Absolute Best Tests

The Absolute Best Way to Cook a Hot Dog, According to So Many Tests

Spiral-cut? Boiled in beer? Microwaved? Columnist Ella Quittner sets out to find the ultimate hot dog.

May 18, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle. Food Stylist: Pearl Jones.

In Absolute Best Tests, writer Ella Quittner destroys the sanctity of her home kitchen in the name of truth. She's mashed dozens of potatoes, seared more porterhouse steaks than she cares to recall, and tasted enough types of bacon to concern a cardiologist. Today, she tackles hot dogs.


One Sunday in February 2014, at Seattle’s Fremont Market, six customers spent $169 apiece on a hot dog unlike any other.

The bunned-up sausage, proffered by the now-defunct Seattle food truck Tokyo Dog, holds the Guinness title for World’s Most Expensive Hot Dog to this day. According to records, the Juuni Ban was a Bavarian sausage “infused with cheddar” and served on buttered, toasted brioche, topped with seared maitakes, foie gras, Wagyu beef, black truffles, onions, and caviar. (Tokyo Dog’s signature offering—the same dog with a more humble garnish—was a paltry $8, by comparison.)

I stumbled upon the hulking Juuni Ban seven years later while researching the best way to cook a hot dog for Absolute Best Tests. While I wasn’t able to reach Tokyo Dog’s owners, Eugene Woo and Samson Kwong, to talk cook methods, I was able to unearth a 28-minute video from August 2014, in which cheerful host Asha Leo visits the truck for a full procedural run-through.

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Top Comment:
“NO KETCHUP. EVER. Full stop”
— Steve
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In the video, the dog-slinging duo notes that they spent three months developing the Juuni Ban, which sometimes spurts melted cheese at its handler. Their cook method was simple but effective: They first warmed the cheddar-suffused specimen in metal containers of hot water—likely to decrease the risk of a cheese explosion—before transferring it to a hot grill, where they rotated it over an open flame until it reached an internal temperature of 160°F.

Though I had no plans to offload my own wares for hundreds of dollars, I took solace in the Tokyo Dog method because it affirmed a hunch: When cooking a hot dog, simplicity is key. No special equipment was employed, no TikTok hacks called in, and still, a dog of great global import was produced. Given that my own trials would be cheddar-free, I figured I could skip the water-warming step, though I did add a dramatic double-underline to “Grill” on my list of methods.

Toward the end of that Tokyo Dog segment, the host lifts the infant-sized frank to her mouth, declaring gleefully, “Oh, the memes that are going to come from this!” After a few moments’ consideration, she takes a small bite while the dog’s creators chant “chew, chew, chew.” Several tense seconds pass as she masticates, before she declares the World’s Most Expensive Hot Dog both “incredible” and “amazing.”

With that as my benchmark—and after confirming that there was absolutely no one in the vicinity to chant “chew, chew, chew”—I set out to test nine methods of hot dog cookery.


Controls

I used all-beef hot dogs for every trial. For the sanctity of results, I did initial tasting rounds sans condiments, but I would like the record to show that my preferred toppings are ketchup, yellow mustard, and raw diced onion, and that if you’re going to serve me a hot dog on anything but an untoasted Martin’s potato bun, you may as well not invite me.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle. Food Stylist: Pearl Jones.

Round One: To Slice or Not to Slice?

The Findings

For the juiciest hot dog, do not slice it. This does invite risk, as hot dogs with no vent for steam may explode in specific conditions—but I think it’s a risk worth taking. (Especially if, like me, you are cooking hot dogs that contain no molten cheese.)

The No Cut hot dogs produced by my Round One trials were noticeably juicier (and larger, having retained more liquid) than the Spiral-Cut and Slashed hot dogs, with the Slashed hot dogs in second place.

If juiciness is less of a priority than aesthetic appeal, you may consider embracing the Spiral-Cut, which elicited a not-immaterial amount of glee. And if toppings are your greatest priority, turn to the Slashed, which provides a moat for ketchup and mustard to act as glue for tiny chopped toppings like onion, herbs, pickled radish, or crushed potato chips.

