Admit it: One of the best things about going to any sporting event or barbecue is having an excuse to eat a mouthwatering hot dog. Is it the event that makes the frank or the frank that makes the event? We believe in the power of a good weenie. We think the dog does make the difference.
The ideal frank should be juicy, not mushy. It needs to be firm and have some snap when bitten into. It should have a robust flavor with a good balance of smoke and spice. Most importantly, it should be able to stand on its own, with or without condiments and buns.
To pin down this perfect dog we tasted 13 varieties available nationwide. All brands were all-beef (no pork blends) and fully cooked. Several were marketed as all-natural and/or organic.
Methodology: In a blind taste test, seven judges compared the flavor, consistency, and appearance of the hot dogs one at a time. All dogs were grilled at the same temperature until browned. (Some required more cooking time, since the thickness of the dogs varied.) We ranked them according to the Epicurious four-fork rating system (four being highest). One wiener was anointed our top pick, receiving 3 1/2 forks. Two runners-up would certainly find a spot on our grill.
Epi Top Pick: Nathan's Beef Franks ($5.69 for 8-count pack)
Pros: "This dog has a smoky-sweet spiciness and is perfectly juicy," commented one taster. "I love how it's not mushy like Play-Doh; it has an unyielding consistency and a good wide girth," stated another.
One taster said it best: "I knew it was the winner when I tasted it cold and it was still appetizing."
Thumann's Beef Frankfurters ($6.99 for 8-count pack; available in more than 38 states, check company Web site for details)
Pros: " There's a pickled sweet aroma, which I could taste in each bite," said one editor. "The neutral color and good, snappy skin made me feel like I was eating a classic New York City street 'furter."
Cons: A little on the skinny side.
Oscar Meyer Premium Beef Franks ($2.99 for 8-count pack)
Pros: "This pick has a very distinct taste," said one taster. "It's nicely seasoned with garlic and an intense smokiness that reminds me of beef jerky." Other judges found it not overly greasy and with just the right firm bite.
Cons: This dog was oddly red and the texture spongy.
*Prices and availability subject to change.
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