3 Ways to Spiffy Up Hot Dogs into Family Dinners, Well Beyond the Cookout

October 25, 2016

Sure, hot dogs are a quick-to-prepare crowd favorite, but can they be a nutritious and interesting family dinner, too? The answer is—thankfully!—yes.

Today, there’s a wide variety of farm-raised, grass-fed, all-beef hot dogs that make for speedy, satisfying, and anything-but-boring meals.

Left to right: gyro dog, cornbread chili dog, banh mi dog. Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

So, let’s plan a modern hot dog dinner, one perfect for a busy weeknight. First, visit your farmers market and pick out some locally-grown dogs. If you don’t have luck finding a local source, see the list of quality national brands below.

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Next, tell the kids it’s hot dog night and pat yourself on the back when they actually jump up and down in excitement (rather than scowl) over the dinner plans. Pick a cooking method and topping combination from the suggestions below. Maybe you crisp the dogs on a griddle and slather them with leftover chili, or grill them and top with tangy Greek salad. Look to your leftovers and needy produce for hot dog topping and sauce inspiration.

Equipment & Cooking Options:

Sure, the outdoor grill makes a delicious dog, but there are many other pieces cooking options to consider when preparing a hot dog dinner at home.

  • Flat Top Griddle: If you want to maximize caramelization and crispiness, break out the pancake griddle for hot dog night. Slice the dogs lengthwise, being careful not to cut all the way through, and place skin side up. Griddle until crisp, then flip and crisp up some more.
  • Panini Press: A college favorite, the simple panini press can heat up a number of dogs quickly, with grill marks and all.
  • Sandwich Weight + Cast-Iron Skillet: For a crisp-skinned hot dog, simply weigh them down as they cook, rotating often to create evenly crisped skin. Experiment with scoring the skin for even more surface area to crisp.
  • Grill Pan: A simple way to bring the classic grilled hotdog to the table anytime of the year.
  • Steam: For a tender, fluffy hot dog, fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and place a steamer basket on top. Place hot dogs in the basket, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Steam for 10 minutes.
  • Boil: For a plump and juicy hot dog, bring a medium pot of water to a boil, drop them in, and cook for 6 minutes. The hot dogs are precooked, so you are just warming them up. Be mindful to remove the dogs after 6 minutes or the casings could split.

Topping Ideas:

Selecting Your Hot Dogs:

Not all hot dogs are created equal. Although the packaging may look similar, it is worth reading the fine print when selecting a dinner dog. The quality comes down to the meat, the processing, and added ingredients. Seek out hot dogs that are...

  • Uncured or “no added nitrates.” Cured hot dogs have been treated with nitrates and nitrites (additives to help extend shelf life), which have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

  • All-beef dogs. Per USDA guidelines, hot dogs that list "by-products" or "variety meats" on their ingredient labels need only contain 15% muscle meat to be called hot dogs. You want an all-beef dog made of quality meat for optimum flavor and nutrition.

Behold! The cornbread chili dog. Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

High-Quality Hot Dog Makers:

There is an impressive variety of small batch, grass-fed hot dogs on the market. If you don’t have luck at your local farmers market, these products can be ordered online or found at national and regional markets.

  • The Piggery: New York state pasture-raised meats available online.
  • Applegate Original Beef: 100% grass-fed, available at most grocery stores.
  • Organic Prairie Organic Uncured Beef: Raised on certified-organic family farms. Order online in bulk or look for smaller packages at grocery stores nationwide.
  • Let’s Be Frank Uncured Beef Franks: All-beef, grass-fed hot dogs from a ranch certified by the Food Alliance. Sold at some California grocery stores and online.
  • Rocky Mountain Organic Meats: Grass-fed dogs from a small Wyoming ranch. Shop online.
  • Prather Ranch Organic Beef Hot Dogs: Beef from small California based ranches. Naturally cured, no nitrates. Available at shops in California and online.
  • Homegrown Meats Grass-Fed Beef Hot Dogs: Certified by the American Grassfed Association and Animal Welfare Approved. Buy online.
  • Niman Ranch Fearless Franks: All the farms that raise animals for Niman Ranch products are Certified Humane by the nonprofit Humane Farm Animal Care. Look for them at Whole Foods and other natural-food stores nationwide.
  • Tallgrass Beef Grass-Fed Beef Hot Dogs: Available in grocery stores in the Midwest (and sold at Wrigley Field!).
  • Just FreshDirect 100% Grass-Fed Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs: Beef from family run farms in the Pacific Northwest. Buy online.
The banh mi dog, in all its glory. Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

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What's your favorite way to fancy up a hot dog? Tell us in the comments below!

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Sarah Waldman is a food writer and recipe developer living on Martha’s Vineyard. She is the author of, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.


btglenn May 28, 2017
Pati Jinich's SONORAN HOT DOGS WITH BACON, PICO DE GALLO, AND AVOCADO offers a Mexican take on the ubiquitous hot dog. New York's Shake Shack serves a beef dog on a potato bun topped with mustard, Rick's Picks relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, pepper and celery salt.

dmedesha October 25, 2016
A few years ago in Barcelona, F. and I stopped for lunch at a paella cafe under the trees on Las Ramblas. They offered a fideo dish, Fidequay, with sliced hot dogs, sweet ham, oregano, mushrooms, bacon, black olives and mozzarella. I had to take pix of the menu, but didn't get the name of the place. They wouldn't serve margaritas, which were on the menu, at 11:30 AM but had no problem bringing mojitos along with our Paella de Marisco. It was in the median by Conti, and I have no idea why I know that.