Taste Test: Hot Dogs

Want to host a great cookout this summer? You can’t do it without one necessary ingredient: the perfect hot dog. We snacked on ten varieties to bring you the best.

By: Catherine Andrews

Washington isn’t lacking in hot dog options. From the housemade franks served by Peter Smith at PS7’s to the cheap dogs smothered with onions and mustard at the divey Vienna Inn, there are plenty of spots to indulge.

But what if you’re hosting a cookout? When grilling a mountain’s worth of hot dogs for a hungry crowd, you want to make sure you’re serving the tastiest. With that in mind, we here at Washingtonian.com gathered for the ultimate summer eating challenge: a hot dog taste test.

To find out the best brand available in local grocery stores, we assembled a crack panel of tasters. The scene: a steamy summer evening on a rooftop in DC’s Shaw neighborhood. The panel: nearly a dozen Washingtonian staffers and assorted friends. And, most important: the hot dogs. Here’s a list of the brands we sampled.

Applegate Farms Natural Beef Hot Dogs (about $5.99 for eight at Whole Foods; Yes! Organic Market;Trader Joe’s; and Mom’s Organic Market)
Ball Park Beef Franks (about $4.49 for eight at most grocery stores)
Hebrew National Beef Franks (about $5 for seven at most grocery stores)
Hofmann Red Hots ($3.99 for six at Wegmans)
Hofmann White Snappys ($3.99 for six at Wegmans)
Nathan’s Famous Beef Franks (about $5.29 for eight at most grocery stores)
Niman Ranch Uncured All-Beef Fearless Franks (from $6.49 to $7.99 for four at Whole Foods; Marvelous Market; Sub-Urban Trading Co. in Kensington; and Cheesetique in Alexandria)
Oscar Mayer Jumbo Beef Franks (about $5 for eight at most grocery stores)
Red Apron Beef Hot Dogs ($10 for six at Planet Wine)
Wellshire Premium Beef Franks (about $5.99 for eight at Whole Foods)

The winner:
It was close, but the hot dog that ruled them all ended up being Niman Ranch’s Fearless Franks. Maybe it was the antibiotic-free meat that’s raised humanely—or  the juicy flavor and perfect texture. “Very good, very smoky, not too salty,” wrote one taster. “Didn’t have the weird rubberized texture of most hot dogs,” said another. And maybe size does matter—“Much bigger than the others,” noted a taster.

A close second:
Hofmann White Snappys. Most of the tasters were surprised by the albino appearance of these dogs, which were picked up from the deli counter at Wegmans and contain veal as well as pork. But as soon as we bit into them, any second thoughts were dispelled. “The white is weird,” wrote one taster, “but it’s nicely spiced and tastes like a fancy sausage from a high-end restaurant.” Noted another: “Great texture!”

The best of the rest:
Other hot dogs that performed well were a nod to the grocery store franks of childhood. Oscar Meyer? Check. Hebrew National? Also a fave. But truth be told, we enjoyed most of what we tasted. You just can’t go wrong on a summer night with a grill, a cold beer, some friends, and a charred dog. Happy grilling, Washington.

What’s your favorite hot dog? Tell us in the comments if we missed any good ones!

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