Oh hot dogs, I can't imagine a 4th of July without you. The snap of that first bite, the hot, fatty juices running out, the mess of sharp mustard mixing with tart sauerkraut and sweet relish. What makes you so tasty?
No, really, what goes into a hot dog? Maybe you're thinking variety meats and wishing I hadn't just ruined hot dogs for you. But not so fast! Keep reading to find out what really goes into hot dogs and what gives them that perfect snap.
Mystery meats? According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, hot dogs are made from "specially selected meat trimmings of beef and/or pork," mostly from muscle. Whatever, that's still pretty vague. Actually, according to FDA regulations, hot dog manufacturers aren't allowed to use more than 15 percent "variety meats" (like heart, liver, mechanically separated meat). If they use more than that, they have to tell you so on the label. Mechanically separated beef isn't allowed in hot dogs period.
Still, if it's an issue for you, check the label for "meat byproducts" or "mechanically separated meats (MSM)."
A case of casings. After the meat is ground and combined with fat (mmm, fat!), spices, preservatives, and fillers, it's stuffed into casings. This is where the snap comes in -- or not. Most commercial hot dogs are made with cellulose casings, which are removed after the dogs are cooked and/or smoked. The result? Soft but no snap. Blah.
But the lucky dogs are stuffed into "natural" casings, i.e., casings made from lamb intestines. That's right, it's little lamb intestines that give quality hot dogs their characteristic snap. And you know what? I'm totally okay with that. This July 4th I'm declaring my independence from bland, soft dogs and enjoying my right to frankfurters literally bursting with texture, flavor, and juice.
Image via Applegate Farms