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Summer doesn’t officially kick off for me until I have my first hot dog of the season. A crispy, snappy, slightly charred frankfurter right off the grill is the delicious inauguration of my favorite season. A smoky celebration that screams summer is here.
But hot dogs are not only great at a BBQ under the scorching summer sun. An infinite amount of condiment combinations and cooking styles — you can boil them, grill them, or toss them in the air fryer or on a skillet — make them versatile enough to satisfy during any occasion or season. A basic ketchup and mustard combo can serve as a quick lunch, while a chunky chili dog makes a great dinner on a cold day. When I feel like getting fancy, I take time to treat myself to more intricate regional recipes, such as the Chicago and Sonoran dogs.
There are as many brands of hot dogs as there are style combinations and occasions in which to eat them, so I made it my mission to find the best ones across three different categories — beef, pork and beef, and plant-based.
How I Tested the Hot Dogs
For this test, I decided to grill the hot dogs on charcoal because I like my dogs a bit charred and I’m ready for summer. Typically I prefer my hot dogs with all of the condiments until I have a mountain of toppings and sauces, but for the sake of the test, I kept it simple with ketchup and mustard to let the flavors stand on their own. As far as the bread, I chose to go with spit-top hot dog buns, also known as top-sliced. These are more efficient than their side-sliced counterparts. The flat bottom makes them easy to stand on and line up, which came in handy when prepping over a dozen dogs.
Here’s what I’ll be grilling up all summer long.
The Best Beef Hot Dogs: Nathan’s Famous Jumbo Restaurant Style Beef Franks
As a kid, my favorite summer tradition was our yearly family trips to Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY. Not because of the roller coasters but because of Nathan’s hot dogs on the boardwalk. It’s been years since I’ve visited the theme park, and I can’t remember what their hot dogs taste like, but one thing I do know for sure is that Nathan’s Jumbo hot dogs were the clear winner in this category. They were a lot thicker than the other hot dogs and much juicier; the outer layer also crisped up nicely, which added a nice texture. I could eat these all summer — and I just might.
The Best Pork and Beef Hot Dogs: Applegate Stadium Uncured Beef & Pork Hot Dog
I couldn’t find any hot dogs in the stores I visited that contained only pork, which is why this category consists of hot dogs that use a combination of pork and another meat (beef, chicken, or turkey). Applegate was the clear winner in this category. Some of the other hot dogs in this category tasted like bologna, but the Applegate had a nice, sweet flavor. They were thinner than the others, but this allowed a nice snap where some of the other hot dogs were a lot less firm.
The Best Plant-Based Hot Dog: Upton’s Natural Updog Vegan Hot Dog
I picked these up when I spotted them because the packaging looked fun, and the name reminded me of this meme. I’m glad I let my sense of humor dictate what hot dogs to try because these were hands down the strongest in this category. The Updog hot dog was superior in both flavor and texture. The links were thicker than some other plant-based hot dogs; once grilled they remained juicy and had a nice snap.
What’s your favorite hot dog? Tell us in the comments below.