I have to admit, it was tough to recruit tasters for my initial hot dog tasting. That’s because instead of offering a plethora of juicy, kosher dogs like I’d originally planned, the field ended up being dominated by fake-meat alternatives masquerading as meat, but falling short of tasting anything like it. This time, with five kosher beef (and chicken) hot dogs, the tasters came running! A couple of friends even told me they’d be much less enthusiastic were these regular, non-kosher dogs; there truly is a kosher difference when it comes to hot dogs. But why? Hot dogs, kosher or not, are just meat sausages. So why do people opt for kosher dogs, even if they don’t keep kosher?
Nostalgia certainly plays a role in it—what you grew up with is likely to taste the best to you—but I know food-minded people who, when it comes to hot dogs, would rather go hungry than eat non-kosher. Like most other great-tasting foods, it all comes down to what’s in it. There are no artificial flavors, colors, fillers or by-products in kosher dogs. But there is salt and fat. Because kosher hot dogs are usually all beef (though some have chicken in them as well), they’re fattier and taste, well, beefier. Also, the process of koshering meat includes a salting step in which the meat is covered with salt in order to draw out the blood. Salt is a “flavor potentiator,” meaning it serves to boost the other flavors in the dog, so the more that’s added while the meat is koshered, the more it will bring out the hot dog’s flavor in the end. So it’s not just your Jewish pride that makes you think kosher hot dogs are better (though I’m sure that helps).
Each sample—four new products plus Hebrew National, which was the last tasting’s winner—came fully cooked and was only intended to be heated through. In the first round, we tasted each hot dog straight up. In the second round, we tasted them again in a bun with the condiments of our choice. Differences among samples were more obvious when eaten without toppings (and even then, every hot dog had its fans), but everyone agreed that when nestled in a bun and topped with mustard and pickle relish, any of these dogs would be a welcome and quickly consumed addition to your next cookout.
Hot Dog Tasting Results:
I have to stress that all of these hot dogs had their fans, and none were completely torn apart by the tasters. But this one got docked points because it had the least amount of snap when you bit into it, which is something my tasters were looking for. It wasn’t as firm as the rest of the field either, being described as “soft” and “kind of wet” by a couple tasters.
A well-known favorite for kosher hot dogs, the company’s Facebook page boasts that their dog was ranked No. 1 by the New York Daily News (in 2005). And these are certainly good—plump and moist, with pronounced saltiness—but a couple tasters detected an off aftertaste they called “herby,” but I interpreted it as garlicky and didn’t find it off-putting. If you’re a die-hard Red Sox fan, though, you may want to avoid this tasty dog: it’s the hot dog of choice for the New York teams and is sold at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium.
3rd Place: Hebrew National Beef Franks
$5.99 for 7 hot dogs at Star Market
The winner of the first hot dog tasting, Hebrew National is a beloved standard for a reason. These hot dogs have good salt content, meaty flavor and a juicy texture. And the company has updated their website with a message addressing a lawsuit that claimed their products weren’t kosher. (It has since been dismissed.)
2nd Place: Aaron’s Best Classic Frankfurters Made with Chicken & Beef
$4.99 for 8 hot dogs at The Butcherie
“Classic” is misleading, as this hot dog contains both beef and chicken. These were the thickest of the lot, which means you got a good bite of meat no matter how many toppings you loaded on it. They were also salty and greasy—but “not in a bad way,” assured the tasters. Everyone agreed that when it comes to hot dogs, a little grease is welcome and expected.
The tasters’ eyes lit up when they tasted these franks. They raved about their great snap, moistness and springiness. Its flavor stood up well to toppings, and was a good complement to acidic toppings like mustard and—dare I say it—ketchup.