created at: 2013-06-05
The days are longer, the grills are hot, and Father’s Day is just around the corner. You know what that means—hot dog season is upon us! But with so many brands available, how are you supposed to decide which dog to make the star of your cookout? I decided to hold an informal tasting to find out.

My methodology wasn’t the most scientific. I wanted to limit the field to products I could find at most national supermarket chains, so I visited three stores—two Star Markets in Brookline and the Whole Foods in Brighton—and inspected every hot dog label in search of the kosher designation. I expected the offerings in these stores, which are located in areas with large populations of Jews, to be plenty, but when all I could find were two measly meat options, I decided to include vegetarian kosher dogs.

I gathered four other hot dog fans, and we fired up the grill. I prepared each dog the way its label instructed, with one exception: The only reference to grilling on the Tofu Pups’ label was, “Not suggested for barbecue.” But I wanted a hot dog I could grill—who wants to use a microwave at a cookout?—so for this product, I simply turned it frequently until it was heated through. (As you’ll see from the results below, its label wasn’t lying.)

In the first round, we tasted each hot dog sans toppings. In the second round, we tasted them again in a bun with the condiments of our choice. (And by “our choice,” I mean anything we could find in my fridge, so we were limited to ketchup, mustard, pickle relish and Nutella. Unsurprisingly, no one opted for the Nutella.)

This kosher hot dog tasting certainly lends itself to a part two—kosher butcheries. To be frank (sorry—what’s a hot dog article without a pun?), I expect them to blow these five products out of the water. But I’ll have to taste them all to find out.

Hot Dog Tasting Results:

created at: 2013-06-055th Place: Lightlife Tofu Pups
$3.69 at Whole Foods


I’m an adventurous eater. I like vegetarian food. I also like tofu. I’m open to liking a vegan product that claims to taste like the meat version—truly, I am. But this is not that product. It felt like chewing on rubber. The best part about it was the cute name. But to its credit, the label did warn me that it wasn’t recommended for grilling. No false advertising here.

created at: 2013-06-054th Place: 365 Everyday Value Veggie Dogs
$3.49 at Whole Foods


The entire tasting group enjoys Whole Foods’ line of 365 Everyday Value products, so we really thought these dogs had potential. But when eaten straight up, they fell short, with a plastic-like texture and fake flavor. They did, however, improve considerably with toppings.

created at: 2013-06-053rd Place: Tofurkey Beer Brats
$4.99 at Whole Foods



Full disclosure: None of the five tasters is vegetarian, so we were all likely predisposed to disliking the non-meat options. But we were pleasantly surprised by this product’s performance. Three of the tasters said they’d gladly eat it again; one even said she intended to go buy herself a package. (I just gave her the leftovers after the tasting. I was squarely in the “I’ll stick with meat” side of this product’s review.)

created at: 2013-06-05Runner Up: Empire Kosher Turkey Franks
$2.99 at Star Market



Though it was a blind tasting, we could all tell when we hit a meat sample. These dogs had a nice snap and were well seasoned. The consensus: A great option for the health-conscious, meat-loving hot dog eater.

created at: 2013-06-05WINNER: Hebrew National Beef Franks
$5.99 at Star Market


None of us was surprised that Hebrew National came out on top. These links have everything you look for in a hot dog: good salt content, meaty flavor, and a juicy, slightly greasy texture. They taste like America, cookouts and Fenway Park. (One note: You might be aware of the lawsuit filed against Hebrew National’s manufacturer, ConAgra Foods Inc., claiming it misled consumers about its hot dogs’ kosher status. In January, this lawsuit was dismissed. Read more about it here.)

Find out which specialty brands make the cut in Part 2!