When I was growing up, the hot dog drawer in our refrigerator was bottomless. If my mom was feeling ambitious, she’d whip up some of her eponymous Jeannie’s Weenie Supremies (these were genius: take a hot dog, split it and stuff it with cheddar cheese, then wrap it in bacon).
Left to his own devices, my dad would go with a simple boiled hot dog (always made in the same shallow pan with flower motif) wrapped in a slice of basic bread. But me, I enjoyed using our Presto Hot Dogger – a hot dog torture device that consisted of two rows of six cone shaped probes that were across a plastic tray from each other. Impale each end of the dog on a probe, making an Arc d’Hotdog, then plug the tray in and electrocute your lunch. Really.
My hot dog love affair continued outside my home as well. I’ve dropped hundreds of New York City dirty-water dogs into my belly and, when I was in high school, took more one chemically enhanced 3 AM journey to Coney Island to stand in the glow of the Nathan’s sign eating fresh grilled franks.
The subway was above ground by the time it reached Coney, and we’d float above the streets in empty subway cars watching Manhattan get smaller behind us as the neighborhoods changed and we drew closer to the beach. It all seemed almost magical to me, like a journey in search of the source of the Nile.
With a trip to Coney Island outside day trip range (I’m no longer in the northeast), it’s now more important than ever to try to keep my hot dog drawer bottomless. The question, though, is which packaged dog should I stock it with? Is Nathan’s always the answer? It’s time for the Meatist Hot Dog Shootout, Part I.
I copped some packages of Nathan’s Hot Dogs (the Bigger Than The Bun version), Applegate Farms Organic Uncured Beef Dogs, Boar’s Head Beef Hot Dogs, and the always-welcome in my home Oscar Mayer Wiener (that, by the way, is the only time using the word “wiener” is acceptable when you’re talking about a hot dog). I made two versions of each, one grilled and one boiled like the old man did. I tried them with mustard, I tried them neat (I refuse to belittle a hot dog with ketchup, so don’t ask). I even made a weak attempt to be impartial by trying the boiled versions blindfolded, with my wife saying “open wide, here comes the plane” and dropping a chunk into my mouth. For the grilled versions, I simply fed myself, because I’m all grown up now.
Nathan’s Bigger Than The Bun
Boiled and neat, it’s good but mild. Adding mustard wakes it right up though and elevates it to the number one slot in the boiled with mustard class. Grilled it’s even better. It gets greasier and therefore tastier, the doggiest hot dog in the pack, taking me back to Coney. This is the hot dog that every baby dog wants to be when hot it grows up. Meatist’s Pick.
Boar’s Head Beef Hot Dogs
Eaten neat, it’s obvious that this is a quality hot dog with a nice spice balance to it. But once Mr. Yellow shows up, the Nathan’s hot dog leaves this one in the dog walk. Grilling it brings aesthetic bonuses: the casing begins to tighten and gleam with the strain of trying to contain the selling beef within (was that too phallic?). Intermittent streams of grease spout from weak spots with a whine, making it entertaining to watch with friends and a fine choice if you’re a crap conversationalist. In the end though, this hot dog values form over function: you may impress some guests, but you’ll look like a hot dog poseur to anyone who truly knows dogs.
This is one dense dog. It’s got a nice beefy flavor, if a bit different than your standard hot dog. It does have a unique spicy edge to it with a pepper finish. Mustard is a good addition. Grilling it doesn’t change the profile as much as it does in the case of the Nathan’s, but it does look nicer. Good but not great, not feed this hot dog to your children if you want to feel good about feeding your kids something when you’re too lazy to cook. They make it with organic meat and there are no nitrates and nitrites, so it sounds healthy at least.
Oscar Mayer Weiner
Can you even consider something made from “mechanically separated” pork, chicken, and turkey a hot dog? Hells, yes you can, even if it sounds like it promises a shart from even the most tightly clenched cheeks. With a nice smoky flavor, the flavor profile may seem more sausage than hot dog to some, but it’s still a fine, fine hot dog. Mustard detracts from the flavor, something I never thought I’d say, and grilled or boiled this thing deserves a snuggle in white bread with no condiments: my father was onto something. This is the most economical of the bunch too (I’ve seen them for $1.50 a pack at Wally World), so it works well for crowded barbecues even if hot dog snobs might think you make speed in your bathtub. Screw those assholes though: you know they’d be wasting their cash on the Boar’s Head dogs anyway.
I did put a control palate in play here: my 13-year-old daughter. Her rankings? Nathan’s won, followed by the Oscar Mayer Weiners, then the Boar’s Head, with Applegate Farms bringing up the rear. However, I’ve fed both of my kids those Applegates with no complaints, so there, Nina.