Summer time is upon us and there are tons of Barbecues so it’s pretty regular I see staunch hot dog critics come to life. Everyone’s absolutely entitled to their own opinion but today we’re going to talk about the ingredients REALLY in your hot dog. I know you’ve probably heard pretty awful things about how anything and everything will end up in a hot dog. I grew up with that exact same notion. The difference was that as much as I love burgers, I also love variety, and so I chose to eat it anyway. There are a lot of myths about farming and food in general, but you shouldn’t let them spoil your fun.
I mean seriously, some of the rumors about what goes into hot dogs are just obscene. [Cue me making this face at the next BBQ function I go to when someone denigrates their deliciousness.]
What is a Hot Dog?
Before we start discussing what’s in a hot dog specifically – let’s back up. A hot dog believe it or not is actually classified as a sausage. Sausage is defined as any meat product that has been comminuted, seasoned and formed into a symmetrical shape. In fact I’ve actually made sausage in my meat science class. A hot dog has been smoked and is ready to eat just like bologna or knockwurst.
There are a lot of other sausages you may enjoy like bratwurst or pepperoni. So sausage is probably something you enjoy on a more relative basis instead of just in patties for breakfast. Isn’t it crazy that when you order sausage on your pizza in today’s world that there’s already sausage on it technically if you’re ordering the classic pepperoni pizza? Mind = blown.
How are Hot Dogs Made?
Believe it or not, making sausage is a process that is very specific. If you don’t prepare it with the correct quantities of certain ingredients it’s classification can be different than what it was intended to be or it may not be a very high quality product. But to give you an overview of what’s really in your hot dog you first take meat and fat and grind it through a plate. Then you season it and grind it one more time (so the product is easier to shape). Next you would package and freeze or cook it.
The Ingredients REALLY in your Hot Dog
Sounds pretty simple right? For a hot dog to be classified as such, 96.5% of it must technically be meat. If it’s less than 96.5% then it must be labeled as a loaf. But first of all, what kind of meat are they talking about? For beef and pork you can use only skeletal muscle. This is very sustainable because after the higher value cuts of meat have been removed the rest is still utilized. Let me be clear – this means there are no hearts, tongues, etc. that have been ground and introduced. For chicken only skeletal muscle and skin can be utilized. If ANYTHING else at all is in the product then is MUST be labeled and it will be listed on the back of the package.
But What About the Rest?
But now this begs the question, what is the remaining 3.5% of a hot dog? It will vary a bit while staying within any legal limits that are standard for some of the following ingredients. Of course there’s going to be some fat. Fat is in fact essential for our bodies to function and also helps to ultimately form the shape of the sausage. Then we’re going to get into ingredients typically utilized for flavoring. You have your classic salt and pepper and there will also typically be some sugar involved. Mustard is used but cannot ever account for more than 1% of the weight since is a legal limit. There will also be some spices that can be utilized and they may include garlic, nutmeg, mace, allspice, anise, fennel etc.
So there really isn’t anything frightening about hot dogs at all is there? And sometimes – you just need a hot dog.
Fun fact – back in 1936 hot dogs were considered a ‘luxury’ item. This was because you could only purchase them at baseball games.
What are some of your favorite hot dog toppings? Be sure to comment below!
Also, if you have any general ponderings about meat it may be worthwhile to reach out to an actual meat scientist like Janeal Yancey. She is fabulous and blogs over at Mom at the Meat Counter.
Thanks for reading!