Hot dogs and barbecue season go hand in hand. Kids birthday parties and hot dogs go hand in hand. Come to think of it, baseball and hot dogs go hand in hand, as well. And why stop there—hot dogs pretty much have a place any and everywhere. But where did hot dogs originate? And do they really contain miscellaneous pig parts like the curly tail and snout?
We can credit Nathan Handwerker, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who started out as a bun slicer at a hot dog stand at Coney Island. He began saving all of his money in the hopes of starting his own stand. When he finally saved up $300, it allowed him to live his own dream. By cutting his prices in half of what the competitors were charging, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs was born. Just over 100 years later, you can still find Nathan’s on your grocer’s shelves.
So what exactly IS a hot dog?
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council:
“All hot dogs are cured and cooked sausages that consist of mainly pork, beef, chicken, and turkey or a combination of meat and poultry. Meats used in hot dogs come from the muscle of the animal and looks much like what you buy in the grocer’s case. Other ingredients include water, curing agents, and spices, such as garlic, salt, sugar, ground mustard, nutmeg, coriander, and white pepper.”
There are many varieties of hot dogs, and they can be boiled, grilled, and even microwaved (*gasp*). Let’s check out some of these options.
Hot Dog Faceoff: Which is the Best?
All-Beef Hot Dog
There are plenty of contenders when it comes to the all mighty beef hot dog. The most popular being Nathan’s, Oscar Mayer, Hebrew National Beef Franks, Sabrett, Ball Park, and Boar’s Head.
Hot dogs that are labeled “all beef” must be made with meat from a single species and do not include byproducts (but check the label anyway, just to be sure). Turkey and chicken franks, for instance, “can include turkey or chicken meat and turkey or chicken skin and fat in proportion to a turkey or chicken carcass.”
The following guide will help you better understand the ingredients in your hot dogs: Hot Dog Ingredient Guide from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council
All-Beef Hot Dog Nutrition Facts:
- 126 calories
- 9 g fat
- 3 g carbohydrates
- 6 g protein
Personally, the only hot dogs I allow in my home are Applegate Natural Uncured All Beef Hot Dogs. These dogs are made from grass-fed beef, and 98% is the actual grass-fed beef and water; the other 2% is sea salt, spices, garlic, onion, paprika, and celery powder.
The nutrition information for these is 110 calories, 9 g fat, 0 carbohydrates, 6 g protein.
This is not to say that when we are dining out, or at a food truck, we don’t consume other brands or varieties, but when I am the one cooking, this is what is served.
I would prefer not to have to use the guide to determine what the ingredients are in my food, and I like being able to pronounce everything and to feel confident there are no fillers or additives.
Bratwurst is, by definition, a sausage. That is, it’s a spicy ground meat that is usually stuffed into a narrow tube of skin or made into a flat cake. So technically, both hot dogs and bratwurst fall into this category, but we don’t often refer to a hot dog as a sausage.
Hot dogs are processed much finer into a paste-like consistency, whereas bratwursts are left in a more solid form and are rarely cooked before hitting your grocery store shelves.
You may need to refer to the handy guide above to decipher some of the ingredients, but for the most part, they contain pork, water, corn syrup, and less than 2% of the following: pork broth with natural ﬂavorings, salt, dextrose, natural ﬂavors, BHA, propyl gallate, citric acid.
While the macros don’t really allow a solid comparison, to be fair, most bratwursts are much larger than your traditional hot dog, so you are not only consuming more calories, but you are more than likely consuming more food in general.
Bratwurst Nutrition Facts:
- 260 calories
- 21 g fat
- 2 g carbohydrates
- 14 g protein
We have been led to believe that consuming a turkey burger is “healthier” than a beef burger. Is this true for a turkey dog versus a beef dog?
I think it all boils down to the brand and what “other” ingredients are in the dog itself.
For example, you can find all the same unpronounceable ingredients in a turkey dog as you can find in a beef dog. However, much like the Applewood beef dog, this brand also offers a 98% turkey meat version, which includes only salt, paprika, onion, garlic, cardamom, coriander, mace, ginger, black pepper, celery juice powder, and cherry powder.
Bottom line: I don’t want to dog particular brands of hot dogs by calling them out for being “unhealthy” (pun intended), so if you love hot dogs, opt for nitrate-free, organic varieties (available in health-food stores and increasingly in regular supermarkets) that contain all meat, no byproducts, and no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
Something else to be mindful of are the toppings you add to your hot dog, and of course, the bun selection. I shared some of the most popular hot dog toppings in the following article: Street Foods.
If you are debating hot dog or hamburger, from a calorie standpoint, the hot dog is the winner, but from an overall perspective, the hamburger is a better option. The 4-ounce hamburger has about six times the amount of protein as a hot dog but about a quarter of the sodium.
Turkey Dog Nutrition Facts:
- 130 calories
- 11 g fat
- 2 g carbohydrates
- 6 g protein
Ever heard of a carrot dog? Is carrot the new cauliflower?
Before you skip right past this recipe, hear me out. This. Will. Surprise. You. I am willing to try anything once, and with this, I actually have tried it twice now. I think the secret is to use a marinade that you would also use on a beef hot dog and to grill the carrots.
Carrot Dog Ingredients:
- 8 carrots
- 1 cup vegetable broth (unless you aren’t too concerned with staying vegan, then use a beef broth)
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp mustard
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp paprika (standard paprika is great, but if you can find smoked paprika, this stuff is the bomb)
- *8 hot dog buns
- * Ketchup, mustard, relish, and/or sauerkraut (condiments)
- Peel and wash carrots.
- Steam carrots on the stovetop until cooked.
- Whisk broth, vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, garlic powder, and paprika and pour into resealable bag.
- Add carrots, seal, and place the bag in the refrigerator.
- Marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
- Grill carrots on gas or charcoal grill.
- Serve on buns (or without) with your favorite condiments.
Chef Note: If you can marinade for an hour, that is perfect, but if you can marinade overnight that is ideal. Carrots are able to soak up a ton of flavor in a short period of time.
Carrot Dog Nutrition Facts:
- 41 calories
- .25 g fat
- 9 g carbohydrates
- 1 g protein
Which type of hot dog is YOUR favorite, and how do you like to top yours? Are you adventurous or do you stick with the basics? Let us know in the comments below.