By Beth Lipton
With spring fully sprung and cookout season upon us, it seemed like a no-brainer to find the very best hot dogs out there and write about them. (When the assignment came through, my kid just shook her head and said, “Mama, sometimes your job is weird.” And yet, she was happy to help. Does this qualify as “take your daughter to work” day in a pandemic? I digress.)
To be considered for our taste test, I looked at hot dogs that were made from beef that’s grass-fed and/or certified humane. The franks also had to be uncured (meaning that natural salts and seasonings are used to preserve them, as opposed to nitrates and other chemicals usually found in cured meats). Finally, I eliminated any with long ingredients lists and any that had ingredients I didn’t recognize.
For testing purposes, I cooked all of the hot dogs the same way: in a skillet. My kid ate them in Trader Joe’s Brioche Buns (#brooklyn), while my husband and I ate them solo or atop salads.
I evaluated them based on flavor, texture, seasoning, and snap. In no particular order, here are the weiner winners (I’ll show myself out):
These franks tick a few boxes, being the most kid-friendly of the bunch as well as Whole30 approved. They’re made with 100% grass-fed beef and spices, no sugar, dairy or casein. Their thinner shape and snap when you bite into them adds to the kid appeal, and the simple, beefy taste makes them great on their own or with your favorite toppings.
Buy It: Applegate Organics The Great Uncured Beef Hot Dog, $8 for 8
Made from Certified Humane beef and just a few spices, without added nitrites or nitrates and hickory smoked, these are a crowd pleaser. They’re rich and meaty but not overly complex, with a thick, almost sausage-like texture. (In fact, a sliced one even stood in for sausage alongside eggs one hungry morning.)
Buy It: Niman Ranch Fearless Uncured Beef Franks, $5 for 4
If you have a fondness for ballpark dogs, these will be your jam. They have the same spice profile, but ramped way up, so they’re like the richest, beefiest, most flavorful version of them. The ballpark franks of your dreams, essentially. They have less snap than other brands, but we didn’t mind that. These are awesome all-around hot dogs that we could see grilling up all summer and beyond.
Buy It: US Wellness Meats Beef Franks, $10 for 6
Everything you want in a hot dog, and nothing you don’t, these uncured dogs have plenty of flavor and aren’t too salty. They strike the right balance between flavorful and mild (so they’ll appeal to kid and grownup tastes), and they bring the snap. They’re worthy of the good buns (and great sans bun, too).
Buy It: Belcampo Organic Beef Hot Dogs, $11 for 4
With their slightly smoky flavor, these hot dogs lean toward being more sausage-like, while maintaining their hot-dogginess. They’re stronger on the beefy flavor than on the spice, making them great vehicles for all kinds of toppings. Kids and adults alike will appreciate the nice snap and full flavor of these dogs.
Buy It: Thousand Hills Hickory Smoked Beef Hot Dogs, $6 for 6
These are the Cadillac of hot dogs. Uncured and made from wagyu beef, they’re perfectly spiced and so, well, beefy, full of complex flavor and umami. In fact, they’re so super-rich and satisfying, a bun and toppings almost seem unnecessary. Bonus: The veteran-owned company employs veterans, and donates some of its proceeds to foundations benefiting veterans.
Buy It: KC Cattle Company Wagyu Gourmet Hot Dogs, $15.50 for 8