Summer is winding down, but there are still enough warm Saturdays left in the year to get the grill going, so we thought we’d share a few insider tips on how to grill the perfect frank every time.
It’s a little more complicated than you might think. Sure, hot dogs are already fully cooked when you get them from the store, so technically all you need to do is heat ’em and eat ’em. But the true dog lover knows it all gets down to the way you heat them … and while grilling them is easy, doing it right requires a bit of savvy.
Be Picky when You Pick Your Dogs
Not all hot dogs are the same. That’s not to say one type is better than another, just that the preparation might differ.
First, there’s the type of meat. Around here, we’re kind of partial to 100% beef franks, but there are also pork, chicken, and turkey dogs out there, not to mention vegan dog substitutes. Whatever works for you.
You can also choose between cured or uncured hot dogs. Traditionally, cured hot dogs were made with sodium nitrite, which prolongs shelf life but apparently isn’t all that healthy for humans. Uncured franks are available, but just because a package says “no nitrates added” doesn’t mean they’re nitrate-free: using natural nitrates such as celery allows this bit of smoke-and-mirrors advertising.
Finally, you can opt for skinless franks–they’re pre-cooked in an artificial “skin” that is removed before packaging–or dogs in natural casings. Skinless are easier to find at chain supermarkets, but natural casings give your dogs an additional dimension of flavor, and some aficionados feel they’re worth the extra effort. (Try the internet: at one time that might’ve been iffy, but sites like Amazon have changed how people think about purchasing online.)
Simmer before You Grill
Even though they are precooked, franks are temperature-sensitive, which is why they so often end up split or dried-out after grilling. You can be extra careful when grilling, starting with no flame and finishing off each dog with a little fire. Our preferred method is too simmer your franks in water for 4-6 minutes BEFORE you throw them straight on the grill: simmering allows the meat to get evenly heated, while a medium flame gives you a golden-brown surface.
Grilling without simmering is trickier: skinless franks look all fat and juicy while cooking, but take them off the grill and they tend to deflate and shrivel. To prevent this, make a few cuts into two opposite sides of the hot dog before grilling. Slashing allows a shorter cooking time because the reaches the center of the meat. Shorter cooking time, in turn, means your franks stay juicier and don’t shrivel nearly as much.
When cased dogs are cooked over direct heat, their casings provide some protection (they’re meat, too, after all). You don’t want to slash these, however, because the cuts can lead to bursting, and that can mean all your juices leak out.
Whether you’ve preheated your franks or not, it’s time for the grill. Lay dogs on the grill perpendicular to the grate. This is where you get those nice char lines that enhance the flavor (and look really cool). Be sure you get them far enough apart to roll around on the grill: you’ll want to roll them 1/4 a turn or so every couple of minutes to ensure even cooking. If you pre-simmered, turn them every 30 seconds for 2-3 minutes.
Let the outside get that deep red-brown-golden color before you take them off the grill. This browning reaction comes from the sugars and the amino acids combining, and that’s what makes grilled foods so flavorful. The same thing happens with bread, so turn off the heat, add some butter, and toast your buns on the grill for a few seconds before you wrap one around a dog, add your favorite condiments, and enjoy!