The Great Off The Broiler Hot Dog Tasting of 2007


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In our previous hot dog tasting, in the summer of 2004, we evaluated 14 brands of hot dogs which could easily be purchased at supermarket chains in the New York Metropolitan area. Three years later, Consumer Reports released a similar study where the hot dogs from Hebrew National, owned by industrial foods giant ConAgra rose to the top — a result which ruffled the feathers of many seasoned hot dog experts, myself included. The gauntlet (or in this case, the bun) had been thrown down, and it was time for Off The Broiler to dust off its scoring sheets.

Click Here for Hi-Res Slide Show of the tasting day.

Click Here to view the Tasting Results data sheet (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

Click Here to listen to the Hot Dog Tasting Podcast (34 minutes) with Jason Perlow, Rachel Perlow, Brandon Perlow, John Fox, Eric Eisenbud, Jonathan Lurie and Jordana Z.

Click Here to listen to the supplementary audio (2 hours and 23 minutes) with all the panelists, where we discuss all the hot dogs we tasted real-tine. Includes hilarious bickering and arguing, and the classic “What @#$%& number is it?” Abbott and Costello sketch.

Click Here to watch some video clips of the tasting day at Google Video.

Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read the results of the survey.

In this updated survey, we decided to take a more aggressive and comprehensive approach to judging the hot dogs. In addition to increasing our dog brand coverage to the Chicagoland region, the other national bastion of frankfurterism, and more than doubling the size of our survey, we’ve also added two expert judges, one who is considered to be the number one expert in hot dogs for the entire NY/NJ region, and the other the proprietor of arguably the hottest dog restaurant in the entire state of New Jersey. We’ve also brought in a Kosher hot dog aficionado to focus exclusively on that category.

A survey this comprehensive demanded thirty-two brands, and over 60 ounces of meat (that’s one or two hot dogs per package, for those of you taking count, each round split 7 ways into small tasting portions). To maintain the purity of our sampling, we ate them unadorned, making sure we introduced condiments only on the second bite, if at all. All were grilled on a gas-fuel Weber with the simplest possible cooking method – no basting, no smoking, and we did not split the dogs, which we felt did not accurately reflect how they would typically be cooked at home. Several dogs which we felt did not live up to their established reputations when gas grilled were re-tried in subsequent tasting, where we isolated the cooking method most reputed to convey that dog best in order to better represent how they might actually be served in their native restaurant or hot dog stand environments (as opposed to backyard or home cooking methods).

The scoring of the dogs was recorded in the following way: Spicyness scores were rated on a 1-5 scale, although this scale was not a qualitative rating but only a general feeling about the intensity of the seasoning. In some cases, a lower or average score could work better for that particular dog. Texture was rated as Soft (1-2), Medium (3) or Firm (4-5). In general, Firm was usually better although again this could be a bias of this particular group. Fattiness/Greasiness was rated Low (1-2), Medium (3) or High (4-5) and although less greasy dogs were frequently assumed better there are a few notable exceptions–the maxim of “fat is flavor” was discussed at several points, as well as the fact that the qualities of being “juicy” and “greasy” are only shades of interpretation apart. Saltiness again is not a qualitative rating but a general sense of the strength of that quality.

The overall subjective score, which was recorded on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being perfection and 1 being inedible or disgusting, is the one qualitative number we imposed. This is how we actually feel about the dog – how much we actually enjoyed eating it. Some of us were tougher than others, but as a relative number to the other samples consumed we feel it is fairly reliable.

Several brands were eliminated from the 2007 roundup that were present in the 2004 roundup because they were either the lowest scoring in the previous survey, or could no longer be obtained or purchased at our local supermarkets in New Jersey. These included Oscar Meyer, Ballpark, Hans’ All-Natural Uncured (discontinued by Whole Foods) and New York Kosher Deli (no longer carried by Shop-Rite). The previous low-scoring dogs were eliminated to provide room (literally stomach room) for a great variety of new contenders.