The Methods

No Cut

  1. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter.
  2. Once the butter has foamed and the foam has subsided, add 1 hot dog to the skillet.
  3. Sear, shifting every minute or so, until plumped and beginning to brown on each side, 3 to 4 minutes.

Slashed

  1. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter.
  2. Meanwhile, slice one side of a hot dog lengthwise, about 1/3-inch deep.
  3. Once the butter has foamed and the foam has subsided, add 1 hot dog to the skillet. Sear, shifting every minute or so, until plumped and beginning to brown on each side, 3 to 4 minutes.

Spiral-Cut

  1. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter.
  2. Meanwhile, slice a hot dog crosswise in a spiral pattern, about 1/3-inch deep.
  3. Once the butter has foamed and the foam has subsided, add 1 hot dog to the skillet. Sear, shifting every minute or so, until plumped and beginning to brown on each side, 3 to 4 minutes.

Round Two: How to Cook a Hot Dog

The Findings

For a well-browned hot dog with notes of campfire, consider the Roast Over Flame or Grill methods. Both produced tender specimens with well-seared casings that carried extra scorchy flavors, beyond the standard salty, meaty ones. (For a well-browned dog with notes only of browned butter, simply Stovetop Sear.)

For the juiciest, most flavorful dog, Boil in Beer, and you’ll end up with a plump contender that tastes more like a hot dog than any other hot dog. For an exceptionally juicy dog with muted flavor—for when you’d like condiments to really shine—Boil in Water. Despite the stigma, both methods resulted in plump hot dogs with especially plush interiors, closer in texture to a great Weisswurst than to the rubbery dogs of childhood cafeterias.

For a hot dog that best impersonates one you’d get at a ballpark or from those mesmerizing rotating racks at a convenience store, consider using your Slow Cooker, if you’ve got 4 hours to spare. (Note: This is apparently similar to the method employed by Nathan’s, the morning of their annual hot-dog-eating contest.)

You can skip the Microwave, which yielded an unusually tough casing and caused the hot dog to burst, as well as the Stovetop Steam & Sear, which resulted in less browning on the outside, and an interior that was no juicier than the Stovetop Sear.

The Methods

Stovetop Sear

  1. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter.
  2. Once the butter has foamed and the foam has subsided, add 1 hot dog to the skillet.
  3. Sear, shifting every minute or so, until plumped and beginning to brown on each side, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stovetop Steam & Sear

  1. Add water to a cast-iron skillet until it rises about 1/2 inch up the sides.
  2. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook until the water begins to boil.
  3. Add 1 hot dog to the pan along with 1 tablespoon of butter. Sear on each side until the water has boiled off and the hot dog is plump and beginning to brown.

Boil

Adapted from Food52.

  1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add 1 hot dog. Boil uncovered for 4 to 6 minutes, until the hot dog has plumped up on all sides.
  3. Remove with tongs and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.

Boil in Beer

Adapted from My Gourmet Connection.

  1. Empty a few cans of beer into a small pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Add 1 hot dog. Boil uncovered for 4 to 6 minutes, until the hot dog has plumped up on all sides.
  3. Remove with tongs and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.

Grill

  1. Heat the grill to medium-high.
  2. Add 1 hot dog to the grill, rolling onto a new side every minute or so, until evenly browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes total.

Oven Roast

  1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Place a hot dog in a roasting pan or on a rimmed sheet pan.
  3. Roast the hot dog for about 15 minutes, until plumped and beginning to brown.

Microwave

  1. Place a hot dog on a heatproof plate lined with paper towels.
  2. Microwave on high for 45 seconds to 1 minute, until the center of the hotdog is warm to the touch.

Slow Cook

Adapted from Boulder Locavore.

  1. Add a hot dog to the slow cooker, leaning upright against the slow cooker’s inner wall for support. Do not add water!
  2. Cook on low setting for 4 hours.

Roast Over Flame

  1. Thread a metal skewer through a hot dog.
  2. Hold it over an open flame, such as one of your burners set on high, or a campfire.
  3. Rotate the hot dog every 30 seconds or so, until browned and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes total.

What should Ella test next? Let us know in the comments, or send her a message here.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Andrew Smith
    Andrew Smith
  • Tomas
    Tomas
  • Beverly
    Beverly
  • Richard Laycock
    Richard Laycock
  • Yogi61
    Yogi61
Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.

