Xueci Cheng

Editor at Kitchen Stories

I associate hot dogs with three things: summer and outdoor events, and of course, IKEA. Easy to enjoy in sports stadiums, amusement parks, and at music festivals by kids and adults alike, hot dogs are by far one of the easiest cookout foods and nearly always linked with good times, family, friends, laughter, and joy.

Even though it has one of the most bizarre names in food history, hot dogs are the most popular finger food around the globe. Sausage is one of the oldest processed foods in human history and was mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, around the ninth century B.C. It was said to be brought to America with European immigrants in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Around 1900 came the idea of putting the sausage in a bun—the name “hot dog” came later and has since become one of the most iconic American foods. As Bruce Kraig put it in Hot Dog: A Global History (yes, this book exists), “It is one of the symbols by which Americans have identified themselves and to some extent still do.”

But this isn’t just true of Americans. Being a staple street food, hot dogs are also a great cookout and barbecue food, no matter where you’re from. Even a person with no cooking experience at all could make a hot dog, but the fun comes in with the variations of toppings, types of sausages, and buns to make a unique specimen—one that can even spark competition for who can do it best. Just set up a small bar of various toppings and let the best griller in your friend circle do the job!

How to build a better hot dog

There are three main components for every hot dog: the bun, the “sausage”, and the condiments or toppings. In this article we will guide you through each one and give you some great tips to make the best hot dogs possible.

The bun

A standard hot dog bun is made of soft white bread and can be found almost in every supermarket, pre-sliced and ready to go. For those who want something extra, hot dog buns with poppy or sesame seeds are also very easily found, while those who crave something a bit less “blank” with added crunch or chew might prefer mini baguettes, bread or dinner rolls, or pretzel buns. For advanced cooks out there, feel free to make your homemade milky bun or brioche in an oblong hot dog bun shape.

Kitchen Stories

While there are plenty of options, I wouldn’t struggle so much about which bun to choose, as the answer is quite simple: stick to the classic. The more important thing when it comes to buns is whether or not to warm or toast them. For the best taste, we suggest a little toast whether on the grill (no more than 30 seconds) or in the toaster.

The hot dog itself

True to the German origin, nowadays two types of hot dog sausages are most prevalent: the Frankfurter and the Wiener. Frankfurters can be all beef, all pork (the most common in the US), or a blend of the two. Wieners have similar meat variations but are usually thinner and often sold in jars. Interesting enough, in Germany, any cooked hot dog sausage is called Wiener. Nowadays, you can find poultry or vegan hot dogs and specialty dogs from fancy butcher shops. Personally, I most enjoy an all pork hearty Frankfurter with a snappy, natural casing.

Although most store-bought sausages are ready to eat, we have to make the dog, hot. Here come various cooking techniques. A charcoal grill is ideal to lend the best smoky flavor and beautiful char, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. A gas grill or grill pan will do the job of giving sausages nice grill marks, although with less smoky flavor. Preheat the grill pan to medium-high heat, and only add a light drizzle of oil. For the grill, make a few short slits diagonally on your sausage to prevent it from popping or shrinking. You could even wrap your dog in bacon for extra crunch, fat, and flavor.

Kitchen Stories

Deep fried, pan-fried, microwaved, or poached hot dogs are also options to different tastes and traditions. Fried sausages usually have a chewier texture while boiled ones have a more tender bite. No matter which technique you pick, the only thing you could do to mess it up is to overcook it—so go easy on it, you really only want to warm it through or get that char, the meat itself doesn’t need to be cooked!

The kaleidoscope of condiments

As stated, hot dogs are quite easy-going and work well with various condiments. You can go classic or bold, in the bun or out of the box. Creativity is encouraged, but try to combine salty, acidic, and sweet components for the best, most well-rounded hot dog. If you want to dress down your hot dog, opt for pickles and keep it simple! They provide a tart, vibrant balance to the juicy taste of the dog and add a textural layer of crunchiness. If you want to dress up the dog, here are some ideas for mixing and matching—everything you need for a killer hot dog bar:

Kitchen Stories

- Relishes: sauerkraut, pickled cucumber, pickled jalapeno, kimchi
- Veggies: onions (raw, fried, caramelized), red cabbage coleslaw, daikon radish, canned corn
- Cheese: cheddar, mozzarella, blue cheese
- Herbs: cilantro, scallion, fresh parsley
- Sauce: ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise (spicy or plain), yellow mustard, BBQ sauce
- Others: potato chips, tortilla chips, grilled pineapple, salsa, guacamole

Two last tips when it comes to topping your dog: First, prepare the toppings before heating the bun and the sausage. Second, the right order to assemble should be: bun, cheese slice, sausage, toppings, crumbled or shredded cheese, sauce. For toppings that can easily fall off, stack them tightly between the dog and the bun. Don’t be too greedy if you want a neat mouthful of all components, and eat it immediately—don’t be shy!

Hot dog with three toppings

Hot dog with three toppings

→ Go to recipe

Try these gourmet hot dog variations

Although I do encourage to jazz up your hot dog with creativity, our Kitchen Stories Chef Christian developed 6 topping combinations to make a gourmet upgrade on this humble street food. Don’t worry, they aren’t too fancy, and they were liked by the whole team!

Kitchen Stories

- Asian-style hot dog: classic hot dog bun with sesame seeds, poultry sausage, daikon radish slices, chili flavored mayo, chili sauce, cilantro, sesame seeds

Kitchen Stories

- Classic hot dog: classic hot dog bun, pork sausage, cheese slices, fried onions, ketchup, mustard, relish

Kitchen Stories

- German-style hot dog: classic hot dog bun, rémoulade, pork sausage, red cabbage coleslaw, fried parsley, red onion

Kitchen Stories

- Rustic hot dog: brioche bun, bacon-wrapped hot dog, tomato bean ragout, shredded cheddar, chili rings

Kitchen Stories

- New York-style hot dog: classic hot dog bun, beef hot dog, sauerkraut, spicy mustard, caramelized onions

Kitchen Stories

- Nacho cheese hot dog: classic hot dog bun with poppy seeds, beef and pork hot dog, nacho cheese, scallions, pickled Jalapenos, potato chips

Fire up your grill (or even just your microwave) and share with us your favorite toppings in the comments below!

More delicious ideas for you