Chili Dogs: Thumann’s (left) and Sabrett (right)

This year, beef and pork hybrid dogs were also included in the roundup. Seven brands were evaluated. The front runner in this category by a clear margin was Thumann’s, a New York/New Jersey brand which is commonly served deep fried (using a special dog with semolina and soy protein that enhances the deep frying experience) at several well-known New Jersey hot dog restaurants (such as Hiram’s , Goffle GrillJohnny and Hanges, Rutt’s Hut and Hot Dog Heaven) and subjectively scored very high (8 or 9 among our judges) when grill cooked as well as deep fried. The particular Thumann’s dog that was evaluated was the original natural casing type designed for grilling (not the special deep-frying dog reserved for food service) the all beef and “pushcart” versions, also available in supermarkets, were not tested. Overall, these pork and beef dogs tend to have a blander taste than all-beef dogs and perform significantly better when deep frying or griddle frying and/or heavy condiment loading. A particularly good example of this is Windmill (served at various Windmill franchises along the Jersey shore and sold at Kings supermarkets in New Jersey) which is a very large 4 ounce hot dog manufactured by Marathon, which also produces the Sabrett all-beef dog. The Windmill dog performed poorly when grilled, but scored very high when deep fried (as it was at the venerable Callahan’s restaurant in Fort Lee, NJ before the establishment was demolished in 2006) or griddled (as it is at the Windmill restaurants) and when used as a base for a spicy chili and other hot dog condiments. It should be noted that with the exception of both Thumann’s and Leon’s (from Chicago) the entire category performed poorly when grilling compared with beef hot dogs.

Overall, Kosher dogs did pretty well. It came as a bit of a surprise to some of us that Hebrew National, despite its ConAgra parentage, continued to score relatively high with some of our judges despite that fact it was considered to be one of the greasier and saltier dogs in the survey. When boiled, the grease and salt qualities appear to be muted, and actually raised the overall subjective score for several of the judges. Pan griddling also improved the experience as well. While clearly not a newcomer to the hot dog scene, Nathan’s new Kosher variety beat Hebrew National (and Aaron’s Rubashkin, which Hebrew National tied with) by a considerable margin for best kosher dog in overall judging. In terms of flavor it very closely matches its non-Kosher cousin, also it is somewhat saltier and lacks the snap of the natural casing version served at Nathan’s restaurants. Still, if you have to buy a nationally distributed Kosher product, this is definitely the one to consider.

Two of the better scoring Kosher dogs from 2004, International Glatt Kosher and Abeles and Heymann, performed relatively poorly in this year’s survey. It should be noted however that this year, we used the regular IGK product as opposed to its low sodium, reduced fat version, and the Abeles and Heymann was a regular beef dog as opposed to the Bison/Beef hybrid from the previous survey, as it was no longer available. We also tested flavor variants of these two dogs — the Abeles Chipotle and the IGK Hot and Spicy. The Abeles Chipotle was uniformly panned as disgusting and practically inedible by our elite judging crew, but several of our judges really liked the hot-sauce, Tabasco-like qualities of the IGK Hot and Spicy, thinking it would pair well with slaw, chili, or potato salad as a dog condiment — and also earned it second place in the Kosher dogs category.

In the all-beef category, it should come to no surprise that Nathan’s kicked some serious ass and was the overall winner in subjective score. The dog we surveyed with natural casing is the identical item to that which is served in Nathan’s fast-food franchises, and is generally regarded as far superior to the skinless version also sold in supermarkets. When grilled or griddled, it scored very high subjective marks, from a low of 8 to a high of 10, one judge declaring it “perfect”. Although the spiciness and saltiness figures don’t stand out as extreme in either direction, something about the actual blend of spices just plain works. A firm dog, generally regarded as not that greasy if cooked properly – it’s the classic, all-American hot dog. Nathan Handwerker knew what he was doing.

Generally mentioned in the same breath as Nathan’s, at least by most New Yorkers is Sabrett, again with natural casing. However, when grilled, its overall subjective score was significantly lower than Nathan’s, by an average margin of two points. But when boiled, this classic “dirty water dog” performed subjectively better, as much as two or 3 points higher for some of our judges — it’s the New York pushcart dog for a very good reason. When griddled, its subjective score also improved significantly, which explains its usage by such venerable New York hot dog meccas such as Papaya King, Gray’s Papaya, and Katz’s Deli.

Another very strong performer, which is also primarily a New Jersey dog, is Best’s (not to be confused with Best Kosher of Chicago). This year, we evaluated the natural casing version that is used at New Jersey hot dog restaurants and can be purchased from the factory in Newark, New Jersey — the supermarket version, which uses a similar meat formulation, is skinless. Best’s scored around an average of 8 when grilled, and got high marks when fried or griddled. It was our second highest scoring beef dog in overall subjective score.

A big surprise to all of us was Pathmark’s skinless “Bigger than the Bun” brand, which scored an 8 in overall subjective judging. Nice firm texture, good spicing, midrange salting with a good beefy flavor, it completely blew our notions of what a generic supermarket hot dog should taste like. It should be noted that Pathmark buys its hot dogs from several manufacturers, so be sure to buy the one that matches the picture and markings in our slide show.

