What Is a Hot Dog?
A hot dog is technically just a sausage plain and simple. Hot dogs essentially are just smaller sized sausages with the exception of the meats used, the processing of the meats, the smoking process or flavor, and the spices that are added. The process for creating hot dogs entails the use of casings which act as a mold to hold the shape of the filling of the small sausages. A hot dog has a thinner casing than a full sized sausage and is usually pre-cooked allowing longer storage of the hot dogs. A hot dog has many names including the following terms: Franks, Frankfurter, Dog, Dogs, Wienies, Wieners, A Red Hot, or Links.
What Meat Is In a Hot Dog?
What is in a hot dog can be a varying combination of meats or one singular meat (chicken, beef, and pork), (chicken and pork), (pork and beef), (beef), (pork), (chicken), or (turkey). While the meats may vary, it isn’t necessarily the meat that wholly defines a quality hot dog. More than just the meat, it is the cut from where the meat is from on the animal.
Just as you would never try to pass a chuck roast for a prime rib roast, either would you for a gourmet dog. Beef dogs are probably the best hot dog you can buy thanks to the long ago outbreak of madcow disease believe it or not. When the outbreak occurred, the USDA outlawed the use of automated machinery for pulling meat from dead cattle. It is through this law that even the cheapest ALL BEEF hot dogs are more likely to have a better quality of meat than those with a mixture combination, as the same laws are not required for the separation of meat, bone, and intestines for other species of farm animals.
Poultry hot dogs such as chicken or turkey dogs are usually left over flesh stuck to the bone after the slaughtering process. The way they get all these little tid bits of flesh is through a highly pressurized mechanized process that pushes bone through a sive resulting in the removal of flesh. The process creates a paste like substance that then get’s molded into those tasty little suckers. I am not a fan of them actually, and it stands to show why they are so darn cheap all the time.
The pork typically goes through a mechanical process as well but not as severe as with poultry product. The USDA only allows the mechanical separation of pork providing it does not crush bone. The quality of the meat taken from pork and poultry has the potential to be of lesser standards, but it is important to know and understand that each manufacturer of hot dogs will have it’s own procedures and methods of quality control. Knowing more about who made your hot dogs can help you better love or hate your convenient frank.
I have to say in all fairness, regardless of my distaste for chicken/turkey franks, all the meats for “hot dogs” are ground into a smooth pasty texture to be pressed into their molds that give the hot dog it’s distinct shape. All in all, none of it looks great in the making of it, but many of us will agree, the end result can be VERY tasty!
What Spices Are Used?
Various types of spices in many different combinations are used when making a hot dog. What is in a hot dog on a most current basis usually is first and foremost garlic. Garlic, once cooked, gives a very distinct flavor to the meat(s) being used and gives it that classic taste that has made the hot dog famous for so long.
Other common spices can include nutmeg, paprika, ground mustard seed powder, pepper (white/black), coriander, mace, ground celery seed, salt, and sugar. Each manufacturer has their own specific measurement and combination to make their signature flavors stand out. Next time you bite into a juicy hot dog, perhaps you may try to guess what spices you taste in the hot dog link you’re consuming yourself.
The FDA allows certain ingredients to be mixed without being listed. These ingredients are known as “flavoring”.
What Is On a Hot Dog?
It’s not just what is in a hot dog, but what surrounds the hot dog. In many instances a frankfurter will have what is called a casing. A casing traditionally is an intestinal lining that has been sterilized and is used to put the meat product inside. This helps not only keep the cylinder shape of the hot dog, but also helps retain flavor and juices. Depending on the casing, when you bite into a dog you can expect a nice good snap sound when biting into it which is the signature for some famous hot dogs such as the Chicago Dog or the New York Dog.
While casing for sausages are usually made from pig or cow intestines, these intestines can be too tough for the smaller hot dog however. It is in this case, no pun intended, that sheep intestines are commonly used in the ALL NATURAL dogs. Not all hot dogs have casings, as a matter of fact, many store bought dogs are usually what is refered to as skinless, but a real gourmet dog will typically have a casing.
