Reclaiming Picnic Fare: Hot Dogs

13 Aug

Anytime I attend a barbecue or a sporting event and someone is grilling hot dogs, there are inevitably one or two people who mention that they don’t eat them. It’s not because of vegetarianism or taste, “I’m just grossed out by what might be in there.”

Fair enough. Hot dogs are, after all, a meat emulsion. And if some cheap processor was feeling Sweeney Todd enough, he or she could put pretty much any part of the cow or pig into the sausage without the customer being much the wiser. And the sad fact is that even when the meat is of decent quality, processors often use a significant amount of filler. Consider that 3 oz. of short rib meat (separable lean) contains 26 grams of protein, and then look at a package of decent quality kosher beef hot dogs. Most are 2 oz., yet contain only between 6-10 grams of protein. What that tells me is that I’m eating mostly fat and filler…and we can do better, don’t you think?

Since Labor Day is coming up and it’s the perfect moment for a picnic, let’s rescue the humble hot dog and make it a sausage you’re proud to serve your guests. Plus, you’ll be the best friend of pregnant women everywhere who have been banned from eating pre-packaged hot dogs due to the risk of listeria and other bacteria.

The secret to hot dogs, as with most sausages, is getting the right ratio of meat to fat. Fortunately the cow in all of its glory has a cut that achieves this balance perfectly (and inexpensively in most cases): The short rib. And don’t discard the bones! They make excellent beef stock.

All Beef Hot Dogs

Adapted from Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

  • 2 ½ lbs. beef short rib meat (you’ll need about 4 lbs. of short ribs to get this amount), diced and chilled
  • ½ oz.  kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. pink curing salt
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 tbsp. dry mustard powder
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. toasted ground coriander
  • ½ tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • About 5 ft. worth of sheep casings, soaked in lukewarm water for at least a half hour

Begin by grinding the meat using the smallest dye you have.

Mix the ground meat with the salt, pink salt, and water, then mix by hand to distribute the salts throughout the meat. Cover and refrigerate this mixture for 24-48 hours.

Add the mustard powder, smoked paprika, coriander, white pepper, garlic, and corn syrup to the beef and salt, and mix well.

20130713_130519Spread the meat mixture onto a baking sheet in one even layer. Freeze for a half hour, or until the meat is stiff but not frozen solid.

20130713_130515Regrind the mixture and again spread it onto a baking sheet and freeze until the meat is stiff, about a half hour.

20130713_131252Now it’s time to process the mixture into a uniform paste. The most important part of this step is to not let the meat get too warm. I processed this amount of meat in two batches; use brief pulses until a smooth consistency is reached.

20130713_134903Find the opening at the end of the casing and rinse through with cool water. To stuff the sausages, I used the attachment for my mixer with the smallest tube (5/8 in.). Grease the tube with a small amount of oil and shimmy on the casing. Tie off the end and have a sterilized pin nearby to prick out any air bubbles or pockets that form during stuffing. For a detailed, photographic tutorial of sausage stuffing, see my earlier post on how to make boerewors.

Feed the hot dog mixture slowly into the casings, taking care not to overstuff. Go slowly enough to ensure even thickness throughout. Once you’ve filled the casing, go back and smooth out the rope of sausage, check for evenness, and twist into 6 in. links. How many links you get will depend on the diameter of the casing and the thickness of the sausage. Prick the casings all over with the pin.

20130713_143353Let’s get smooooooookin’! I used applewood chips in my stovetop smoker and hot smoked the hot dogs until they reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees. While the hot dogs are smoking, prepare an ice bath large enough to chill the whole batch. Once they have reached 150 degrees, move the hot dogs directly to the ice bath and chill completely. This step helps finalize that characteristic hot dog texture on the inside and gives the casing that nice *snap* when you bite into it.

I store hot dogs in vacuum sealed bags, but well-wrapped in wax paper they will last in the refrigerator for about a week. They also freeze well, but thaw completely before broiling, simmering, or grilling.

20130714_083339Joe and I are purists when it comes to hot dogs. We usually forgo the buns altogether and eat these with a few squirts of good old Heinz ketchup. Every once in a while though, I go full ballpark: Steamed bun, finely diced blanched onion, pickle relish, and mustard. Yum.

Oh, and fellow DC / NoVA residents…want a half-smoke? Simply replace half of the short rib meat with diced pork shoulder and amp up the spices with some chili powder, cayenne pepper, and hot paprika. You’ll feel like you’re on U Street or at Nationals Park in no time.

Be the genius at your Labor Day picnic when you say, “I’ll bring the hot dogs!” When friends get a taste of that perfectly emulsified sausage full of rich short rib meat, spices, and smoky flavor, they won’t be able to resist having one…or three. Plus, your well-fed guests receive a heap of protein and iron, making you a culinary hero all around.

Ciao for now,


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