When I was a kid, hot dogs were frequently on the summer dinner menu, cooked on the charcoal grill, charred to perfection. Now I may eat a hot dog once or twice a year, always grilled to the charred perfection I remember from childhood.
Wait, aren’t hot dogs an evil processed meat, blamed for all chronic disease? This is a popular topic in the media lately, based on some Association=Causation research that links a processed-meat-heavy diet to poor health. Duh. A diet like that is bound to be linked to poor health. It’s loaded with fat and additives, while completely lacking so many nutritous foods and nutrients. If hot dogs are a mainstay of your diet, you need to re-think your diet.
Hot Dog History
Sausages have been around for centuries. Frankfurt, Germany, claims to be the birthplace of the sausage we know as the hot dog, some 500 years ago. Hence the name: frankfurters or franks. But where did “hot dog” come from? The explanation goes like this: in the late 1800s, street vendors called these long thin sausages “dachshund sausages”, after the little dog. The term was shortened to “hot dog”.
Hot dog nutrition
Can “hot dog” and “nutrition” be used in the same sentence? Well, yes, frankfurters are food and they do have nutrients. They are made from meat trimmings, usually pork and/or beef, mashed into a uniform paste and packed into casings. More expensive hot dogs may be made from better cuts of meat, but the process is the same. The U.S. has established an official Standard of Identify for food labeled frankfurter, hotdog, weiner and related names. The food must be made from raw skeletal muscle meat and raw or cooked poultry, seasoned and cured with approved curing agents, no more than 30% fat and no poultry skin. Interestingly, fake meat products shaped like frankfurters cannot be labeled “hot dog”, “frankfurter” or the other Standard of Identity names because they don’t contain meat.
A typical frankfurter weighs about 45 grams, as 150 calories, 5-6 grams protein and 13 grams of fat. Sodium can be significant, 350-400 mg. All this will vary, depending on whether the franks in question are low fat or weigh more. Add a bun and you’re close to 300 calories. For the calorie cost, they aren’t a remarkable protein source.
Can a frankfurter be part of a sometimes vegetarian diet? Although this sounds like health heresy, the answer is Yes. If hot dogs are on the menu, add plant-based side dishes like potato salad, bean salad, baked beans, raw vegetables, grilled vegetables, corn on the cob, cole slaw, or tossed green salad. All of these combine nicely with your occasional frankfurter.
Hot dog eating contests are practically anti-nutrition. Where did this idea even come from? In the early 20th Century, one Nathaniel Handwerker was running a hot dog stand — Nathan’s Famous — on New York’s Coney Island. He decided to promote frankfurter eating by sponsoring a contest on the 4th of July. Marketing genius. The contest continues to this day. In 2022, perpetual winner Joey Chestnut downed 63 hotdogs with buns in 10 minutes. Thanks to Nathan’s Famous, Fourth of July and hot dogs are forever intertwined. The contest has spawned copy cat contests around the U.S.
You can find fun facts and statistics about frankfurters on the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council website. Who knew? Los Angeles is the top hot dog consuming city in the U.S.
If hot dogs are a guilty pleasure, feel free to indulge sometime. The occasional frankfurter isn’t going to sabotage your health. I expect I’ll enjoy eating a hot dog sometime this summer. Properly grilled and a bit charred, with some fresh corn on the cob and cole slaw on the side. I might ditch the bun, just have the hot dog.