To grill or to boil your hot dogs? There are reasons to love them both ways, as long as you cook them properly.
Hot dogs, the simple sausages that originated in Germany as the frankfurter, have become an integral part of American cooking and culture.
They are one of the simplest meals to prepare and, done right, are among the tastiest to eat. You can buy hot dogs from a street corner vendor or at the baseball game, or you cook them at home.
But how best to cook hot dogs? Do they taste better grilled or boiled? (And let’s not even consider microwaved, though that method may do in a pinch when time is of the essence.)
Grilled hot dogs, with their deep flavor and light charring, are tastier than their boiled counterparts. That said, boiled hot dogs are plump and much more tender, but they need condiments to make up for the blander flavor.
Each method, as you see, has its advantages and disadvantages. So here’s what else you need to know.
Which Kind of Hot Dogs Should You Choose?
Hot dogs come in a wide variety, ranging from all-beef dogs to kosher, to wieners that contain pork, to even turkey hot dogs for those people who are keeping track of their weight. For those who are inclined to go meatless, veggie dogs are available.
Grilling Hot Dogs
Nothing quite says weekend family fun like cooking on an outdoor grill. Hot dogs were made for grilling out of doors. However, you should follow some rules if you want your dogs to be hot and delicious.
Whether you’re grilling on charcoal or gas, you’re going to need a hot grill that’s been preheated over medium-high heat for enough time. To get there, light the charcoal and wait till the briquettes turn white and ashy. Or turn all of the burners on your gas grill on and preheat, with the lid closed, for about 15-20 minutes.
If you are using a charcoal grill, push the coals to one side, enabling the capacity to use direct and indirect heat. If you are using a gas grill, turn off half of the burners. A charcoal grill is more likely to give your hot dogs a nice, smoky flavor, but you have a greater control over the temperature—and the outcome—when grilling on gas.
Put the hot dogs on direct heat and turn them over frequently until the grill marks are all the way around. Then move the hot dogs to the indirect heat and leave them there for another two to three minutes. Once they’re done, serve them immediately from the grill.
To get grilled hot dogs right, the key is to balance between direct and indirect heat. Direct heat produces aroma and flavor. But cook on it for too long, and your dogs will burn beyond salvation. Indirect heat cooks the dogs fully through on the inside without drying and charring them too much on the outside.
The advantage of grilling hot dogs is that, like every other meat that has been kissed by fire, they will taste great.
However, grilling hot dogs takes constant attention because otherwise, you may wind up with dogs that are charred on the outside and undercooked on the inside. They can also become a little too firm if you’re not careful.
Boiling Hot Dogs
If the weather is bad or you’re just too antsy to deal with the grill, boiling hot dogs can be an option. Bring about a quart of water to a boil, then toss in eight hot dogs.
You should keep them in for four to five minutes before taking them out and putting them on paper towels to absorb some of the sogginess. If the hot dogs are frozen, leave them in the boiling water for about eight minutes.
Boiled hot dogs plump up very nicely. Unfortunately, they are not quite as tasty as grilled hot dogs. The reason? Browning and caramelization—the two chemical reactions that give flavor to grilled, pan-fried, and oven-baked food—can’t happen in boiling water.
Added condiments, whether that’s ketchup, mustard, mayo, or something else (more on our favorite condiments below), will have to provide the flavor for you.
What About Air-Fried Hot Dogs?
Everyone seems to have an air fryer these days, don’t they? The new home appliance is so versatile that you can cook just about anything in it: and hot dogs are no exception.
To make air-fried hot dogs, preheat the air fryer to 400°F (200°C). Cook the hot dogs for three minutes, then take them out and serve.
Some people swear that air-fried hot dogs taste just as good as if they were grilled. And no wonder, as both of these cooking methods rely on what chefs call “dry heat,” which is basically hot air cooking your food.
Condiments That Go Well on Hot Dogs
Whether you grill, boil, air fry, or even microwave hot dogs, they are not complete without some condiments to go on them.
Some people are content to eat their hot dogs with just mustard. However, bolder aficionados will pile all sorts of things on their wieners. These include sauerkraut, chili, cheese, diced onions, jalapenos, pickle relish, diced tomatoes, pickle spears, and horseradish.
What about the ketchup on hot dogs controversy? The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council suggest that ketchup on a hot dog when the eater is 18 or over is unacceptable. On the other hand, a rule exists that all rules are made to be broken.
At the Home Cook World editorial team and test kitchen, our favorite condiments are those that go on Chicago-style hot dogs: yellow mustard, white onions, pickle relish, a dill pickle, tomato slices, peppers, and celery salt.
However, once we learned about Danish-style hot dogs topped with ketchup, yellow mustard, remoulade, crispy fried onions, and dill pickles, we had a hard time choosing an all-time favorite!
How Do You Eat a Hot Dog?
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council is quite firm on the proper way to eat a hot dog. It must be brought up to the mouth by hand and eaten with no more than five bites.
The rule is a fine one for dogs that have a bare minimum of condiments, say just mustard. But if you’ve piled on the chili, cheese, and onions, unless you have the utmost dexterity, treating the hot dog as a sandwich could be a prescription for wearing your food rather than eating it.
By all means, apply a knife and fork to your heavily laden hot dog. If people stare at you, then stare at them right back.
What Goes Well with Hot Dogs?
Many people will pour some chips on the plate next to the hot dogs and consider that a good—albeit not too healthy—meal.
However, if you are disposed to make a little more effort, potato salad, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and baked beans will also make great side dishes for your hot dogs.
Are Hot Dogs Bad for You?
No one devours a hot dog with the idea that they are consuming healthy food. A study by a group at the University of Michigan suggests that a single hot dog will take 36 minutes off of your life. Any processed meat is bad for you. The study is especially bad news for people who engage in competitive eating.
You shouldn’t have to abandon hot dogs, one of life’s rare pleasures, to seek to live longer. But a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seafood is certainly indicated.
How Did Hot Dogs Come to Be?
Sausages have been around since the 13th century, at least. However, the idea of putting a sausage inside a roll was, according to some stories, the idea of a German immigrant to the United States in the late 19th century.
Another story suggests that a man named Charles Feltman at Coney Island sold them from a cart until he could raise enough money to build a brick-and-mortar restaurant.