearless Uncured Beef Franks are a step above your everyday dogs. Also keep and eye out for Johnsonville Brats, locally made Lou’s Sausages and Heinen’s fresh sausages to start for the best tasting sandwich.
2. Dogs come either with a casing or without. Purists love the casing for its “snap” when you bite into it, but most of us are familiar with a skinless wiener. All are delicious. Kosher dogs will be all beef but hot dogs with a blend of beef and pork will be juicier and to some, more flavorful. Read the package to find the dog that best suits your tastes.
3. Cook it right. Hot dogs and cured kielbasa are already cooked, so they only need a short warm up in simmering (never boiling) water then a short grill until lightly browned with grill marks (not charred). The goal is to leave some of the natural juices inside the dog, so take it easy on the cooking. Uncooked sausages and brats like to be cooked the same way. Just cook until firm in the liquid and then give them a short grill. See the Hot Dog 101 recipe which follows.
4. Heavy duty aluminum foil and disposable aluminum pans are your go-to cooking vessels for cooking on the grill. The structure of the heavy foil makes it easier to handle wrapped food on and off the grill and the disposable nature of the pans speaks for itself.
5. Create themed sandwiches as an interesting twist on the stand-by dog. Whether you go South of the Border, Chicago Style, Rueben Dog, Italian, Hawaiian (with pineapple salsa and chopped ham) or provide the makings for a fabulous Stadium Dog, special condiments make it fun and tasty.
6. Stay out of the dog house by matching the size of the frank with an appropriately sized bun. Buns that are too long (or franks that are too short) are a big no-no. Every bite should be meaty so purchase long full-length wieners and cut your sausage to extend an inch or so outside the bun. You can also purchase buns slit across the top which work a little better at holding all the fillings inside. Another insider trick is to pull some of the bread away from the inside of the bun, leaving a thinner bun/shell the better to hold the overflowing condiments more neatly inside the bun when you bite down on the dog. Try it. It’s brilliant.
7. Speaking of buns, no matter what kind you use, open them up and toast the insides lightly on the grill to warm them up. If you’re really into it, butter the bun before toasting. It’s heaven.
8. Set out all the components on a table and allow guests to make it their way. Keep toppings like chili and sauerkraut warm in crock pots. If you’re going super casual provide ketchup, mayo and mustard in squeeze bottles for ease of service. Keep it simple but plentiful.
9. Remember that hot dogs are a hand held food item so when it comes to building a better hot dog, architecture matters. A teetering stack of condiments will likely end up on the ground so plan accordingly. Apply wet things like mustard and ketchup on the bun before adding the wiener. That way you won’t end up with it all over your lips. But chili, sauerkraut, coleslaw and pulled pork should go on top so that the bun doesn’t become too soggy and fall apart. If your eye for topping is bigger than your bun, never fear. Tucking in an outer layer of sliced cheese can help hold all that goodness inside the bun.
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sinkful of dishes. Look for Carla on Facebook, Twitter (carlacooks), Pinterest and at ravenouskitchen.com where she blogs about everything from cooking for two to easy weekend entertaining for a crowd.