What Makes Costco's Food Court Hot Dogs Taste So Good

Even if you're not a Costco member, or you're unlucky enough to live in one of the three U.S. states that still don't have a Costco, you've most likely heard of the warehouse's famous $1.50 hot dog and soda combo. Shoppers can find the meal in the food court, beckoning like a beam of light at the end of a long shopping trip — and many often indulge. In fact, it's become so popular that Costco Chief Executive Ron Vachris has shared that the brand sold just about 200 million hot dog-soda combos in 2023 alone (as reported on by the Seattle Times).

What exactly makes Costco's food court hot dogs taste so delicious, besides the incredible price? (After all, they also happen to be culinary whiz Julia Child's favorite thing from the chain). It's all in the ingredients — or rather, lack of ingredients. Whereas most hot dogs contain a plethora of fillers and additives, Costco's Kirkland brand frankfurters do not. 

For example, a look at the label of Oscar Meyer Classic Uncured Wieners, shows that they contain mechanically separated turkey, chicken, and pork, along with dextrose, corn syrup, sodium phosphate, and added flavors. Costco, on the other hand, uses their in-house brand of Kirkland Signature Beef Wieners, which are gluten-free with zero by-products, corn syrup, or fillers. 

Also, regular hot dogs are traditionally around 1.5 ounces. But Costco's all-beef hot dog is more than double that size, weighing in at a quarter-pound, or 4 ounces. That's some serious bang for your literal buck.

The history of Costco hot dogs

Costco has been selling its food court hot dogs since 1984, though they opted to use Hebrew National kosher hot dogs up until 2008. As the March 2009 edition of the in-house magazine Costco Connections explained, the warehouse decided to make the switch to its in-house brand after it "became concerned in 2007 over troubling signs in the kosher meat industry that ultimately led to a decrease in supply." At the time, kosher meat suppliers and the capacity of kosher production plants was dwindling. 

Costco saw the writing on the wall and developed a recipe for its very own Kirkland Signature hot dogs, officially making the combo meal an in-house operation since 2009. Kirkland Signature Beef Weiners are both 10% heavier and longer than Hebrew National hot dogs; they're also made with fresh UDSA Choice cuts or better. Talk about an upgrade!

With today's $8 coffees and $5 egg cartons, it's hard to imagine how Costco can sell their jumbo hot dog and 20-ounce soda combo for just $1.50. In fact, the price hasn't risen by a cent since 1984. That's because, when Costco opened its own hot dog factory in 2009, the "middle man" was cut out of the equation, which kept production costs low, and they were able to keep their popular $1.50 price point.

Can't get to Costco? Copy the hot dog at home

If you regularly crave a Costco hot dog, but you can't get to the store or your membership expired, you can easily recreate them at home. Especially since the Kirkland Signature quarter-pound hot dogs are sold in bulk at Costco. The warehouse also has regular-sized hot dogs, so be sure you're getting the ones in the blue package that say "Kirkland Signature Beef Dinner Franks" in order to enjoy the full food court experience at home. 

The hot dog bun brand varies by location; this way, each warehouse is able to sell the freshest bread possible. Reddit users have found that many Midwest locations use a brand called S. Rosen's, and that the Los Angeles area gets its bread from Francisco's. You could always ask a food court employee what bun they use; there's a good chance that those buns are sold in bulk in the warehouse.

Costco offers ketchup, mustard, relish, and diced onions as optional toppings at the food court, so feel free to add these to your dog, too. Incidentally, diced onions were taken away from Costco's self-service station at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but as of May 2023, most locations have added back the topping choice.