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

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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.

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.

Tags: Sausage, Grill/Barbecue, Pickle & Preserve, Ingredients