How to Grill the Perfect Hot Dog
When it comes to grilling, hot dogs are about as basic (and also crowd-pleasing) as it gets. But let's be frank: For something so simple, there's still a lot of charred dogs coming off grills. These tips from our Test Kitchen will help you get it right—just in time for Labor Day and summer's last big hurrah.
Choose Your Dogs
The key to a tasty hot dog starts before the frank hits the bun. It begins in the supermarket when you're staring at a refrigerator case filled with all those packaged varieties—pork, beef, chicken, turkey, and more. If you're after best overall flavor, stick to all-beef varieties, says Sarah Brekke, culinary specialist in the Better Homes & Gardens® Test Kitchen. The Test Kitchen's go-to is Hebrew National beef franks. "They have a great blend of beef, salt, paprika, and smoky notes and are consistently a favorite in taste tests," Sarah says. For an option without sodium nitrite or nitrate, the Test Kitchen likes Niman Ranch brand; the beef-pork blend uses celery powder as a natural preservative, Sarah says.
Grilled is the favorite way to enjoy a hot dog, especially for adults. For the casual backyard griller, the trick is finding that middle ground between merely warming the frank and turning it into a wrinkled, charred tube. Follow Sarah's steps for perfectly grilled hot dogs.
1. Clean and preheat your grill.
2. Adjust the grill temperature so you have a hotter side and a cooler side. (For a gas grill, set one burner to low. For a charcoal grill, arrange coals to create the two temperature zones.)
3. Place hot dogs on the cooler side of the grill, placing them at an angle on the grates to get classic diagonal char marks. (If you've pulled the hot dogs from the freezer, make sure they're thawed. Still-frozen hot dogs will likely just burn on the exterior and get leathery before the center is properly heated.)
4. After about 2 minutes, if the hot dogs need more color, move them to the hotter side of the grill. Continue grilling a minute or so, or until you have the perfect char. Be sure to keep rolling the hot dogs on the rack to avoid burning areas.
5. Hot dogs need to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 140°F, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Test Kitchen recommends a final temperature of about 155°F for the best texture. If the temperature is closer to 140°F, the meat can be a bit mushy. Conversely, hot dogs will quickly dry out and be too firm if they reach 160°F to 165°F. Sarah recommends using a meat thermometer. ("Instant-read digital thermometers are readily available, inexpensive, and a must-have during grilling season," she says.) If you don't have a thermometer, a visual indicator that a hot dog is ready is when it turns deep reddish-brown, the skin begins to wrinkle just a bit, and the ends may slightly crack or split.
6. Serve hot dogs immediately or within 1 hour if you're outdoors and it's a hot day. At room temperature, grilled hot dogs can sit for about 2 hours before being refrigerated or discarded.
Top It Off
A bun is the usual landing spot for a grilled dog. (By the way, that doesn't make it a sandwich. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council in Washington, D.C. weighed in on the long-standing sandwich/not-a-sandwich debate by ruling that a hot dog is not a sandwich.) Beyond the bun, though, there isn't much consensus on how to enjoy the frank. For some people, mustard is king. Others want a stripe of ketchup. Still others enjoy their dogs heaped with sweet and tangy toppings.
Want to elevate your Labor Day get-together? Dress up the condiments (see three recipes, below) and get creative with the toppers. A spoonful of Berry Red Cabbage Slaw or Elote Corn Topper, featured in the July 2019 issue of Better Homes & Gardens, will turn a plain frank into a haute dog!
Customized Ketchup In a small bowl stir together 1 cup ketchup and 2 Tbsp. chopped chipotle peppers in adobo, miso paste, or Asian chile-garlic sauce. Chill, covered, up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 cup.
Cuban Mustard Heat a small skillet or saucepan over medium. Add 1 tsp. cumin seeds, crushed. Heat 2 minutes or until toasted and aromatic. Remove; let cool. In a small bowl stir together ½ cup yellow mustard, ¼ cup chopped dill or sweet pickles, 1 Tbsp. pickle brine, ¼ cup finely chopped cooked ham, and the toasted cumin seeds. Chill, covered, up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 cup.
Caramelized Onions In a large skillet heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-low. Add 1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced, and ¼ tsp. each salt and black pepper. Cook, covered, 13 to 15 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, up to 3 days. Makes 1 cup.Get More Hot Dog Topper Ideas