The Easy Solution To Bringing Hot Dogs To A Picnic — No Grill Required

Whether you're picnicking at a friend's backyard, in a park, or at your kids' baseball game, grilling hot dogs right on the spot isn't always an option. What's a cook to do when they need a round of hot franks ASAP, without access to a heat source? You simply need to get creative with your cooking and transportation methods.

One simple solution is to load cold hot dogs into a thermos, leaving room to pour some boiling water over top. You'll want the hot dogs to be completely submerged in the water in order to cook them evenly. Seal the thermos tightly to prevent leaks, then just bring it with you to the scene of the party. Your hot dogs will cook themselves over the next few hours, without any need for a grill or live fire.

There are a few things to keep in mind when using this method. Firstly, the thermos hack results in boiled hot dogs, which may not meet the expectations of those who prefer next-level grilled hot dogs, though some of us like tender and juicy franks that go well with all sorts of toppings. What's more, your thermos size limits how many hot dogs you can cook. A smaller thermos, for instance, might only be able to hold four hot dogs, and therefore wouldn't be a viable option for large groups. Even a larger thermos might only be able to hold a single package of dogs.

Is it safe to cook hot dogs in a thermos?

Understandably, cooking hot dogs in a thermos raises the question of food safety. Will the hot dogs cook properly? Will the thermos keep them at a safe temperature until you get around to eating? Hot dogs are actually sold fully cooked, so eating an "undercooked" hot dog isn't too big a concern. What's more, if you're adding boiling water (which must be at 212 degrees Fahrenheit to qualify as "boiling") to the thermos, the dogs will have no trouble reaching their ideal internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

That said, dropping temperatures over time can pose a problem. The USDA warns against leaving food at temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, as this range creates a "danger zone" for increased bacterial growth. A high-quality thermos, however, should be able to keep hot dogs at a temperature safely above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, for up to six hours, in most cases. 

This isn't to say you should wait six hours to eat those hot dogs, though, especially if you want to have a successful public cookout. You want those franks as fresh as possible, so put them in the thermos right before leaving for your picnic. The container should ensure that your hot dogs remain safe for at least a few hours.

Switch out the water for something tastier when cooking hot dogs

Boiling hot dogs in water is a great option for efficiency, but often comes at the cost of flavor. You can easily take your hot dogs' flavor up a notch by replacing the water in your thermos (or pot) with something a little more tasty. For example, boiling hot dogs in beer? A revelation. Your favorite hoppy beer effortlessly intensifies the meaty flavor of the hot dogs, just like a beer-simmered bratwurst. To maximize the amount of beer that soaks into the hot dogs, you'll want to use skinless hot dogs, or puncture the casing in various places with a fork. 

Alternatively, you can boil hot dogs in broth – be it beef, chicken, or even vegetable — to increase their meaty flavor and juiciness. To give even more flavor to your hot dogs, try adding seasonings to the broth. For instance, you might mix beef broth, nutmeg, garlic, onion, chili powder, and several more spices to create an NYC "dirty water" hot dog (tastier than it sounds, trust us). And you can do the same thing with beer, of course, for hoppy and salty franks that go particularly well with spicy mustard. Sounds way better than the standard boiled-in-water hot dog, if you ask us.