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The Journal Gazette

  • Washington Post photos We want the first hot dog of your summer to be the best one. So we ate 15 varieties of them and narrowed down the list to the 10 best.

  • Costco’s Kirkland Beef Hot Dogs ranked first.

  • Nathan’s Angus Beef Franks ranked second.

Saturday, May 25, 2019 1:00 am

Best dog in show

Several factors are in play when deciding which frankfurter comes in first

Maura Judkis | Washington Post

The first hot dog of summer is a sacred, precious thing, one of life's simplest and most fleeting pleasures. It's best consumed in a backyard, right off the grill. Or at the ballpark. Or next to a pool.

It is not best in a windowless, fluorescent-lit conference room, and it is certainly not ideal when it's followed in close succession by the second through fifteenth hot dogs of summer. But these are the sacrifices we make for journalism.

Memorial Day weekend is here. We want the first hot dog of your summer to be the best one. So we ate 15 of them to figure out exactly which one that would be and provided the top 10.

One week later, we still feel kind of puffy. How does Joey Chestnut do it?

Yeah, yeah, we've heard your jokes about what goes into hot dogs. We know they're not healthy, and we don't care. We wanted to rank the best hot dogs in America because hot dogs are America. At their essence, both hot dogs and America are a bunch of, uh, parts from all over the place that come together to create something special. They can be bad sometimes – and bad for you – but when they're good, they're really good.

We take our meat tubes seriously. We judged the dogs – purchased in Washington from national retailers including Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Safeway, Giant, Costco and Target – on four factors: taste, appearance, seasoning balance (a good blend of sweet, spicy, salty and smoky), and “snap.” You know snap – it's what it should feel like to bite into a hot dog. A good hot dog isn't too soft or mushy. A good hot dog casing bursts a little when you bite it (but it also doesn't require too much chewing, which can be off-putting). We only included all-beef hot dogs in the test.

We made them on a grill pan and gave the tasters potato buns to accompany their dogs. But there was one strict rule: Their first bites had to be bun-free, so that they would taste the meat on its own. Condiments were strictly prohibited. And we invited some of our colleagues from the sports section – truly, experts on hot dogs – to help us out with the tasting.

Which one was the wurst, and which one was the wiener? (Ba-dum-tss.)

10 and 9. (a tie) Ball Park Beef Hot Dogs Score: 68

The nicely charred hot dogs earned a nickname: “These boys are Charizards!” said one taster, referencing the hot dog-colored fire-breathing Pokémon. They had “discernible garlic and onion.” “Nothing spectacular, but it's what I need in a hot dog.” Snap-wise, they were lacking: “Could be snappier.” “So soft it could be gummed by a salt-loving toddler.”

Safeway Signature Select Beef Franks Score: 68

Smoky and plump, and they fill out the bun. “This is an absolute unit.” It might be too big, one taster feared: “The proportion of dog to bun feels off.” They're “beefy, plump, a little more umami than others,” but with a “salt to spice ratio (that's) slightly out-of-whack.”

8, 7 and 6. (yet another tie) Roseda Farm Beef Franks Score: 71

Despite the pedigreed brand, our tasters were pretty divided on this one. “I like the density,” one taster said, and another praised it for an “excellent snap, thick without feeling like too much of a mouthful and with just a hint of spice. That's a solid backyard barbecue hot dog.” But many of the tasters were meh on the flavor, which they called “blandish”: “I'm overly-aware of the casing – it feels chewy.”

Open Nature Uncured Beef Franks Score: 71

The remarks on this one were pretty middlebrow. It has “a nice dark red color” and was “plump and juicy, but too much of a salty aftertaste.” Another complained it was “too oily,” and several people remarked that it was “also a sweet one.”

Whole Foods 365 Uncured Beef Hot Dogs Score: 71

I'm not sure what it is about this hot dog. Maybe it was the moment in the taste test when the nitrates finally started to go to our brains. But Whole Foods' house-brand hot dog – “a good blend of salty and sweet,” “spicy, good size and thickness” – inspired some of the most descriptive comments of the entire taste test. Here's some feedback in the form of pure poetry, from another taster: “Salty, thick meat stick. There's not much more to say about this bad boy. I feel like Goldilocks rating these hot dogs. There's a juuuust right size, and this ain't it.”

5. Wellshire Sugar-Free All-Natural Uncured Beef Franks Score: 72

The one factor that kept this dog from climbing higher in the ranks seemed to be its sweetness, which persevered despite the dog being labeled as sugar-free. It's a good looking one – several tasters remarked on its symmetry. But “there's an odd sweetness here in a lovely and perfectly cylindrical dog.” (Maybe its symmetry made it untrustworthy – “artificial tasting, artificial looking,” was one comment.)

4. Trader Joe's Uncured Beef Hot Dogs Score: 73

Trader Joe's does nostalgic favorites well so we were not surprised to see a high score for its dogs. Though the spices were confusing for some tasters – “Is there rosemary or some other Italian spice in this?” one asked, while another inquired about liquid smoke – they earned high marks for their bold flavor and spice blend.

3. Oscar Mayer Classic Beef Uncured Franks Score: 82

The beloved hot dog brand remains at the top of its game. They're on the slimmer side, but that worked for some of our tasters: “I like a good compact hot dog over a wider one.” “This hot dog packs a decent punch in its tiny frame, but it gets lost in a bun. A good option for someone who likes bread, condiments and just a little bit of meat.”

2. Nathan's Angus Beef Franks Score: 84

This Coney Island hot dog is an American classic for a reason. “In a bun – and with condiments, ideally – this is a well-balanced, tasty hot dog,” said one taster, and most agreed. It is “uniform with a nice sweat going” and “thinner than the others, the Kate Moss of this tasting.” It has a “good snap, but the casing is more on the rubbery side,” one taster complained. Nevertheless, an incredibly solid dog.

1. Costco's Kirkland Beef Hot Dogs Score: 93

Surprise! The same place where you can buy a 36-pack of toilet paper also produces the best store-bought hot dog in America. They were universally loved by our tasters for their “solid salt and garlic balance,” “a very beefy hot dog with a lot of seasoning” and “good size, pretty good snap and well-balanced taste.” They have a quintessential hot dog appearance: “These pick up grill marks nicely.” “I could eat three of these at a ballgame.” They “taste like childhood.” They “taste like summer.”

And once you've had your first hot dog of the year, that's when you know summer's really here.