What Are Hot Dogs Made Of, Exactly?

Plus, are hot dogs bad for you?



Hot dogs are a summer staple, from backyard barbecues to baseball games.

Hot dogs are so popular that, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (yes, there is a council dedicated to hot dogs), Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs each year. If you do the math, that’s around 70 hot dogs per person!

But how many people know what hot dogs are actually made of? We talked to a food industry expert — here’s what he says.

What Are Hot Dogs Made Of?

When we say “hot dog,” we are referring strictly to the sausage (not the combination of the sausage and the bun). Hot dogs are defined as cooked and/or smoked sausages, per the USDA.

Hot dogs are cured meat, meaning that they are preserved using salt and curing agents, such as sodium or potassium nitrite. Nitrites give hot dogs their signature pink color.

Some manufacturers may opt for natural sources of nitrites, such as celery powder or extracts, which are combined with certain bacteria to produce nitrite to cure the meat.

Hot dogs were originally made with animal intestines, but times have changed: The main ingredient used nowadays is primarily the muscles of beef, pork, chicken, or turkey, or a combination of meat and poultry.

Other common ingredients are:

  • Sugar: To promote browning and a hint of sweetness.

  • Spices: Garlic, paprika, nutmeg, coriander, white pepper, and mustard powder give the wiener the flavor.

  • Water: Water helps blend the spices with the meat.

The ingredients can vary product-to-product. For the complete list of possible ingredients, check out the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s Hot Dog Ingredient Guide.

While hot dogs are made with the muscles of animal meat, other parts of the animal (such as the liver and hearts), may also be used. Manufacturers must declare these ingredients in the product’s ingredients list, stating that the product is made “with variety meats” or “with meat by-products” and specifying which variety of meat is used.

<p>Debbie Wolfe/Dotdash Meredith</p>

Debbie Wolfe/Dotdash Meredith

What Are Hot Dog Casings Made Of?

Have you ever noticed that some sausages give that “snap” when you bite into them, while others don’t give you that texture? This snappiness has to do with the casing.

Hot dogs have their signature cylindrical-like shape because the blended meat is stuffed and cooked in a casing to keep the contents intact. The casings can be natural or synthetic.

Mark Haas, Chief Executive Officer of Helmsman Group, an Oregan-based food and beverage consulting company, says that the natural and edible casings are made from the cleaned intestines of sheep or pigs.

Collagen casing, made with beef proteins, is an alternative to the sheep and pig intestines for casing.

Synthetic casings, such as those made with cellulose, could also be used to make skinless sausages during cooking. These casings are inedible and are peeled off after the cooling step during production.

You will notice that skinless hot dogs won’t give the same pronounced snap as those with an edible casing. However, sausages processed with synthetic casings come in uniform size and weight, which could vary for sausages stuffed in casings of animal intestines.

How Are Hot Dogs Made?

To make the sausages into their cylindrical-like shape, Haas explains that the production process involves emulsification, where the meat is ground to a fine or semisolid texture. He adds, “[The meat is] mixed with curing agents and spices to create a uniform texture, then piped into casings, shaped, cooked, typically through smoking or steaming.”



Beef Hot Dogs vs. Pork Hot Dogs

You might think a sausage is a sausage, so how would there be flavorful and textural differences between beef and pork hot dogs? Haas begs to differ: “Beef hot dogs tend to have a richer, more robust flavor and are generally firmer in texture, reflecting the inherent qualities of beef. Pork hot dogs offer a milder flavor and a softer texture, as pork fat renders differently.”

Are Hot Dogs Bad For You?

Whether you transform the sausage wiener into a corn dog or dress it up with a variety of condiments and a bun, hot dogs are cured and processed meat high in salt and saturated fat. If you are concerned about the salt or fat content, choose sausages with a lower sodium content. Those made with poultry, such as chicken and turkey sausages, generally have less fat.

While hot dogs may not be the most nutritious food item on the block, it doesn’t mean you should avoid them entirely — all foods, including hot dogs, fit into a balanced meal pattern when consumed in moderation.

Read the original article on All Recipes.