Ah, hot dogs. Meat tubes bursting with stars-and-stripes patriotism and, when they're good, a poppy snap with salty-garlicky-beefy juiciness. Even if you're not a "hot dog person" they just taste better on the Fourth. We went grocery shopping for the most nationally-available brands of all-beef franks, both skinless and with natural casing. Hot dogs get very regional—you have Sabrett in New York, Vienna Beef in Chicago—but we stuck to the easiest-to-find-anywhere dogs.
A team of 11 Serious Eaters and one slobbery pooch (who had quickly become the official four-legged SE mascot) tried nine different hot dogs, sans condiments. Toasted buns were around as palate cleansers.
Tasters tried samples and scored each for: snap factor, spice balance, juiciness, and appearance.
If you're not already familiar with Dumpling Altez, our columnist J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's French Bulldog, say hello to that smooshed face. Don't worry, he didn't participate in the tasting. Er, well, maybe he sampled one or two.
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 for sale in that familiar red and yellow package, served up at corner delis, Costco food courts, and so, so many backyards.
"I'm pretty sure this is my beloved Hebrew National. Good color, right girth, salty, meaty, and perfect," said one taster. Most of us seemed to know it (and love it) from the first nibble. It had just the right spice balance, perfect juiciness ("it crumbles into morsels of ground meat and juices"), and the best damn fatty flavor of all. 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 in the slideshow). 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."
Note: The two we wouldn't recommend didn't make it in the slideshow.