The Winner: Arnold/Oroweat!
"What did you do at work today, dear?" asked my wife via email last night.
I couldn't quite bring myself to say, "I cut up hot dog buns into little pieces then asked people to squish them, pull them, taste them, and mark the results on paper without talking to each other, all with a side of little chopped up hot dogs. But they were good all-beef natural casing hot dogs so the whole thing was legit and my job is not unserious in the least, why are you email-staring at me like that?"
See, in the past, we've published taste test results for all-beef hot dogs and our favorite natural casing pork and beef hot dogs from Michigan, but we've never really addressed their partner in crime, the hot dog bun. Today we rectify that oversight by pitting the two biggest, baddest hot dog bun bakeries in the world against each other in a head-to-head, one-on-one cage match. Only one bun can emerge victorious.*
*Unless it's a tie, which it wasn't.
In the red corner we had Pepperidge Farms classic side-split hot dog buns. The top-split version were born in Connecticut in 1926 and have since become a New England classic, the natural choice for toasting in butter and piling with lobster salad.
But in the blue corner, we've got the newcomer: Arnold (known on the West Coast as Oroweat), the Connecticut Kid, hails from the same home state as Pepperidge Farms, but is a good decade-and-a-half younger, with a brighter complexion, softer texture, and sunnier personality.
Who would reign supreme? Could old age be dethroned by youth? Do we want the stalwart 87-year-old standby, or the fresh-faced 71-year-old kid? We headed into the Official Serious Eats Tasting Laboratory* to find out.
*Which doubles as our office on most days.
We tasted the hot dog buns gently warmed and side-by-side in a blind taste test, with griddled natural casing Boar's Head all-beef franks to serve as an accompaniment. Tasters were asked to comment on flavor and texture, as well as rate the buns for overall satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10.
What we were looking for were buns that were substantial enough that they wouldn't squish their way into doughy Wonderbread oblivion, but not so tough that they bite through your hot dog for you before your teeth can even begin to make a dent—sweet, pillowy, soft, and buttery. A hot dog should slip into its bun like a baby fits into a cradle: snug and comfy-like.
Each bun was tasted on its own before being tasted with the addition of a tiny hot dog nubbin*.
*Wouldn't life be more interesting if more things came with tiny hot dog nubbins?
We divided the battle into three separate rounds to determine a winner.
Round 1: Texture
Hot dog buns should be soft and giving so that they don't interfere with the snappy bite of a good dog. Both buns passed on this count. One taster described the Arnold bun as "squishy, fluffy, forms into dense doughy ball with the addition of saliva, which I like," while the Pepperidge Farms buns were "not as squishy. Soft, but spongy, retain[s] bready texture when chewed."
Some tasters did find the Arnold buns to be a bit too soft ("Kind of becomes gummy"), but most enjoyed its tenderness ("soft, mushy texture, but in a good way!")
Winner: Arnold takes it by a bun's length.
Round 2: Flavor
According to the comments, folks feel that hot dog buns need to be sweet and rich tasting, not too much like "real" bread, with just the right amount of browned flavor in the crust. There was a clear difference between the brands in terms of color and crust flavor. Arnold's buns were more "uniform in flavor" and "sweeter" both inside and out, while Pepperidge Farms had a "darker" and "dryer" crust with a bit more toasty flavor.
Some tasters found this to be a distraction, saying the Pepperidge Farms "tastes too much like real wheat," and that it "tastes healthier than I want it to."
Once the actual hot dogs were eaten in tandem with the bread, most flavor differences disappeared, prompting one unnamed taster to comment, "They both taste good with meat. I can't taste their flavor difference cos my nose sucks." She followed it up with this diagram. We take the anonymity of our tasters seriously, so I will not divulge who it was*.
*It was Robyn.
All that said, most tasters preferred the slightly darker flavor of the Pepperidge Farms.
Winner: Pepperidge Farms!
Final Round: Overall Preference
This is what it all comes down to. Do the flavor and texture work together to complement a hot dog in exactly the way it should?
For this section, we asked tasters to evaluate the buns on a scale of 1 to 10 and tallied up the results. Neither bun scored poorly, and most tasters mentioned in their comments that both buns were tasty and did the job they set out to do. The differences really came down to just a hair, but in the end, Arnold/Oroweat took it with a final score of 7.2/10 to Pepperidge Farms' very respectable 6.9/10.
The Winner: Arnold/Oroweat!
Do you have a favorite local or national brand of hot dog bun we should keep our eyes out for? Let us know!
Our Tasting Methodology: All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible. Brands are not revealed until after results are tallied.