Food Republic’s column Ask Your Butcher seeks to answer FAQs in the world of butchery. Ethically minded butcher Bryan Mayer has opened butcher shops and restaurants and has trained butchers in the U.S. and abroad. He helped develop the renowned butcher-training program at Fleishers, where he is currently director of butchery education. In each column, Mayer tackles a pressing issue facing both meat buyers and home cooks. With the Fourth of July weekend approaching, he delves into the world of homemade hot dogs. Now that’s some serious BBQ bragging rights on the line.
We can debate the merits of hamburgers versus hot dogs until, well, the cows come home, but there’s no denying the superiority of meat in a tube on a bun in terms of portability and global varieties. From Sweden’s Tunnbrodsrulle to South Africa’s Boerewors to Australia’s Dagwood Dog (its version of a corndog), hot dogs have earned their place in the hierarchy of street food.
And if the spice of the meats isn’t enough for you, hot dogs are the perfect vessels for relish, chutney, sauerkraut or just about any topping you can think of. Smoke them, poach them, grill them, fry them and top them with whatever. And yes, ketchup is totally fine. Whether you use all beef, mix in pork, poultry or make your own special blend, we’re going to help you create something far superior to those commercial hot dogs you buy at the supermarket. And most importantly, you’ll know the source of your ingredients.
Before we get into the process of making your own hot dogs, let’s dive into a little bit of history surrounding what some consider to be the world’s oldest processed food. Legends of its origins stretch all the way to Babylon and Cyprus — hot dogs are even referenced in The Odyssey! After all, what better snack for Odysseus to indulge in following a ten-year war? This all may be more fiction than fact, but the debate still rages on in regards to the hot dog’s origins. Frankfurt, Vienna and Coburg all lay claim to the invention.
It was not until the 19th century, however, that we started to see what we now know as the hot dog here in America. And once again, a debate raged from Brooklyn to Chicago concerning who created it. But what is a hot dog, really? Well, that depends on where you get it. The joke amongst butchers and consumers is that a hot dog is made up of lips and assholes. And while maybe that might have been true in your grandmother’s day, hot dogs today are mostly limited to skeletal meat (muscle attached to bone). If they contain anything other than skeletal meat, they must be labeled “with by-products” or “with variety meats,” and if there’s any extender or binders, those must be listed as well. That all sounds like a dubious ingredient list. So what we recommend is purchasing your hot dogs from your local, whole-animal butcher shop, which is more likely to keep the ingredients simple and use meat from pastured animals.
Or how about making your own? Why, you ask? Well, in addition to knowing the source of your ingredients, making emulsified sausages is the next natural step in your homemade sausage game, and you probably have all the equipment you need (if you own a sausage stuffer). There’s just one key point to keep in mind here — temperature! Now, this applies to all sausages, but since you’re making an emulsified sausage, you’ll be left with a hot dog that has a grainy texture if your meat should go above 40°F. Work in batches to ensure that you keep the temperature cold, make sure to return your mix to the freezer in between, and use a good amount of ice water when emulsifying in a food processor. Those moving parts generate a bit of heat from friction. In addition, you’ll keep your stuffer and grinder parts in the fridge. This will ensure that every surface the meat comes into contact with is cold.
I like an all-beef hot dog. If you read “Ask the Butcher” regularly, you know my penchant for shank meat. Its deep, rich flavor is perfect for a hot dog. Your meat grinder might have a difficult time cutting through all that sinew, so if you use shank meat, have your butcher grind it for you. If you plan on grinding at home, neck meat will work great as another option. You’re looking for an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio, so the addition of chuck is perfect. Let’s get started!
Servings: Around 40, assuming a five- to six-inch twist-off per sausage
- 5 pounds fully pastured/grass-fed beef (either ground by your butcher or in cubes for you to grind at home)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Pinch of celery seed
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Just over 1 cup ice-cold water
- Sheep casings (24-26 mm)
- If you’ve purchased beef cubes and/or fat from your butcher, place them on a baking pan and place in your freezer. You don’t want to freeze the meat; you just want a crunchy exterior surface.
- Once the meat is sufficiently cold, nest a nonreactive bowl into another containing ice (keeping things cold here) and quickly grind. If things start to warm up, you can grind a few small pieces of ice with your meat to bring the temp back down.
- Add your spices to the ground meat and mix until thoroughly combined. You’ll also want to add just a bit of ice water here to help with the bind. You’ll know it’s mixed well when it becomes tacky and starts to stick to the bowl. Place the meat back into the freezer and set up your food processor.
- Working quickly, place your meat and about half the ice water in the bowl of your food processor and begin to mix. Continue adding the ice water to this process, which should take no more than 5-6 minutes. If you’re like me, you’re constantly worried about breaking your emulsion, so work in batches, returning what’s been emulsified to the freezer. When you’re done emulsifying, it’s time to test both for taste and to ensure that the emulsion has not been broken.
- Spoon a tablespoon of the farce into a pan and cook. Adjust your spices if needed, and if it exudes any water, your emulsion is broken. Let’s not let that happen. At this point you can cover your farce and place it in your refrigerator overnight. This allows for fuller flavor development as the meat proteins react with the spices.
- You’re now ready to stuff! You’ve kept your stuffer and its parts in the fridge in order to keep it cool and your farce has either been in the fridge overnight or in the freezer while you set up your stuffer.
- Sheep casings are what you’ll use here as they are thinner and help with that traditional hot dog snap. I like a slightly larger one at about 24-26 mm, since they’re easier to work with. And of course, just as we do with our non-emulsified sausages, you’ll soak and flush them to remove any excess salt.
- Place a sheet pan, with a bit of water on it, underneath the nozzle of your stuffer and quickly begin to fill the casings. The watered sheet pan helps the filled casings move easily away from the tip of the nozzle.
- Once your casings are filled, twist off into desired lengths and it’s back into the fridge while you get your cooking implements set up.
- You can poach, roast or smoke. You’re looking for an internal temp of around 145°-150°F. That’ll happen in a 170°F smoker in about an hour, in a 200°F oven in about 30 minutes, or, how I like to do them, in a water bath of 160°F for about 30 minutes. Once the sausages are fully poached, you’ll want to toss them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
- Since they are fully cooked, you’re only looking to finish them, and that can be done in a few ways. My two favorites are once again poached, in something like sauerkraut, or sliced lengthwise and cooked on a flat cooking surface.
- For the first method, pour the sauerkraut and its liquid into an aluminum pan, and along with the hot dogs bring to a bubble over direct heat. This should take about five minutes. Slide them over to the cool side of your grill and in about ten minutes, you’ll have perfectly heated, unwrinkly hot dogs! Pop them directly on the grill for a minute or two for a bit of char.
- The second method is kind of self-explanatory. This will take about five minutes.
- As for buns, let’s keep things simple here with the old standby — Martin’s potato roll. Save the split tops for your lobster. I don’t love to grill buns as I don’t need any extra crunch. I like them steamed: Place a wire rack over an aluminum tray of water and heat that water over direct heat on your grill. You’ve got steamed buns!