Deli-style beef dogs also did very well. This is an arbitrary label that we have chosen to convey the fact that while these dogs MAY be available nationwide, they are generally sold in channels that are related to the distribution of food service deli meat products which can be either regional or nationwide, depending on the success of that brand. Thumann’s, mentioned above, which we sampled as a Pork and Beef hybrid, also manufactures an all-beef version for deli counters, but it was not sampled for this survey. Our top scoring dog of this type was Boar’s Head and was ranked #3 in the all-beef category, trailing only fractions of a point behind Best’s of NJ. Extremely firm, extremely well-spiced, somewhat greasy but not inappropriately, and even somewhat salty, it was the snap and beefy flavor that we all noticed when biting into it which seemed to seal the deal. This brand is available in many most markets through supermarket deli counters. Dietz and Watson, a Philadelphia-based competitor to Boars Head (available in many New York and New Jersey supermarkets, including PathMark and Shoprite) scored about two points lower, probably because it was not a natural casing dog (the natural casing version is available in select markets only) and was more mildly flavored.

The Chicago beef dogs did fairly well, even though our natural bias was towards the New York/New Jersey brands — Red Hot Chicago, the fourth favorite dog in the all-beef survey, beat out the traditional Chicago favorite, the supermarket packaged Vienna Beef by a significant margin, as did Leon’s, which scored third highest in our Pork/Beef roundup. Best’s Kosher (who also now manufacture Sinai 48 and Shofar Brand hot dogs) trailed Eisenberg by a small fraction of a point. While not as intensely spiced as their New York/New Jersey counterparts, we now understand why these dogs are so popular in Chicago, and that’s because they make an excellent base for the condiment-loading of the archetypal Chicago hot dog. One notable exception was the natural casing, deli purchased version of the Vienna beef, which had an unpleasant, vegetable, carrot-like flavor. While several judges did try condiments on some dogs on the second bite, the testing in this roundup was tightly focused on the dogs themselves, so we acknowledge that the Chi-town dogs may not have been shown in their best light. If you are a fan of Chicago dogs, please try to keep this in mind when reading our results.

Several brands, which were available at Whole Foods and Trader Joes, made a point of being Nitrate-free and uncured, such as Applegate Farm, Trader Joe’s All Natural and Whole Ranch. Well, maybe a little bit of curing might have improved them, because they were universally hated by our entire panel. All of these dogs were relatively expensive, using celery juice and sea salt in place of nitrite and nitrate curing, and with the exception of the Wellshire Premium brand (although it tied Trader Joe’s in subjective score) pretty much everyone on our panel felt they had an unpleasant aftertaste. We suggest you walk right by that aisle at these gourmet supermarkets and seek out another venue.

40 Responses to The Great Off The Broiler Hot Dog Tasting of 2007

  1. [...] CLICK HERE TO LINK TO THE OFF THE BROILER 2007 HOT DOG TASTING [...]

  2. Jim says:

    Red Hots? Better than Vienna? Hm. I’ll have to try out your method myself, but something in me screams ‘heresy.’

  3. barbara simon says:

    the best and only hot dog is from buffalo ny..he retired in tempe, so theres one there too, and a couple of places i know – buckhead diner, Atlanta, somewhere in the swamp land of florida a hole in the wall – the best is Ted’s – aka sahlens.

  4. Yusuke says:

    Jason,

    Wow. This has to be the most thorough hot dog tasting ever. I swear I was salivating while reading this.

    After reading this, I ran to my local supermarket and got some Nathan’s (natural casing of course).

    Great Job!!

  5. adrocks says:

    Wow. Great Tasting.

  6. [...] The Great Off The Broiler Hot Dog Tasting of 2007 [image] In our previous hot dog tasting, in the summer of 2004, we evaluated 14 brands of hot dogs which could easily […] [...]

  7. Sillyproofer says:

    Hoo, boy: I don’t think kosher giant Hebrew National would want to be known as a purveyor of “HOG DOGS”! (See ironic typo in first paragraph: “…a similar study where Hebrew National, a hog dog brand owned by…”)

  8. nogooddaddy says:

    I have not read it all, but how can you not respect such dedication. I should ship you some of the weird red things they try to pass off as hot dogs here in NC.

    My Kingdom for a dirty water dog!

  9. Leigh Long says:

    This could be some one’s doctoral thesis. Amazing job. My only complaint is I went shopping on Monday and decided to give those uncured Trader Joe dogs a try. Your report was a day late to save me from that mistake!

