Choosing the top dog is no picnic
There can be a lot to an all-beef hot dog. Some things you expect, like beef, of course, along with water, salt, and a few preservatives (nitrates and nitrites); and some you wouldn’t imagine: hydrolyzed soy protein, corn syrup, nutmeg, and celery juice.
Eight people tasted six brands of all-beef hot dogs. One of our tasters was a very mature 6 1/2-year-old who had a lot to say (or in this case, write). The dogs were cooked on a charcoal grill. We chased them with hot dog buns and club soda. At first, we had nothing else, then opened the French’s mustard.
There were organic, kosher, uncured, and local brands (Pearl Kountry Klub is based in Randolph). Regrettably, not all of these franks can be found everywhere. Pearl links can be purchased loose at the deli counter at Market Basket and Shaw’s. The new 6-link pack in the meat department at one Market Basket was a revelation to the meat manager, who didn’t know he carried it. Placement of the hot dogs in the store can be a bit confusing. Some are under the deli’s dominion, others with meat and poultry.
Hebrew National, the kosher brand that answers to “a higher authority” was the winner with half the votes. It was lauded for its robust flavor. Fenway Franks struck out with five least-favorite votes and negative comments about the “mushy” texture. Only Applegate Farms and Coleman contain neither nitrites nor nitrates, used for preservation and the reddish color they add to meats. Organic and uncured brands tend to use paprika for color, and celery juice, which contains natural nitrites.
I heard every dog joke imaginable. Even though I conduct tastings in which comments are written and everyone is asked not to share them until the end, no amount of coaxing could get this crew to be quiet. One let an “mmm …” escape while biting into a particularly crispy skin, another hummed the song “Who Let the Dogs Out?” when displeased. By the sixth brand, I thought I heard barking.
It’s summer. All backyard parties and picnics will feature hot dogs. Frankly, they’re not all great. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Blame it on the tasters.)
Applegate Farms Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
$5.99 for 12-ounce package
This no-nitrite brand had a light brown color prompting comments like: “not an attractive brown,” “ugly,” and “best wrinkly looking hot dog I ever had.” One invoked another dog-related product: “Smells like Alpo. A little dead, skin a little tough.” But this person also noted it had “good real flavor, a little smoky and spicy – less commercial style.” Two, who chose this as their least favorite, found the skin “tough” and “rough.” Others found the texture to be “dry” and “chewy.” “Ham,” “veal,” and “bland,” were used to describe the flavor.
Boar’s Head Natural Casing Beef Frankfurters
$4.56 for .83-pound package
Lots of comments about the exterior: “Very chewy,” “tough casing,” “hard to chew,” and “hard to cut.” As for flavor: “Good taste, verging on too mild. Kind of greasy but good.” “Juicy but not much flavor.” The size of the hot dog attracted attention, too. “Longer, thinner, firmer.” “Is this the foot-long dog of my youth?” One person chose this as the favorite, writing, “Best balance of salt and spice. Skin a little tough. Bites back. Most natural tasting.” And then, emphatically wrote, “Definitely Coleman.” (Wrong!)
Coleman All Natural Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
$4.99 for 1-pound package
The other no-nitrite brand got good marks for being “juicy.” Two chose it as the favorite: “Oh, my God, the smell, smells like a Fenway Frank.” (Wrong.) A whiff of pork” (wrong again). “Clubbier, pleasant chew to skin. Beautiful color, just enough red to make them attractive. Good spices, not one dominant.” “This is nice-tasting, not too spicy, and yet not bland.” Another commented on the “plump, curvy” shape. One found this to have a “metallic/nutmeg taste.”
Fenway Beef Franks
$2.50 for 1-pound package
Not even Big Papi could help here. “Yuck. Texture is gooey.” “Soft mushy and yet a classic. I suspect filler here: sawdust? Not a lot of taste. Boring actually.” “Fluffy, not enough texture or taste.” And more on the texture: “No bite to the casing.” “Mild, soft and squishy. My guess: Hebrew National.” (Wrong.) “More commercial style. Slightly heavy on the salt.” This from someone who voted it the favorite: “Thick, juicy like a real dog should be. Voluptuous.”
Hebrew National Beef Franks Winner
$4.69 for 12-ounce package
“Skinny dog, redder flesh, juicy, salty, Wow! I love the salt! Tender skin but firm rather than shriveled. Ball park dog?” “Commercial style, quite salty. Dark color. Skin quite tender. Tastes like kielbasa – very spicy and Polish.” “Ripe and real tasty.” And finally: “Tastes kosher. Moist and yummy. Fun. I love this dog.”
Pearl Original Kountry Klub Beef Frankfurters
$2.99 for 12-ounce package
Did you think a common baking spice would be added to a hot dog? These tasters missed nothing. “Nutmeg in the spice mix? Tastes like a Christmas cake.” “Kind of nasty flavor. Nutmeg?” “Lots of nutmeg – too much.” “Unusual herbal flavor, not traditional.” “Slight taste of disinfectant or something strange.” “A lingering after-taste. Not altogether pleasant.” Yikes. Maybe somebody’s hand slipped while pouring? Many found the “casing firm” and the “skin thick.” On the other hand if you just looked at it, several said, it was “gorgeous! Long, good bronze color, like the stunning woman at the gym after a trip to the Caribbean.” “Beautiful and glistening.” “Pretty.”