Technically, hot dog is the name of the sandwich and frankfurter is the meat in the sandwich. Now that we’ve got the jargon straight, let it be said that I prefer all-beef franks, and here are my ratings of more than 30 all-beef franks. All were tastinged double-blind, which means I did not know what franks were being served to me.
I judged them on smell, taste, aftertaste, and the texture of the skin and filling. Some of the franks were skinless, so I did not rate those on snap. Size, price, ingredients, or other label info were not considered in this blind tasting.
So what is a good hot dog? If there are casings, they should have snap but not be tough, and the filling should be resilient but not be rubbery or crumbly. The meat should be juicy and taste like beef (doh!). Spices, especially garlic, should be pronounced, but not overwhelm the meat. Salt enhances flavor, but it should not taste briny. Smoke, if present at all, should not dominate. Balance is the key, but that does not mean blandness is to be praised. No rancidity, no bitterness, no greasiness, no mealiness, no egg flavors, no artificial undertones.
What about lowfat franks? I tasted the “healthier” reduced fat and fat free versions of several of my favorite franks, and all of them scored low. Perhaps, if you’re loading them up with toppings their innate deficiencies may get buried, but all alone on their own, well, they just plain sucked.
What about organic franks? Made without preservatives, often from cattle that graze in pastures rather than gorging on antibiotic laced grains, organic hot dogs are starting to make their mark. Using such additives as celery juice, lactic acid, and sea salt to extend their shelf life and create the normal pink color, organic dogs typically are lower in fat and sell for 15-25¢ more per link in the grocery store. One producer, Applegate Farms, has to go all the way to Uruguay to get meat that meets their specs. So far, the results have been unremarkable tastewise.
Below are my ratings in four groupings and listed alphabetically within groupings.
Killer Dogs: The Best of the Best
- Hebrew National Beef Franks
- Sabrett Beef Frankfurters
- Hans’ All Natural Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
- Joe and Franks Beef Franks
- Nathan’s Famous Beef Franks
- Original Chicago Style Hot Dog
- Oscar Mayer XXL Premium Beef Franks
- Red Hot Chicago
- Scott Peterson Beef Franks
- Applegate Farms Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
- Ball Park Beef Franks
- Bar S Beef Franks
- Boar’s Head Beef Frankfurters
- Daisy Brand Beef Wieners
- Oscar Mayer Beef Franks and Oscar Mayer XXL Deli Style Beef Franks
- Safeway Select Beef Franks
- Usinger’s Beef Frankfurters
- Vienna Beef Franks
- Bobak’s Chicago Style Beef Wieners
- Eckrich Beef Franks
- Jewel Beef Franks
- Wellshire Farms All Natural Premium Uncured Beef Frank
How I tasted
Each dog was simmered in water for 10 minutes, and left to rest at room temp for about one minute before I tasted them without a bun or condiments.
I tasted the franks in elimination rounds of five each flight. Then I tasted the 10 best in two flights of five in head-to-head competition. Then the top five went head-to-head.
In the first round, I simmered them in water. Then the top 10 were cooked on a clean gas grill. I chose simmering for the first round because I could control time and temp better and because the flavor of the frank is not masked by the cooking method as much as when grilled. Grilling changes the flavors more, extracting more spice flavors and creating Maillard reaction and carmelization flavors. Because I prefer grilled, this was my final determinant.
The cooking was handled by an assistant so I would not know which was which. She kept them straight by using a new chrome coated car key inserted into the end of each weiner. Each keyblank had a different head shape. Only my assistant knew which key corresponded to which brand. I tasted with friends to get their feedback and input but the final judgments were mine alone. I scored them on the following criteria:
Smell: Meatiness, spice, smoke, other
Texture: Casing, filling, juiciness, smoothness, tenderness, other
Taste: Sweet, salt, garlic, spice, heat, smoke, other
Aftertaste: Dominant flavor, persistence, other
Here is the 10 point hedonic scale I used for each of the above criteria:
5: Neither pleasant nor unpleasant
6-7: Slightly pleasing
8-9: Very pleasing
10: Extremely pleasing
In addition I took notes on appearance and each of the criteria.
All the brands I tasted were purchased in groceries in the Chicagoland area with three exceptions. Because David Berg and Red Hot Chicago are sold only to restaurants, I contacted them and arranged to get them direct from the manufacturer. I ordered the Sabretts direct from their website. They arrived packed in ice, and well past their sell-by date. As the song goes, “ate it anyway, ate it anyway,” and, boy was I glad I did.
For the fun of it, I purchased two “homemade” pups from local butchers. Joe and Franks’ franks were among the best, and surprisingly, the hot dog from Bobak’s, a sausage maker of great repute, ranked near the bottom.
Oh where oh where has my Best Hot Dog gone?
When I first completed this tasting, my clear favorite was Best’s Kosher. Alas, Best’s has since been killed by its corporate parent, Sara Lee, in February 2009. According to an AP report on Forbes.com, “Sara Lee also has been shedding businesses that don’t fit into its strategy of focusing on categories where it is strong.” According to multiple reports, the brand was profitable, just not profitable enough. To read more, check out my article from the Huffington Post on 2/17/2009.