  10. The Deli Guy says:

    Great article, even though I disagree about the Thumann’s grilling franks…they’re popular, but I think they’re overrated and horrible. I have a problem, however, with New Jersey hot dog restaurants being mentioned and not seeing Rutt’s Hut!! Rutt’s Hut is the king of N.J. hot dogs hands down…forget Hot Dog Johnny’s or Max’s…it’s sacrilege not to give them props! George

  11. Sillyproofer: many of the hot dogs mentioned in the survey come from deli provision companies, not just Hebrew National. Thumann, Dietz and Watson, Best’s Provision, Boar’s Head, Abeles and Heymann, just to name a few. So while referring to Hebrew National as just a hot dog manufacturer is an oversimplification, its equally applicable to all of the above.
    Nevertheless Hebrew National is known for its hot dogs more than any other product it manufactures. I’m sure if you look at their bottom line, the hot dogs and related products probably make up the largest portion of their income.

    EDIT: Oh, I get it. That was probably in an earlier draft.

  12. Jon says:

    Deli Guy:

    I kind of half agree with you, which must be why I’m the one on the panel who rated the Thumann’s as only a 5 out of 10. I wouldn’t go as far as saying they are horrible, but I found them average. Even frying only marginally picked up the flavor, in my opinion (I bumped it to a 6 out of 10 when fried).

    Rutt’s Hut actually WAS discussed in a portion of that long afternoon of rambling which didn’t get into the audio Jason compiled. It wasn’t really discussed in terms of “props” or not, if only because one of the judges, Eric, owns a business which is a direct competitor to Rutt’s. But Jason spent about 5 minutes explaining to a Californian why someone would bother to deep fry a hot dog, and how, and talked about the various levels of doneness you can get at Rutts.

    Since we weren’t there to debate what restaurant served the best dogs, but instead the Supermarket/deli varieties, at least initially most of the restaurants mentioned were discussed in terms of establishing a point of comparison. Until John Fox got on a roll and started telling stories about various places. At that point the conversation pretty much meandered.

  13. Bernie says:

    Smith’s Hotdogs, Erie, PA.

    Game.

    Set.

    Match.

    There is no further discussion below this line.
    —————————————————————————-

  14. John Fox says:

    It’s important to note here that the Thumanns frank that was included in the tasting is the pork/beef griller that is sold in supermarkets. Very few hot dog establishments actually use this particular dog. It is mostly for those who grill at home. In my opinion, it is the best beef and pork dog I’ve tasted. I was easily able to identify it and gave it a 10. Those who scored it much lower may not like this style of dog compared to the more agressively spiced all beef dogs. In a way, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. There are people in other regions (afterall hot dogs are regional) that have grown up with and prefer the milder pork/beef dogs. They consider a kosher style frank to be too spicy.

    As for Rutts Hut and other establishments (Hirams, Libby’s, Goffle Grill, Johnny & Hanges, Hot Dog Heaven, etc.) they do not use the Thumanns dog that we sampled. They use one specially made for deep frying that is formulated differently than the Thumanns griller. And it is not available in supermarkets or any retail outlets. This dog would have fared well deep fried. The Thumanns griller is good on a gas grill, but because of its tender casing is better on a flat griddle.

  15. double 0 says:

    Can someone tell me where I can get Hebrew Nats natural casing dogs and “specials”? When I was growing up that was by far the best dog in the world. You could grill them and boil them with similar results. The last time I saw them was about 10 yrs ago at Fairway on the UWS.

  16. Marc says:

    Red Hot Chicago was started by the family that originally founded Vienna Beef.

    Check out their website for the whole story.

    http://www.redhotchicago.com/about.html

  17. Rob says:

    Chicago dogs beat New York/ East Coast dogs hands down! Very impressive taste test, have it in the Midwest next year.

  18. Jon says:

    Right, John. While it could be argued that Thumanns got short shrift by not having their “best” dog in Jason’s survey, what would have been the point of including a dog none of the readers could buy anyway?

    I’ve had the other Thumanns dog a ton of times at Hirams and Johnny & Hanges, so I can understand the enthusiasm for it. Then again, for years I preferred Callahans dogs to Hirams, when they were both located across the street from each other, so I guess that proves out some of my other reactions–for example, rating the Windmill dog far higher than the Thumanns when it was fried (although as you say we weren’t really using the right version of the Thumanns). At the very least, it was enough for me to confirm my general inclinations from before the survey. I mean I don’t think it was as simple as me preferring the kosher style beef dogs, since my score on the “Callahan’s Dog” (the Windmill fried) was among the highest of the day of ALL varieties, and it certainly isn’t that style.

