A Killer Hot Dog
This is one of the finest hot dogs I've ever tasted. Juicy and snappy with just a hint of smoke.
Fat and Lean
The right level of fat and lean meat is essential to a good sausage. Here Ryan starts with lean cubed beef (this was top round), along with cubes of beef suet.
Keep it Cold
Partially freezing the meat helps it grind better and with less smearing as it hits the blade. Ryan suggests freezing the meat in a single layer until it starts to get crusty around the edges.
The spice mixture for a New York hot dog consists of paprika, garlic, black pepper, regular salt, and pink salt—a curing salt which improves both flavor and color. Salt content is perhaps even more important than fat: without salt, muscle proteins don't cross-link and you end up with a mushy hot dog instead of a snappy one.
Giving it a Grind
Ryan passes the mixture through a standard grinder with a 1/4-inch plate into a bowl set inside another bowl filled with ice water. Remember: keep it cold!
A good grind should look like finely chopped meat with distinct pieces of fat and lean. If your meat is coming out as a pink paste, there's probably something gumming up the works. Stop, clean out your grinder, re-chill your meat as necessary, and start over.
Ice and Water
Water is the final element in a good sausage, and in this case, Ryan adds his in the form of ice, which keeps the mixture chilled as it slowly melts and emulsifies.
Ryan adds the spice blend to the meat, along with some of the ice water to give it a preliminary mix by hand.
"You want the mixture to stick to the bowl," says Ryan. As you work the salt and water into the grind, it becomes stickier and stickier, like a good bread dough.
Like mortadella or bologna, a hot dog is an emulsified sausage, which means that the fat and lean are ground together until completely smooth. Here, Ryan uses the food processor, adding the ice to the bowl. "It's important that the meat never rises above 40°F at this stage if you want a snappy hot dog," Ryan warns.
Before taking the time to stuff your hot dogs, you should taste a piece by frying it in a skillet to make sure that the seasonings are where you want them.
When you gently squeeze the patty, you should see it bulge. If it weeps water like a sponge, it means your emulsion is broken.
Ryan recommends using a vertical sausage stuffer for stuffing sausages rather than the screw-driven stuffers on grinder attachments. They provide better pressure and stuff without over-heating the mixture, which leads to faster, better-textured sausages.
New York hot dogs use sheep casings, which are thinner than the hog casings used for, say, a hot Italian sausage. Ryan twists off links, alternating the direction of twisting so that they stay closed as they cook.
Ready to Smoke
The hot dogs, linked up and ready to be smoked.
Our Makeshift Smoker
Normally you'd want to cook the hot dogs in a smoker at 170°F until they hit around 145°F internally, but we don't have a smoker in our office. Instead, we're placing the hot dogs directly on a rack in a low oven...
...and lighting things on fire. Ryan uses a blow torch to get chunks of applewood smoldering in a skillet placed in the oven.
The oven quickly fills with smoke, which adds flavor and preservative properties to the hot dogs. If you have a gas oven, you may have problems keeping the smoke in the oven (gas ovens vent air). To overcome this, you can place the hot dogs on one side of a rack in a wide, deep baking dish, place smoldering wood chunks on the other, and cover the whole thing tightly with foil to trap the smoke before placing them in the oven.
The smoked hot dogs are fully cooked and come out of the oven bright red.
Crisp-Up to Serve
The hot dogs are fully cooked after smoking, but you can further improve texture by finishing them off either in a steamer, on the grill, or in a skillet, as Ryan does here. To crisp them, he melts a bit of extra beef suet into the skillet.
A tight, snappy texture, and a flavor that goes perfectly with mustard and sauerkraut.
Hot Dog Party!
Lots of hot dogs were made and just as many were consumed. There were no leftovers this day.