Not to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the fact is, summer is almost over. Kids will be going back to school, grills will be cleaned and covered, and that’s the end of another hot dog season.
But wait! There’s no need for despair—at least not yet. We’ve still got Labor Day picnics to look forward to. So as you’re heading into summer’s hot dog swan song (trying saying THAT three times fast…), remember: a simple, pre-cooked sausage might seem easy enough to prepare, but there are dozens of little missteps along the way which could make ruin your red hot.
As you probably suspected, we’re here to help. We consulted some of the top hot dog experts from around the … well, our office, but still. We’ve compiled a pretty good list of some of the most common mistakes home cooks make when grilling hot dogs — and how to turn those “Uh-ohs” into “OH BOYs!”
Don’t start cold.
Defrosting is more important than you might think. Sure, hot dogs are a quick-cook meat—but that doesn’t mean you can pop them from freezer to fire. Even if your hot dog is pre-cooked, throwing a frozen piece of meat on a grill is never a good idea: the outsides will likely be charcoal before the interiors even get warm. Always make sure your wieners are room temperature to ensure juicy results, through and through.
Don’t start dry ‘n’ dirty.
You don’t want your dogs to go on the grill waterlogged … but simmering them in water for three or four minutes pre-cooking can help. Particularly if you’re using dogs with natural-casing (and if you’re not, shame on you!), steaming or boiling tightens the casing and adds extra “snap.” For an extra kick of flavor, try simmering sausages in beer or a light summer ale. This will not only play nicely against the smoke of the grill, it will help those casings from splitting.
Don’t split them up.
OK, this one is controversial: sure, there are situations where making four slits on a dog is warranted: pre-scoring tends to make the dogs crispier on the outside, and if done correctly, the hot dog can actually also expand and still be juicy on the inside. If that’s what your guests, request, well the customer is always right (not really). Having said that, we’re generally not fans of cutting up meat before the cooking process since it lets the juice out. And unless you’re obsessed with char marks, you never want to split a dog all the way down the middle.
Don’t neglect the fire.
Grilling hot dogs is great, but they need to get the right amount of heat for the best results. If you’re using charcoal, make sure the coals are white in color: you never want to cook hot dogs over direct heat or an open flame. It takes a little patience, but the end result is worth it. Try to keep the grill between 400 to 425 degrees, and for the best result, season your grill with just a touch of oil. It will add flavor and keep the meat from sticking.
Don’t forget the dressing.
It’s good to concentrate on the grill … just don’t neglect what happens next. For example, you don’t want a perfect dog tossed onto a stale, dry bun. The best buns are at least warmed or even lightly toasted. And while mustard and hot dogs are classic pairing, there are lots of other cool ways to dress up hot dogs…like vinegary toppings that contrast with the saltiness and smokiness. Or our favorite, cool coleslaw that complements the bite .