  19. [...] in case the Nathan’s contest gave you a hankering), Jason Perlow at Off the Broiler brings us The Great Off the Broiler Hot Dog Tasting of 2007. Updating his oeuvre of 2004 for which he tasted fourteen hot dog varieties, Perlow expands his [...]

  20. John Fox says:

    Jon,
    I agree with you that it would have been pointless to include the Thumanns deep fryer, but I wanted to make a distinction between the 2. Personally I prefer the griller, although I love the dogs at Rutts Hut, Hirams, and Hot Dog Heaven, 3 places that serve the Thumanns deep fryer.

  21. John Fox says:

    double o,

    I just found out a new place to get Hebrew National dogs with casing. The casing is a collagen one as sheep’s casing comes from the hind part of the animal and is not kosher. You can get these dogs at Maple Kosher Meats in the Millburn Mall where Syd’s was located. They are also available at Goldberg’s Kosher Meats in Old Bridge. Add Wegmans in Woodbridge as well, although the one time I had one from there it was dried out from sitting exposed in the deli case too long.

  22. [...] The Great Off The Broiler Hot Dog Tasting of 2007 [image] [...]

  23. funiman says:

    well i agree with deliman, ruts cannot be beat with there rippers and boylens birch, but if there is a good second placer you have to give it up to hot dog johnnys(growing up called it johnny hotdog) never before have a hotdog with mustyard and a pickle atop the dog ever,was great. rt 46 north jersey………now thats what im talking about…

  24. Jim says:

    No Zweigel or Hoffmann Snappy Grillers? Brother, this hot dog contest was mighty incomplete. How about Sahlens from Buffalo (you DO know about Ted’s…right?) . Most of these dogs in this contest are nitrate laden mass produced crap…check out the regional dogs from NY, CT, and NJ for a real competition.

  25. Hot Dawg says:

    Great Stuff! As someone else noted I really needed this a few days earlier so I could have procured some of the review’s best. Oh well there’s always this weekend!

  26. [...] Is there a better lunch on the 4th of July? A Nathan’s Hot dog and fries on the Coney Island boardwalk after watching Joey Chestnut bring the Mustard Belt back to the USA by eating a ridiculous 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes. A true American hero.How did you hot dog on the 4th?  Post it as a comment, and then check out Jason Perlow’s 2007 Great Hot Dog Tasting! [...]

  27. Jim:
    Sahlens IS on the list.
    Zweigles were unable to be procured by tasting time and we also felt that their “White Hots” do not fit the profile of a hot dog. Its made with pork and veal, which is a dead giveaway for a bratwurst. It doesn’t have any nitrate curing and it tastes like a bratwurst. Its a hot dog-shaped braturst. We discuss that in the podcast.
    Look at the data sheet and listen to the podcast, man. The NJ dogs are in there, several of them placed very high, and Thumann’s won the actual Pork and Beef category. Best’s trailed Nathans by only fractions of a point.

  28. thomas says:

    man, that’s a lot of dogs. I don’t think you can call it a hot dog if it’s nitrate free. Just doesn’t sound right.

  29. [...] Dog Taste Test If you like dogs, here’s a page that should hold your interest: The Great Off The Broiler Hot Dog Tasting of 2007 Off The Broiler [...]

  30. [...] know I said last week that I didn’t want to eat any more hot dogs for at least a month, but Rachel and I caved in a few days later at the Goffle Grill in Hawthorne, [...]

  31. Rockhopper says:

    Excellent tonnage!

    The Dietz and Watson dogs were the regular variety we feed to kids and people who don’t know better.
    D&W makes a natural casing line with “wiener” in the name.One has the unappetizing name “New York Wiener” but since I throw the package away I just ignore that reference. Maybe you can get them only within a certain radius of Philly. They are in most supermarkets here in South Jersey.

  32. Steven T. says:

    Katz’s uses Nathan’s? Are these the regular supermarket Nathan’s or are they custom made for Katz’s?

  33. Katz uses hot dogs made by Marathon (Sabrett), not Nathan’s.

  34. [...] in time for the 4th of July — Jason and a crew of dedicated hot dog fans have survived The Great Off The Broiler Hot Dog Tasting of 2007 and come up with a set of [...]

  35. good dog says:

    good dog

    Definitely, the most sensible thing i have seen in a long time.

  36. julie says:

    That looks freakin awesome!!!!

  37. no bison dogs says:

    whats up,they are very popular now u know

  38. dognut says:

    Does anyone know what mfg make the ripper served at Rut’s Hut in NJ? Same one is
    served at Fabs in LA.

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