No, there isn’t an app for that. But we wrote the only guide for telling when your hot dogs are done that you’ll ever need.
The hot dog—that heavenly combo of a cooked frank or wiener on a split bun with ketchup, mustard, and sometimes other condiments—is millions of Americans’ favorite food on a hot summer’s day.
And no wonder: Hot dogs are cheap, they are delicious, and they can be prepared to suit any taste.
But how do you know when they’re done?
This question has left many a home cook wondering. For something as simple as emulsified meat in a snappy casing, hot dogs can be notoriously tricky to prepare properly.
To find out why, a few weeks ago I drove my car to the cash-and-carry and loaded the trunk with wieners. Then I came back home, rolled up my sleeves, dusted off my cookbooks, fired up the stove, and got down to work.
A stack of notes on my coffee table and dozens of hot dogs later, my tips for preparing the perfect hot hogs are finally ready to share with the world. No matter how much you know about cooking, I bet that the answer to “How to tell if hot dogs are done?” will surprise you.
And, like any good story, it comes with a twist worthy of a Chuck Palahniuk novel.
Your Hot Dogs Are Already Done
Yes, you read that right!
Take a moment and let it sink in. If you want to know how to tell if your hot dogs are done, look no further. Your hot dogs are already done!
And yet, for the reasons that we’re about to get into below, you can’t just take the hot dogs out of the package and eat them. You have to heat them up first until they’re nice, steamy, and safe to eat.
The two most common types of sausages that go into hot dogs are franks and wieners.
Franks take their name from the city of Frankfurt in Germany, where they originated. In their simplest form, they’re made from emulsified beef, tallow, water, salt, and spices.
Wieners, on the other hand, come from Vienna in Austria. (Vienna is “Wien” in German, hence the name.) Traditionally, wieners are prepared from a mixture of emulsified beef and pork with tallow, lard, water, salt, and spices.
The most important thing you need to know about both of these varieties of sausage is that, unless stated otherwise by the manufacturer, they are already cooked.
However, and this is where our plot thickens, this doesn’t mean that it’s safe for you—or your friends, or your family members, or the neighbors at your cookout—to eat them without heating them up first.
Hot dogs are already cooked, say the folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they should still be reheated until steaming hot before eating. That’s because they pose a risk of listeriosis, a food-borne illness caused by infection with the germ Listeria monocytogenes.
This food-borne illness, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially by pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
So your hot dogs are already cooked. But to make them safe to eat, you need to heat, that is, cook them.
How to Cook Your Hot Dogs
Cooking your hot dogs does more than making them safe to eat. It brings them back to life and, depending on the cooking method, it ameliorates their aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel in many different ways.
To understand why, let’s take a look at each cooking method and the things that you need to do to prepare your hot dogs to perfection.
By Boiling Your Hot Dogs
Boiling brings the hot dogs back to life and makes them plump and snappy. To boil your hot dogs, follow the steps below.
Step 1: Fill a pot or a Dutch oven with tap water.
Step 2: Season the water with a generous pinch of salt to keep the hot dogs from turning out bland.
Step 3: Cover the vessel with the lid, ignite the burner, turn the heat to high, and let the water come to a boil.
Step 4: When the water starts to boil, remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium, then submerge the hot dogs in the water.
Step 5: Let the hot dogs simmer for 4-5 minutes if refrigerated or 9-10 minutes if frozen.
Step 6: Remove the sausages from the water, rest them for 2-3 minutes, then assemble your hot dogs and send them to the table.
You can speed up this process by keeping the heat high and immersing the dogs in a rolling boil for 60-90 seconds. The drawback to this method, however, is that the high heat can cause the casings to burst.
By Grilling Your Hot Dogs
Grilling your hot dogs, whether in a grill pan on the stove or on the glowing-hot grates of your backyard grill, triggers the Maillard reaction.
As a result, the hot dogs brown and turn out smelling and tasting better than they did before, and richer than they would have had you instead boiled them.
Step 1: Grease and preheat your grill pan for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat. Or grease and preheat your grill to the same setting for 15-20 minutes.
Step 2: In the meantime, take the hot dogs out of the fridge to bring them to room temperature. (Tempering the meat allows it to brown more evenly.)
Step 3: On the stove, turn the heat down to medium to prevent the sausage casings from bursting. On the grill, switch half of the burners off, keeping the other half on medium-high.
Step 4: On the stove, place the hot dogs on the pan. On the grill, add the hot dogs to the side of the grates with the unlit burners, then close the lid. In both cases, the sausages should start to sizzle.
Step 5: Turn the hot dogs every 1-2 minutes until they’re brown and lightly charred on the outside. That’s your cue for knowing when they’re “done.”
Step 6: Let the sausages rest for 2-3 minutes, then assemble your hot dogs and send them to the table.
The trick, as you can tell by the instructions below, is not just to heat the hot dogs but to brown them over medium heat.
Here again, you can speed up the process by using high instead of medium heat. But remember that hot dogs, like all sausages, are best cooked low and slow. Haste and high heat create the risk of burning the hot dogs and tearing apart the casings, which is the opposite of what you want.
Telling When the Hot Dogs Are Done
As a general rule of thumb, hot dogs are done when they’ve been exposed to heat long enough to become hot and steamy inside.
Boiled hot dogs are done in 60-90 seconds if cooked in a rolling boil, in 4-5 minutes if simmered out of the fridge, and in 9-10 minutes if simmered out of the freezer.
Grilled hot dogs, whether they’re cooked on a grill pan in the kitchen or on your grill’s grates out in the backyard, are done when they’re nicely browned and lightly charred on the surface.
Take your time but don’t wander off. Hot dogs can be overcooked, and they will dry out if you leave them in the water or on the dry heat for too long.