The Truth About Hot Dogs—Plus 2 Ways to Dress Them Up

August 22, 2014

Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.

Today: Hot dogs get dressed up for the ball -- two ways.

Hot Dogs

Ever since the invention of the hot dog, there's been a rumor that you don’t want to know what goes into them; that a hot dog contains every bit of the animal that you don’t want to think about, which is then processed and spiced and whipped and stuffed and smoked. As a kid this idea terrified me, but these days it doesn't so much. There isn’t an edible part of a pig or a cow that I haven’t tried; and even if I didn’t like certain parts on their own, if they tasted good in a hot dog I would feel happy that they were getting put to good use.

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Beyond that, I’ve also learned that this rumor is, for the most part, entirely false. Having made thousands upon thousands of hot dogs at The Meat Hook, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the only things that go into our hot dogs are beef, pork, garlic, and spices. All of these ingredients get ground, emulsified, stuffed into lamb casings, linked, and then smoked -- and that’s it. No eyeballs or toenails or weird chemicals like my sister always warned me about.

Hot Dogs Sauerkraut 

Maybe because of the rumors surrounding them, hot dogs have long been thought of as low-brow food -- we eat them at carnivals, scarf them at sporting events, buy them from carts on the side of the road, or grill them in our backyards and slather them with all manner of condiments. These are all beautiful things, and should remain. But let’s also give the hot dog another role -- let's get it a little bit dressed up for the ball.

More: If you really want to make your hot dog fancy, tuck it inside a homemade bun. 

Hot Dogs

Here we have hot dogs two ways: a classy dog, and a less-than-classy dog. The classy dog is covered in a bright pickled slaw of beets and carrots and cucumbers tossed with fresh herbs. Throw some yellow mustard under that slaw, pour a crispy white wine, and just live your life. The less-than-classy dog is piled high with three-meat chili and topped with diced onions, cheese, pickled jalapños, and Fritos. It’s begging you to drink a beer with it. 

I don’t have a grill because I live in a tiny shoebox, but my preferred method of cooking hot dogs is in a cast-iron skillet, anyway. I fill the skillet with about a half inch of water and cook the hot dogs over medium heat. The water will steam them and then evaporate, giving them a nice snap. 

So before summer comes to a close, I hope you eat at least one hot dog -- whichever way you like. 

Hot Dogs

Three-Meat Chili

Serves 8 to 10

1 piece bacon, diced
1 large onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound red chorizo sausage, uncased
12 ounces beer (I usually use a lager)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons dark chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

What's your favorite way to top a hot dog? Tell us in the comments -- the weirder the better.

Photos by Alpha Smoot.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • stinkfinger
  • Nat
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    DeeAnn Plopper
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  • deja
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog,, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.


stinkfinger September 12, 2014
I have a neighbor who fishes a lot. she puts her hot dog in a thermos, pours in boiling water, three hours later she pours out the water puts the dog on a prepared bun of mustard and onions and has her lunch.........
Nat August 28, 2014
DeeAnn P. August 27, 2014
My husband eats his hot dogs with ketchup and mustard (I know, not weird), but then he makes a mixture of cottage cheese and applesauce and puts that on his hot dogs! While I've tried it and it's not horrible, it's not how I eat mine!!
Cara N. August 27, 2014
Wow, DeeAnne, I would never think to put either of those on a hot dog! I do have an aunt who swears by applesauce on her pizza, though.
Nat August 27, 2014
Or is it the anti misleading story title people that you are terrified of?
Nat August 27, 2014
Weird how it's only my posts that disappear, are you people that scared of the anti cruelty movement?
bookjunky August 25, 2014
For sure the ones at sporting events and carnivals are not the small batch gourmet hot dogs you are making at your shop. Eyeballs would be the least of it, I am sure. OTOH, Americans are way too squeamish.
Cara N. August 27, 2014
You are absolutely right! And I agree, there are many MANY issues with big factory producers, but using every bit of the animal isn't something we should frown upon.
deja August 22, 2014
You're living in a dream world. Having worked in a commercial meat plant making millions ( not thousands) of wieners let me tell you there is not a shred of the animal/lips/eyeballs/and worse that doesn't go into a weiner. Your review seems self fulfilling to sell your products which in a comparative quantity is miniscule but perhaps more pure. Unfortunately majority of consumer do not purchase your product!
Cara N. August 22, 2014
You are absolutely right, Deja! I am definitely not talking about mass-produced supermarket products, I know nothing about what goes into them. I can, however, speak to the fact that there are many small butcher shops popping up all over the country who take great pride in their sausages, and who reserve their lips and eyeballs for other purposes. I am certainly not benefiting personally by promoting meat hook hot dogs, just speaking from my own experience.
John August 22, 2014
Homemade kimchi on a Field Roast Italian or Chipotle vegan dog is really something special.
dmedesha August 22, 2014
My latest hot dog (sad desk lunch, as it were) discovery was to wrap a couple uncured pups in taco sized corn tortillas. Wrapped the dogs in packaged cold cut ham (it works with Iberico ham, too) folded one tortilla around each and put them in my snappy plastic sandwich box before nuking them in the office microwave for a minute and a half. Keep the toppings off until the dogs are heated, otherwise the tortillas gets a bit too mushy to pick up. Sort of a sad desk lunch version of a Sonora dog.