203 Comments

Andrew S. June 26, 2022
Start on the grill to brown, then finish in the oven in a pan of sauerkraut which keeps them moist.
 
Tomas June 26, 2022
You lost all credability with me when you said your preferred toppings included Ketchup, In which case it doesn't matter how you cook it!
 
Chas373 June 26, 2022
Totally agree!!!
 
Beverly June 26, 2022
I would like to add a tweak to the microwave method, which comes from Tappan’s Microwave Cooking cookbook, which came with my very first microwave (I thought it was a TV when I opened the box, having never seen a microwave before). Unless I’m cooking for a bunch, I have used this method ever since, because it’s quick, simple and works great: after giving it a couple of slashes across the top, put your dog in a good, soft bun. Wrap it in a paper towel. Pop it in the microwave for 30-40 seconds (a minute if you’re doing two). Taking hot, steamy, perfectly cooked hot dog out and dress with condiments of choice. No better way if you are just making a quick lunch, or even if you gussy it up for a casual dinner.
 
Bonnie M. June 26, 2022
This is what I do (minus the slashes), and it works very well, just as Beverly described. I think the paper towel keeps the bun from becoming tough, as bready things tend to do in microwaves.
 
Richard L. May 31, 2022
We like them grilled over oak coals. Sometimes due to weather on a very hot cast iron skillet. Hot dogs vary drastically. Our favorites are Stemple Ranch, Porter, Primal Pastures and Nathan's among the mass produced products.
#1 reason: Flavor
#2 reason: Scorching*
#3 reason: Ripping

All our favorites have skins that don't scorch on high heat. Stemple, Porter Rd and Nathan's rip. Primal doesn't rip. Their flavors are different but excellent. Ripping is just an aesthetic touch I look for in a good hot dog.

*Omaha Steaks & Hebrew National scorch terribly. Omaha's looks terrible but still tastes good. Hebrew National's are ruined if scorched. They're extremely difficult to grill properly over live coals.
 
Yogi61 May 29, 2022
Best hot dog is broasted! Try Johnny’s HotDogs. Route 46 Buttzville NJ. Y’all will love them. Great fries also. Dog broasted with mustard, onions and slice of pickle
 
Dawn B. May 27, 2022
Best hotdogs for me come from my butcher. It's an all beef hotdog. The SNAP alone instantly makes you happy. I love my spiral cut but not to deep, grilled with onions and mustard. If it's raining outside I pan fry. Occasionally we top with chilli too. The flavor of these hotdogs is incredible and they are large enough to fit and cover the entire Martins 🌭 Bun. This brand of buns is a MUST for me. I hate when the dog is so small and your eating mostly bread and toppings......... Happy hotdog 🌭 eating 😁
 
Rita K. May 27, 2022
Who cooks One hot dog at a time?
 
Robert H. May 27, 2022
I do! My wife is a vegetarian and our kids have families of their own. I pop a deli-sourced 1/4 lb. frank or brat in the sous vide at 160° and a half hour later I enjoy a sausage that is moist with an incredible “snap” to it. Of course you can do as many as you like that way.
 
Richard L. May 31, 2022
Anyone who'd sous vides a hotdog.
 
Robert H. June 1, 2022
Please, complete your thought.
 
Tzarius May 2, 2022
That is not a steam and sear. You steam a hotdog in a steamer.
 
Virginia April 24, 2022
I thought about it(the all beef) as I was typing my previous comment. Best not to think about the details and just enjoy it once in a while.
 
Nina April 24, 2022
I prefer pan grilled in butter . And for me the real key to a successful dog is a top cut bun grilled on cast iron pan. With lots of butter slathered on sides . Golden brown … dog topped with onions finely chopped, mustard and relish …
 
Virginia April 24, 2022
I prefer the all beef after a person I knew told me about all the ingredients that go in making hot dogs, for many years I wouldn't eat them.
 