There are also cellulose and plastic casings. These casings you will more than likely never ever see. For one, they ARE NOT edible, but secondly, they are used for molds for the sake of making the most popularly sold dog, the skinless hot dog. Entirely part of a manufacturing process.
Additional Hot Dog Ingredients
Hot dogs when purchased by the public usually are cooked at home from a grocery store. Every national brand offers their hot dogs prepackaged and are produced on a massive scale which requires preserving not only for the shipping process, but the shelf life once purchased. There are uncured hot dogs available at health food stores and even some major groceries, but the majority come packaged as cured, which equals preservatives. There is much controversy over these preservatives, and rightfully so. This is the ugly segment we have come to. These ingredients are not the case for all hot dogs, but commonly used in the majority of the products.
Corn Syrup - Okay, so it’s not much of preservative but on the bright side, it’s not the same high fructose corn syrup you have read about either, but none the less it packs on some good amount of calories to your meal. It’s main purpose is flavoring (sweetening the dog). While sugar has been used for flavoring traditionally, larger manufacturers of hot dogs prefer the easier way out. This is their way.
Potassium Lactate - This is an antimicrobial that helps eliminate harmful mold and yeast. potassium lactate comes from neutralized lactic acid. While this may seem to be related to a milk product, it is not. I will add, there is no significant proof of health side-effects associated with this particular product. As a matter of fact, many in the scientific field believe this to be beneficial to infants and toddlers due to their lack of tolerance to lactose.
Sodium Diacetate – This is another antimicrobial that helps eliminate mold/fungus and keeps the hot dog safe for consumption after being stored for a long length of time. It basically is a salt used as a preservative. It is mixed with vinegar and sodium acetate which gives an additional signature taste as well to deli dogs that are commonly available unpacked at deli and butcher shops. In small quantities, this chemical is recognized by the FDA to be generally safe.
Sodium Erythorbate - Okay, so while not every dog has this ingredient, many do. This one is not such a great ingredient and might not go over well with you. This chemical is used to help keep hot dogs a certain color for cosmetic purposes. This salt derives from erythorbic acid and has been known to have some side effects to those that consume foods with this particular chemical. These side effects can include nausea, dizziness, intestinal problems, and even kidney stones in rare instances of over consumption.
Sodium Nitrate – This chemical helps meta products maintain their color as well as reduce some dangerous strains of botulism down to a minimum count. This chemical is very common in many processed foods and is the center of attention for health critics. Scientific studies have found this particular chemical to cause cancer and is the main reason some health groups are pushing for hot dogs with this chemical in them to have cancer warning labels.
Maltodextrin – This is used as a thickening agent which is beneficial in the production process and can give additional firmness to the dog. This ingredient basically is a corn product which is a starch.
Sodium Phosphate - This salt based chemical is used for many purposes in the creation of the hot dog. It works as an emulsifier to keep fats from separating from the meat unifying the products contents and keeping it consistent. It also neutralizes acidity and alkalinity to help keep shelf life. It is also added as a nutrient to provide necessary phosphates. This product does have a list of side effects which can include any of the following: kidney damage, nausea, stomach pain, bloating, heart irregularity, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, and fainting. It is important to note that these side effects are not all that common and are usually attributed to consuming too much of this particular chemical compound. Foods with this ingredient should be eaten in moderation.
Water – Yes, H2o may be added to a hot dog. The FDA requires that no more than 10% be used in hot dog products though, I don’t think you’d want more.
All in all, not all these ingredients are used in a dog. Different recipes and methods occur within the industry. Health advocates are against hot dogs all the way, but if you eat hot dogs in moderation and maintain a healthy lifestyle, you should not have anything to really worry about. Those on a sodium restricted diet though should avoid hot dogs altogether.
Here is a video to get more insight into the process of creating hot dogs. Not the most appetizing video, but you wanted to know ….