This week we're going back into the hot dog test kitchen with some wieners from Hartmann's Old World Sausage in upstate NY. Hartmann's started as a small local butcher shop in 1963, then in 2004 the business was purchased by master Austrian sausage maker Joseph Brunner, who transformed it into a larger scale operation. Their wieners are some of the best commercially available hot dogs, and also the brand used at Brooklyn hot dog palace Bark.
I was happy to see Hartmann's weiners for sale at Wegmans, probably the only place within a 30 mile radius of Philadelphia where one can find several brands of natural casing hot dogs. These dogs are long and skinny - fairly big at 6 to a pound, a mix of pork and beef with a natural lamb casing.
For the first batch I wanted to mimic the Bark cooking technique - slow cooked on a flat griddle and basted with smoked lard butter - as much as possible. I don't have smoked butter or a flat top grill but I did have both lard and butter, and my trusty iron skillet for some nice even heat. I cooked them nice and slow until golden brown on both sides, constantly drizzling the dogs with the bubbling fat mixture.
For the buns I went with standard white hot dog rolls and set up a little rig with a collapsible vegetable steaming basket and about an inch of water. This works great but be warned any longer than about 20 seconds and that bun is going to be a pile of mush.
We tried the first one plain and the result was pretty right on. The cooking fats enveloped the weiner and soaked into the bun, adding even more decadence to the delicious dog. Hartmanns dogs are fairly mild (but not bland), with a touch of garlic and a stronger smoke flavor than most.
The only thing not spectacular about these dogs is that the snap of the casing is a little bit of a letdown compared to some other natural casing brands - something I remember from eating them at Bark. But the texture and flavor of the weiner itself pretty much make up for it.
We also tried them with some simple toppings, homemade cabbage relish (sort of a Rutt's Hut knockoff) and some basic hot dog chili. Nothing too crazy that would cover up the taste of the dog, and they both worked really well. I really like how the dogs stick out from the end of the bun, so that even loaded with toppings your first bite is just pure hot dog simplicity.
Next up I deep fried the remaining dogs in a few inches of canola oil. A little worried that they would instantly explode but I kept the oil at a fairly medium heat and they fried up perfectly, bursting at the seams a bit but not completely hammered.
The results were awesome. The "non snappy casing" problem had been totally solved. The deep frying gave the dogs a terrific crunch while remaining tender in the middle. Deep fried hot dogs are so often framed as a sort of gross-out gimmick but done right (not burnt to a crisp) it might be one of the best ways to enjoy a hot dog.
The deep fried dogs were also terrific with the toppings, especially the relish which was my best guess at Rutt's recipe (cabbage, carrots, cucumber, mustard powder, salt, sugar, vinegar) plus some hot peppers to spice it up a bit.
If you've ever had Rutt's relish it's nothing like green pickle relish, it's more of a fresh tasting pureed slaw with a hint of mustard. The flavor of mine didn't exactly take me back to Rutt's but there was the same awesome contrast of salty, crispy deep fried dog and cool refreshing sauce.
If you're lucky enough to live in the "Wegman's Zone" you can find Hartmann's products there, or order them online at hartmannssausage.com.
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.