Best Hot Dog: Hebrew National
As the story goes, it all started in 1928 with a Romanian immigrant butcher named Isador Pinckowitz hawking meat from a horse-drawn wagon. Well, thanks Isadore! Years later we're still chowing on the kosher franks, now in its familiar red and yellow package, served up at corner delis, Costco food courts, and so, so many Superbowl tables.
Good color, right girth, salty, meaty, and perfect. They have the right spice balance and the best damn fatty flavor of all the hot dog flavors we tried. Need we say more?
We all know that fierce-looking, snaggly-toothed boar logo from the deli counter. But have you ever tried their natural casing franks? Well, ya should! They're good. Right up there with Hebrew National in flavor, but with a bit more snap.
They're all attached in a rope-like strand, like the Dietz & Watson brand (more on that soon). Some tasters had issues with the whole hanging off the bun experience—they're long and thin—but when it comes to taste, they win big smiles. "Snappy, salty, just real nice."
Dietz & Watson
Like Boar's Head, these dogs from the multi-generation deli meat company come in a long, connected rope—you'll have to snip in between each. Each one is a few inches longer than your standard hot dog bun. You'll have a few bites of straight dog on each end before you ever reach the bread action.
"Flaccid and tasty," said one taster. (Hmm, you don't see those words paired up everyday.) A little smokey, a little sweet. "Classic look." "Nice size and shape." "Thin and understated." If there was a beauty queen award, this one would dominate. But, as soon as you bite into it, the skin slips off, which isn't such a pleasant sight.
Deep down, we all just want to be eating the real Nathan's dogs at the original Coney Island stand. Maybe not a heaping pyramid of them Kobayashi-style, but one or two with the Cyclone whirring in the background would be swell. The "real" ones taste better because they're the natural-casing kind, which you rarely see in stores.
As for the way-more-available skinless alternative, they're not all that bad. Juicy with a nice sweet-salty balance. "Robust!" said one taster. They're tender, though a little mushy, and bursting with fatty juice pockets. They have a deep, brownish-pinkish hot dog shade, which earned them aesthetic points, but one taster didn't appreciate the "short, too stumpy" size.
First of all, brown. In a row of hot-dog-colored hot dogs this was a "one of these things is not like the others" situation. The color is dark! Mysterious! Or just a big ughhhewww.
Why? The lack of nitrates, which are used for preservation and give it that reddish hue. If you start reading the label closely ("no antibiotics—ever, no added horomones—ever, all vegetarians feeds"), you're pretty relieved about this fact, and forget about the off-putting brown.
Taste-wise, it reminded us "of kosher salami, but with less salt." It's mild, bordering on bland, but "natural-tasting" and not artificial (which isn't always a compliment in hot dog land). Much better with garnishes. Pretty squirty too. "Like a wet sponge."
That taste is just, so familiar. Ah, third grade! Bologna sandwiches at the lunch tables. A pinkish mishmash of turkey, chicken, and pork, these were the only ones we tried that weren't all-beef.
"Oddly smooth-looking," noted one taster. "Pink and gritty," said another. Not our favorite, but if you're looking to expand your bologna cuisine horizons, here it is in tube form.
Whole Foods 365
This was another nitrates-free zone, but sadly, not a very tasty one. "Ick, way too sweet, no spice" ... "On the other side of sweet!" It had a tinge of hammy flavor, but we wanted more spice.
Most notable though, and this isn't flavor-related: the color. "Deep red, WTF?" .. "TOO RED." .. "Oddly red." Maybe it wouldn't have been an issue if we didn't have eight other hot dog shades to compare it to, but it was just odd. Aren't the nitrates supposed to give it that redness? In this case, according to the ingredients, it's cherry powder doing the job.
Dietz & Watson
Whole Foods 365