Published April 1, 2007. From Cook's Country.
Americans spend $1.5 billion on store-bought hot dogs. We compiled a 20-person tasting panel to determine where that money should be spent.
Update, April 2012: Our second-place finisher, Johnsonville Stadium Style Beef Franks, has been discontinued.
Hot dogs inspire passion. Just try handing a mustard-and-sauerkraut dog to someone who takes ketchup and onions, and you'll see what I mean. Passion begets consumption, and Americans spend over $1.5 billion on store-bought hot dogs each year. To determine which all-beef hot dog is best, we bought nine brands at our local supermarket and headed into the test kitchen to cook and taste them.
Much to the chagrin of our 20-person tasting panel, condiments and buns were off-limits--we wanted to taste the hot dogs and nothing but. All dogs were boiled for exactly 4 minutes in water to cover, then sliced into rounds and served warm. Tasters scored each sample on appearance, flavor, texture, and overall quality. Who was the top dog?
Not surprisingly, our panel preferred dogs with rich, beefy flavor and a good mixture of seasonings. We were surprised to find that sugar level tracked with our final rankings: Our top three dogs all list 0 grams of sugar, and all were praised for their meaty flavor. Those with 2 grams of sugar per dog all finished toward the bottom of our rankings and were criticized for their sweet, "unnatural" flavor.
Texture was also important. Testers wanted firm dogs that had some snap. Samples with a soft, "bologna-like" texture were downgraded.