Frank Facts About Hot Dogs
Allison Ford | Divine Caroline
Few foods have gotten a PR rap as bad as hot dogs have. In one classic scene from the film The Great Outdoors, Dan Aykroyd’s character chides John Candy’s character for ordering a hot dog, saying, “You know what they’re made of, Chet? Lips and [rectums]!”
Technically, Aykroyd used a much saltier word than “rectums,” but ever since that movie moment, hot dogs have had a reputation for being made with ingredients just a step or two above slaughterhouse floor sweepings. Rumors have even persisted that hot dogs include feathers, beaks, hooves, and other animal parts barely even fit for pet food.
Hot dogs may not be in the same league as filet mignon, but is their bad reputation really deserved? The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council estimates that Americans eat about seven billion franks during hot dog “season,” which stretches from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That’s about 818 hot dogs consumed every second. From the backyard to the ballpark, the millions of Americans grilling, boiling, sautéing, and steaming them this summer will be pleased to find out that the ingredients that go into hot dogs are not as sinister as we think.
The Inside Scoop on Ingredients The basic ingredients in the average supermarket hot dog are far less exciting than what some fearmongers would have you believe. Most commercial hot dogs contain meat (usually beef or pork, sometimes chicken or turkey), fillers like flour or bread crumbs, seasonings and spices, binding agents, and curing agents. The ingredients are then blended together into a batter and stuffed into casings, cooked, removed from the casings, and then packaged for sale.
Meat processors who produce hot dogs don’t use the finest or choicest cuts of meat, but they don’t necessarily use inedible leftovers, either. The meat that goes into hot dogs is usually whatever’s left over after those choice cuts have been removed—tiny trimmings, fatty bits, tough sections, and other pieces of meat that aren’t big enough, tender enough, or attractive enough to be sold on their own. Although it’s still common to add variety meats or offal to handmade or artisanal sausages for flavoring, it’s now far less common to include organ meat or by-products in hot dogs.
Animal intestines are the traditional casings for hot dogs and sausages, but like variety meats, those, too, are becoming less common. These days, most commercial franks are made with cellulose, a plant-derived product, and the casings are removed after cooking.