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

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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.

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Left to right: gyro dog, cornbread chili dog, banh mi dog.
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.

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.

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

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

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5 Ways to Hit Your Hot Dogs out of the Park by Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

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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.

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  • 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:

Banh Mi Hot Dogs

Banh Mi Hot Dogs by Sarah Waldman

Greek Gyro Dogs

Greek Gyro Dogs by Sarah Waldman

Chili Cornbread Dogs
Chili Cornbread Dogs

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.
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.
The banh mi dog, in all its glory. Photo by Elizabeth Cecil

Get the recipes!

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Chili Cornbread Dogs

60807bc6 8dc6 4c01 878c 151df4a67425  spring 32 shortbread Sarah Waldman
7 Save Recipe
Serves 4
  • 4 hot dogs
  • 2 cups chili (see headnotes for our favorites)
  • 4 large slices cornbread (see headnote for our favorite)
  • Toppings: sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced scallion, minced onion, cilantro
1c351e31 e069 4c7b 995e 5a04a1cbce21  food 52 cecil 3

Banh Mi Hot Dogs

60807bc6 8dc6 4c01 878c 151df4a67425  spring 32 shortbread Sarah Waldman
13 Save Recipe
Serves 4
  • 4 hot dogs
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise or butter
  • 2 tablespoons chili sauce
  • 1/2 cucumber, sliced thin
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup pickled carrots, sliced or roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 baguette, cut into quarters
87e29177 2751 4ae1 91aa 4c6c0a7cf376  food 52 cecil 19

Greek Gyro Dogs

60807bc6 8dc6 4c01 878c 151df4a67425  spring 32 shortbread Sarah Waldman
12 Save Recipe
Serves 4

For the dressing and yogurt sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons pepperoncini juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Big pinch salt
  • Few grinds black pepper
  • Big pinch dried oregano
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons dill, chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Big pinch salt
  • Few grinds black pepper

For the gyro dogs:

  • 4 hot dogs
  • 2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped white or red onion
  • 1 cup cucumber, chopped or sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 cup feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup pepperoncini
  • 1 cup kalamata olives
  • Dressing (from above)
  • 4 pita or flatbreads
  • Yogurt sauce (from above)
  • 1 lemon, sliced into wedges, for serving

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