Deleted A. April 24, 2022
Just because a hotdog is 'all beef' doesn't mean it is made of ground sirloin or something. :)
 
sherlockzz April 24, 2022
To each his own. I'm not a ketchup guy. I eat hot dogs eagerly no matter how they are cooked but my preference is boiled or steamed. I tend to go back and forth between mustard and relish or chili. I will occasionally add chopped onions. I prefer real casings. What jumped out at me though is your choice of "all beef". Like great meatballs, great hot dogs demand a melding of pork and beef and maybe even other "stuff".
 
BeckandBulow March 6, 2022
As a former Illinois/Chicago girl now living in Colorado, I totally agree with your BEST hot dogs and pizza. We now have a Giordano’s in Denver! Always packed and please visit us: https://www.beckandbulow.com
 
Stephen J. July 23, 2021
Cooking advice from a person using ketchup and mustard on a hot dog. No thanks. Absolute indication of wretched taste! Learned to eat at Mcdonald's hamburger stand. Classic hot dog is dressed with mustard only. Other approved dressings are saurkraut or chilie.
 
Ruth M. April 26, 2022
Mustard and sauerkraut only. I know many people who put ketsup and even Mayo ( ugh! gag! ) on their Hot Dog. Really disgusting. Best Hot Dogs I ever ate is at Rutt’s Hut in New Jersey. I’m 74 yrs old and can remember eating their when I was a little kid. They are still in business. Try it you will love it!
 
Tzarius May 2, 2022
Ahotdog should be dressed how a person wants. There is no right or wrong way. Hell I will do chillies onions and pickles with mustard.
 
maria B. July 5, 2021
You left out the very best!! Charcoal broiled!! With mustard and pickle, Western New York style!
 
pancrates June 29, 2021
When I used to make turkey sausages often and now Beyond brats, I place links in casserole dish and fill with water and put in oven at 350F for an hour or two. Food is fully cooked, not burned, some fat and salt are leeched into the water. Let the criticism ensue.
 
Nancy June 2, 2021
Instead of deep fry, air fry works also, but the cuts and slashes make the difference.
 
Nancy June 2, 2021
Best hot dog in the world—Cut an X in both ends, cut three slashes across two sides and deep fry. Delicious!
 
Gcheek June 2, 2021
So I appreciate the attention to the culinary masterpiece of the art of hotdog but I must point out one method that was missed… and I feel should be revisited. Slow smoked… obviously there are lots of variety in wood chips and smoke methods, I stumbled across this when I first got my smoker, it arrived early and I hadn’t expected it, so I of course fired it up and went to grab some meat.. the ONLY thing I had was hotdogs… so I shrugged and threw a bunch in. Smoked them for about 45minutes and WOW, the whole family agree they are the best hotdogs ever and now the only way we ever make them. So… I challenge you to revisit this and see if it any of the other methods are truly is the best, or perhaps just maybe they’ll be over thrown.
 
Ed H. June 2, 2021
It's been mentioned a few times, but there are a lot of comments so I'm sure you missed them. I'll also do brats over pecan at 195 degrees for 4 hours.
 
Robert H. June 2, 2021
I hope this isn’t a repeat. Over the course of about 60 years I have cooked hot dogs each of the ways that Ella has tested, and concur completely with her findings.

One way she didn’t test is my now current “go to” that I think yields results superior to all others: sous vide.

I sous vide hot dogs and Brats etc. at 165° for 90 minutes and the results are fabulous the skins maintain their “snap” and the interior is firm and quite moist. I don’t find it necessary to finish them on a grill etc. because they are perfect as they are.


 
RayBourne June 27, 2021
I totally agree! Sous Vide is such a superior way to go! I go one step further and after 70 minutes at 165° F in the sous vide bath, I do an apple wood smoke for 20 minutes at 150-175° F in the Big Green Egg with a Smoke Chief cold smoker.

One other comment: there was no mention of of hot dog brand. I'd like to put in a shameless plug for Cloverdale Beef Franks. I've tried every other brand that I could find (in Eugene, OR), and I will say that, IMAO, Cloverdale is the best! Just to be fair, the Cloverdale mixed-meat franks, not so much. Got to be all beef.
 
Robert H. June 28, 2021
If you get up to Portland, in my view Edelweiss is exceptional and well priced. Best German deli I have been to in many years. 1 block past Milwaukie heading east on Powell (26). Well worth the trip.