Hot Dogs vs. Sausages (The Difference)

Published Categorized as Food
Sausages (left) compared to hot dogs (right)

When you want snappy meat on a bun, go with a hot dog. When you want juicy meat on a plate, cook up a sausage and serve it with fries.

Have you ever wondered about the difference between hot dogs and sausages?

To give you the long story short, “sausages” is the umbrella term for ground meat mixed with fat, water, and seasonings and stuffed in a casing. Hot dogs are a family of sausages that are cooked, smoked, and then sold with or without the casing.

Hot dogs are an American staple and the can’t-miss ingredient in… err, hot dogs! But their deliciousness is not to be underestimated in the county-fair favorite, the corn dog.

To sate your hunger for culinary knowledge, we’re about to dive deep into the similarities—and the differences—between the sausage and the hot dog. If that’s what you came here to find out, then read on.

On Sausages

A sausage is a food item made from emulsified, ground, minced, or coarsely chopped red meat or poultry mixed with fat, water, and seasonings.

Some sausages are sold with the casing intact, while others are skinless and have their casing removed. Sausage casings can be natural or artificial. Natural casings are made from the skin or intestines of animals, and they’re edible. Artificial casings are made from generally edible collagen or inedible cellulose.

Like other meat products, sausages can be prepared in a variety of ways. The sausage links in the supermarket can be raw, cured, cooked, and/or smoked.

Raw sausages haven’t undergone any preservation processing or thermal treatment, and they must be cooked to doneness for safe consumption.

Cured sausages have been preserved with curing salt—a mixture of salt and nitrates—that slows spoilage and hinders the growth of botulism bacteria in the meat. The nitrates also help to preserve the meat’s bright-red color.

Cooked sausages are sausages that have been cooked during their preparation. Usually, this is done by submerging the sausages in a pot of simmering salted water or a flavorful broth, though other cooking methods may also be used.

Smoked sausages are sausages that have been hung in a cooking chamber and exposed to smoke from firewood for an extended period of time.

Depending on the temperature at which the smoking takes place, the sausages may be cold-smoked or hot-smoked. Cold smoking imparts flavor; hot smoking imparts flavor and extends the meat’s shelf life, as hot firewood smoke has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

On Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are a subset of sausages that are made from emulsified skeletal meat mixed with fat, water, and seasonings, then cooked and very often smoked for added aroma and flavor.

There are dozens of regional styles of hot dogs across the country, and the type of sausage used varies by the state, the county, and the city. With that said, the three most common sausage varieties that go in hot dogs are franks, wieners, and bologna sausages.

Franks take their name from the German city of Frankfurt, from which they originated. They’re made from cooked and smoked beef, which is then sold with or without the casing.

Wieners are named after Vienna, the capital of Austria (in German, Vienna is called “Wien”). They’re made from a mixture of pork and beef that’s cooked, smoked, and then sold with or without the casing.

Bologna sausages, also called “baloney,” are a variety of Italian mortadella that originated in the city of Bologna. They’re made from pork meat mixed with spices—including myrtle berries, which give them a distinctively piquant aroma and flavor.

Franks, wieners, and bologna sausages are precooked. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends heating them until they’re steaming hot nevertheless because they may contain listeria bacteria. (Ingesting large amounts of listeria bacteria can cause food poisoning.)

Related: How to Know When Your Hot Dogs Are Done

Sausages vs. Hot Dogs

Sausages come in all shapes and forms, and can be raw, cured, cooked, and/or smoked. Just think of Cajun andouille, German bratwurst, or Italian garlic sausage. Hot dogs, on the other hand, are cooked and very often smoked sausages made specifically for putting in a split bun.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a strict definition of what constitutes a hot dog:

“The finished product,” the federal agency says on its website, “may not contain more than 30% fat or not more than 10% water, or a combination of 40% fat and added water.”

The agency also regulates that “up to 3.5% non-meat binders and extenders (such as nonfat dry milk, cereal, or dried whole milk) or 2% isolated soy protein may be used.” When they are used, they must be shown in the ingredients list on the product’s label by their common names.

Most sausages are sold with the casing. In contrast, hot dogs these days are skinless and sold with the casing removed. (The best hot dogs, however, have a natural, edible casing made from the skin or the intensive of the animal that gives a snap when bitten into.)

Can You Use Sausages as Hot Dogs

Traditionally, the types of sausages that go into hot dogs are franks, wieners, and bologna sausages. However, if you don’t happen to have these types of sausages in your kitchen right now—and can’t find them in the store—you can try substituting them with something else.

Cured sausages, such as Mexican chorizo or Polish kielbasa, are salty and chewy and perhaps a bit too tough for most hotdog buns. Try making your hotdogs with white bratwursts cooked on the grill and topped with sauerkraut and mustard, or with baked Italian sausages complemented by something mellow, like sweet chili sauce.

Breakfast sausage also makes for a great hybrid between a breakfast sandwich and a hot dog, especially if you top it with cheddar cheese and garlic chive mayo. (When you consider that breakfast sausages are tiny and buns can get rather big, you have two options: make multi-sausage hotdogs or cut up the buns.)

Final Words

The hot dog is a sausage.

But not just any kind of sausage, oh no: It’s a special kind of sausage!

Hot dogs are sausages made from up to 55-60% emulsified skeletal meat, 30% fat, and 10% water, with up to 5-6% fillings and seasonings.

Boil them in salty simmering water and eat them on a bun or dip them in cornmeal batter, deep-fry them in hot oil, and eat them on a stick; they’re equally as delicious.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.