“Last time you bought hotdogs for a Saturday picnic, I was still tasting them on Monday,” grumped Patrick. “I don’t have the cast-iron plumbing that the kids have. So maybe this time, get some grown-up hotdogs — the kind that are made from meat. Just meat. Beef, even. No filler, no circus animals.” I ignored his Simpsons reference but agreed to his request.
I looked for all-beef hotdogs, preferably uncured — meaning that they were preserved without the use of chemical agents such as sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate. My health-nut friend Holly pointed out that some companies will use celery juice to cure their hot dogs and that celery juice is naturally high in nitrites, so I couldn’t pretend I was totally dodging the bullet. But I didn’t mind. I was buying mostly for taste, anyway, and I invited Patrick’s brother Mark to join in the fun.
First up, three entries from Whole Foods: all uncured, all-beef dogs. The first, 365-brand Old-Fashioned Beef Hot Dogs ($5.49 for 16 oz.), reminded Mark of “a bag of water — it’s so soft and full of liquid. The flavor is sweet and complex, almost sausage-like. But the texture kills it for me.” “It melts away to nothing in my mouth,” complained Patrick. “And it’s way longer than the bun.”
Texture was a problem on the next two as well. The Wellshire Premium ($5.49 for 16 oz.) struck Mark as “rubbery — with a salty finish that lingers and lingers. Gimme a Coke, quick! Of course, that’s probably the whole point of hotdogs.” Patrick griped about the lack of snap in the Nature’s Ranch ($6.49 for 16 oz.). I disagreed, arguing that it was creamy, the way liverwurst is creamy. And it wasn’t nearly so heavy on the salt; instead, I detected a solid core of beef flavor wrapped in hickory. “I wouldn’t have to smother this in ketchup,” I said. “How refreshing.”
Patrick preferred the firmness of the Trader Joe’s brand All-Natural Uncured dogs ($3.99 for 16 oz.). “The meat is not only rich, it has a smoky, tangy goodness.” Mark felt the same about the Hebrew Nationals ($3.99 for 16 oz. at Trader Joe’s). “Firm, not rubbery, and the salt is there but not overwhelming. I like the oniony, garlicky flavor way down in the center of things. Especially the way it goes on and on.” Me, I liked the grassy, slightly gamy meat of the Applegate Organic Uncured ($4.99 for 16 oz. at Trader Joe’s). “They must have made them from grass-fed cows.” “Well, even grass-fed cows have leftover bits when they’re done cutting,” observed Patrick. “Still, the grassiness is strong enough to give an almost vegetal flavor.”
We cleansed our palates and dug into the dogs from Henry’s. “These Coleman’s Uncured Naturals ($6.99 for 16 oz.) taste just like the Trader Joe’s store brand,” noted Patrick. “Same tang, same smoke. But the Trader Joe’s hotdogs cost $3 less a package. Advantage, TJ’s.”
The Sabrett Hickory Beef Franks ($4.99 for 16 oz.) provided our first spit-out of the evening. “The artificial taste is overwhelming,” grimaced Mark. “And even though the package says they’re skinless, they seem to have a tough sort of skin. But the main thing is that there is so much grease.”
Patrick promised Mark some bourbon to settle his stomach once we’d finished our entries from Vons. Oscar Meyer Angus Beef (no nitrates, $5.49 for 16 oz.) started out smoky but finished with a tang so tangy we called it sour. And the grainy texture was a big turn-off.
Ballpark Angus Beef ($5.99 for 16 oz.) was a pale version of the Wellshire: just as salty and rubbery but without the beefy-flavor goodness.
We found some things to like about the Farmer John’s Premium (no fillers or by-products, $4.99 for 16 oz.). “Not too salty, a little greasy, but substantial,” said Mark. “A good, solid bite.” Patrick thought he tasted some interesting seasoning. “The tang is like one you might get in hot-and-sour soup.”
My favorite of the bunch was the Nathan’s Beef Frank ($5.99 for 16 oz.). “Lightly salty and really beefy, with a hint of paprika,” I said. “I’m digging on the sweet, rich aftertaste.”
But my words fell on deaf ears: Patrick and Mark were already downing bourbon and watching the “Who Wants Chowder?” clip from Family Guy.