Barely anything says summertime in America the way hot dogs do. What could possibly conjure summertime more than sitting in a ballpark, watching our favorite team (whether it's our kid's Little League team or the Boston Red Sox), and scarfing down a hot dog or two between the fourth and fifth inning? Really, it gets no better than that! Clearly, hot dogs are the quintessential American food. Only in America would a six-foot parrot shoot hot dogs from a bazooka into the crowd enjoying a Pirates game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Some folks even wax philosophic whenever they consider their love affair with wieners. Their eyes glaze over while they imagine munching on a frank, and they speak of childhood memories, of comfort food, of old flames, of carnivals and boardwalks, of old bicycles and of...and of...holy heck! We're talking about hot dogs here! Forget the misty-eyed memories of Coney Island and your your first crush! Let's cut to the chase already. What's the best hot dog in America?
Hot dogs come in a variety of flavors, sizes, and incarnations (literally.) And every region of the US has local producers that churn out thousands of the tubular treats for the hungry hordes. For the purpose of this discussion, though, we've narrowed the contesting hot dogs to the standard sized, any ingredient, hot dogs available across the nation. Generally, we're talking about beef franks here, but chicken, turkey, pork, veggy, or even mystery meat tube steaks qualified for this taste comparison as long as they were available from Maine to Monterey, and from Miami to Minnesota. Also, we're not talking about the different ways of dressing up a hot dog. Rather, our panel simply conducted a blind taste comparison of seven hot dogs, boiled, sliced, and served naked on a plate.
The brands in question were: Armour Hot Dogs; Ball Park Beef Franks; Nathan's Original Beef Franks; Oscar Mayer Wieners; Sabrett's Beef Franks; Healthy Choice Beef Franks; and Hebrew National Beef Franks.
None of the people who participated in the blind comparison work (or have ever worked) for any of the companies that produce the hot dogs. We conducted the test simply to satisfy our own curiosity about the differences between different American wieners. Our conclusions included a few surprises.
So, how did America's various hot dogs rank?
Based on nothing but flavor and texture, we found that Nathan's Original Beef Franks delivered the most intense flavor and the gratifying snap that we enjoy when biting into a red hot. Nathan's actually stood head and shoulders above the rest of the field. But even the second place finisher delivered quite a bit of culinary delight when compared to the worst of the worst.
And that leads us to our first surprise.
In second place, our hot dog connoisseurs chose Healthy Choice Beef Franks. Like Nathan's, Healthy Choice imparted a great flavor on our taste buds, but the link casing lacked the distinctive snap of Nathan's. Still, considering the label of "healthy", we were surprised when we chose Healthy Choice as the second best hot dog in a field of seven. With less fat and calories than regular hot dogs, consumers shouldn't automatically dismiss the Healthy Choice brand when buying America's favorite summertime food.
Sabrett's and Hebrew National finished in a virtual tie for the third spot on our leader board. Both hot dogs provided a good snap with their casing when we sank our teeth into them, but both lacked a little something in the flavor department. Although each of them delivered some spice to our palates, neither hot dog's flavor impressed us the way Healthy Choice and Nathan's did.
From here on out, the field of nationally available hot dogs degenerated into utter mediocrity. Armour might have asked years ago, "What kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?" but Armour Meats certainly does little to attract adult consumers to their hot dogs.
Meanwhile Ball Park Franks gave us our second surprise since most folks on our panel were convinced that Ball Park hot dogs (and all the warm imagery the name inspires) were the best in the world. Well, most were wrong. They might "plump when you cook 'em", but that just means that Ball Park Beef Franks soak up a whole bunch of hot dog water, and water has no flavor. Any spice that the Ball Park Franks might contain going into the bath certainly doesn't survive the cooking process.
Armour and Ball Park ranked about the same in our books: bland.
And finally, we come to Oscar Mayer Wieners. Kids sing, "Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener..." for a reason. Kids love Oscar Mayer Wieners. And they love them for a reason. Kids don't really like too many foods that have a lot of flavor. (And that's by natural design so that unwitting kids will expectorate any foul-tasting poisons that they might accidentally ingest.) So, kids might love Oscar Mayer Wieners, but we're guessing that most adults will leave those Oscar Mayers to the kids, because adults would just as soon eat a tastier tofu dog.
When the umpire calls the final out, however, the best hot dog in America is the one we're eating right now. We can't always control what brand of hot dog we get at our Little League concessions stand, but we can choose which package of links we bring home from the grocery store. Some brands cost more than others for a reason. For our money, though, Nathan's is worth every penny; but they're especially appealing whenever they go on sale!