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.

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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.

178 Comments

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.
 
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.
 
kennyj June 1, 2021
Oh, also, while I agree with not toasting buns... I think they taste better warmed up. Separate them, and put them in the oven at 350 for at least 5 minutes (up to 10, depending on your preference.) A little heat will bring out a moist and pillowy interior, while making the exterior crust a little, well, more like a crust. It really brings a bun up a notch, and makes store-bought packages like Martin's taste and feel like they're freshly baked.
 
kennyj June 1, 2021
I'd like to humbly suggest a cooking method that could change your mind about sliced dogs: indirect grilling with steam. It work best with a charcoal grill - simply bank the coals on one side, put a pan with boiling-hot water for steam over them, and adjust the vents for moderate heat on the indirect side (I'd aim for 325, but you have plenty of freedom here.) Optionally, add a small amount of a mild smoke wood, like applewood... hot dogs often come with some smoke flavor already in the meat, and charcoal will also add a mild smoky flavor on its own, so you really need very little extra. Less is more.

Let them absorb the heat and smoke for a little while with the smoke, and then VERY BRIEFLY sear over the hot side before serving. The cut portions will crisp a little, all exposed surfaces will lightly brown, and the steam will help retain moisture. It's basically combining the benefits of several cooking methods at once, and the flavor is incredible.

You can also put them in a pan with pre-heated water or beer, half-submerged, and let the grill keep it warm while they cook. Works with other sausages too. If you're grilling other foods too, it can be a nice way to get your dogs heated through and keep them hot (and moist) with minimal babysitting. They'll even pick up some "grill flavor" while they're in there!
 
asquaredflyer May 31, 2021
The author has invalidated her argument about the ABSOLUTE best way to cook a hot dog by the sordid admission that she puts ketchup on her hot dog. Ella, it's obvious that you have never had a Chicago dog. Ketchup on a hot dog indeed. Not only is it sacrilegious to a hot dog (for those who follow the religion of the dog), it's probably downright immoral to put ketchup on a dog.

Please start again, only this time DO NOT USE KETCHUP bad. Bad bad. ;-)
 
mjfarrow44 May 30, 2021
All these arguments over the best way to cook it, bread etc. Nobody is right.

Ingredients
Pan de marraqueta, somewhat hollowed to create a pocket
Frankfurters
Chopped tomatoes, previously given a dash of salt and olive oil and mixed
Mashed avocado, equally given a dash of salt and olive oil.
Mayonnaise, straight out of the jar, squeezy bottles are cheating.

Boil the hotdog, properly drain it. Put it into the marraqueta, add the tomatoes, hold it together with a hefty addition of avocado, top with a little too much mayonnaise. Enjoy a national dish.

Viva Chile.
 
Steve May 30, 2021
Very arrogant of you. What is best for one, may not be best for another. These comments are all fairly subjective. I personally think that your preparation is disgusting. Someone may think of what I prefer is not to their liking. But to say that an pinion is wrong is, well, WRONG
 
chris May 31, 2021
Wow, Steve, you sound like a barrel of fun .

Dude, it is wonderful when people express their passions. The mjfarrow44 chap to whom you responded clearly loves hotdogs and is excited about a particular way he enjoys eating them. I am glad he shared, as I am going to try it. I can find nothing in what he said that sounds the slightest bit offensive. At all. Perhaps you haven't figured it out yet, but every human on earth thinks that what they think is right. Which makes good sense, because if you thought what you think is wrong, you probably wouldn't think it, would you? So it comes off as a bit bigoted and small-minded to have a go at someone who is passionate about their viewpoints in any situation. So please, stop.
 
Steve May 31, 2021
If you carefully understood my posting, you would see that the comment thrust was no one is wrong as the writer claimed. Everyone is just different. Calm yourself down, please
 
Nancy M. May 28, 2021
My grandmother was opposed to hot dogs and told us that they were made of rats and other things from the sewer. I don't think I ever believed her, and she's been gone for a long time so I will eat whatever I want thank you very much. I tried a hot dog in the air fryer last night and I think it needed a lower temperature and more time, so I'm going to try again tonight. I don't like the bun to be toasted - soft and squishy is the way to go in my opinion. Cheese, yellow mustard and relish. Yum.
 
susielou May 27, 2021
No hot dog is complete without the Detroit Coney Island makings. A beef dog, chili, chopped onions, sweet relish, mustard all on a warm bun.
 
J.D. May 26, 2021
Dogs? Big dogs! Lately, Sam's Club beef house dogs. Pretty good boiled in beer while microwaved. Hint: preheat the beer. Sliced wheat bread, diced red onions, sweet relish, and spicy brown mustard. Goes well with cold, refrigerated pork and beans outta the can. Not royalty, not a connoisseur, just a commoner. What's not to love? Ketchup would be a crime.
 
Glen May 26, 2021
The best way to cook a hotdog is over an open campfire.
 
Glen May 26, 2021
That is on a freshly cut stick over the open campfire.
 
HDExpert May 26, 2021
I like my hot dogs cut and grilled, Always had the best outcome that way. I also use hot dog cookers and rollers like these https://besthotdogcookers.com/
 
Jason H. May 25, 2021
Why would you bother baking a hot dog? Skip the preheat and just broil it. 10min then turn. Then another 5min. Nice char and ready to go.
 
Marcus M. May 25, 2021
For everyone reading all the comments about an air fryer thinking they need to invest in one of these devices, if you have a toaster oven with a convection function, it's just as good if not better, and you can serve a larger crowd (air fryers are tiny). The par-boil then sear is still the superior method per my previous comment. You get a juicier and snappier dog.
 
MrJHuffman May 25, 2021
My air fryer is much larger than my toaster oven... Also for me I don't prefer snap in a hot dog, but prize plumpness, juiciness, and some maillard on the outside.
 
colpanic May 26, 2021
Then don't use an air fryer
 
MrJHuffman May 25, 2021
You missed out on the best option: Air Fryer! 400 degrees for 4 minutes and it's beautifully juicy with a nice crisp sear.
 
2tattered May 25, 2021
Tried it last night - excellent and very quick. Added roll for last two minutes, and it was just right.
 
rcks May 24, 2021
you missed 2 good ones stove top , bacon grease instead of butter , microwave in water , just enough to barely cover ... great way if frozen.. also thawed dog microwaved in the bun ,very fast , butter on bun ahead of time ...
The last one is tricky , bun and dog differences make for a play by ear for time...