I gotta tell you man, I’m scared of bacon and hot dogs. Are they delicious? Yes. Do they increase the risk of colorectal cancer? All signs points to yes. Eating too much red meat probably isn’t good for you, but compound that with red meats that are processed, cured with nitrates and nitrites, and suddenly the production of carcinogenic compounds becomes more likely. And now that I’m a father to a toddler, I try to limit my family’s consumption of processed meats, and buy uncured bacon and hot dogs whenever possible.
The good news is the bacon and hot dog worlds have caught on, and nitrate/nitrite-free products are now widely available. And because I still covet a juicy hot dog on the Fourth of July, I decided to taste test five popular beef frankfurter brands that offer an all-natural and uncured version.
Update: Apparently “nitrates-free” doesn’t mean a dang thang. Oh well, enjoy your holiday all the same.
- One might see the words “uncured” and “all-natural” on the label and presume it won’t taste nearly as good as the original. False. These hot dogs tasted every bit as satisfying as the chock-full-of-nitrates version.
- This was conducted as a blind taste test. The five beef franks were boiled and served anonymously. Now, I’d like to think I have a fairly experienced palate, but still... the five tasted pretty similar. As in, I really had to turn up my taste buds to level 12 to discern the differences.
- The five uncured hot dogs tested:
Hebrew National All Natural Uncured Beef Franks
Nathan’s Famous All Natural Uncured Beef Franks
Applegate Natural Uncured Beef Hot Dog
Oscar Mayer Angus Beef Uncured Beef Franks
Ball Park Uncured Angus Beef Franks
I know what some of you are going to say: I know the “Why didn’t you include _____ in your taste test?!” I’m only testing products with a wide national distribution, so if I missed you favorite artisan mom ‘n’ pop beef frank, no need to tell me this taste test is null and void—just share in the comments section. Cool?
- Speaking texturally: On one end of the scale was Applegate, which I found quite firm for a hot dog, verging on dense. Hebrew National and Nathan’s Famous both were middle-of-the-pack, a light springiness to the wieners. Ball Park and Oscar Mayer had textures I’d most associate with supermarket hot dogs, which is to say, soft and verging on veal brats, with Oscar Mayer’s in particular closest to what I’d call mushy. My 2-year-old loved it, though.
- As I said, all five dogs tasted roughly the same. Eventually what stood out were, on one end, dogs that tasted purely of salt, and on the other, ones balanced out by a beefy savoriness (what I’d call umami). Applegate’s, flavor-wise, was probably my least favorite—which isn’t to say was bad, it was just too one-note compared to the others. Hebrew National and Oscar Mayer, flavor-wise, were just fine. These were perfectly delicious hot dogs. But there’s one flaw with these sort of taste tests (and this happened with my ketchup and ranch dressing rankings), and it’s what I call the Best Buy syndrome. You put a dozen widescreen TV’s next to each other, and of course you’ll notice the subtle flaws. But once that TV is hanging on your living room wall, it does its job adequately. So perhaps it’s irresponsible to say which brands were the worst in our tasting, because they’re all going to taste fine once you slather on mustard and onions (or in my case, A-1 sauce and mayo). Let’s instead focus on our favorites...
- Nathan’s Famous is really good. Garlicky, good salt, a warm and satisfying coating umami washing over the palate. But it’s not nearly as good as Ball Park’s Angus beef franks. Color me surprised—and delighted. It had the deepest savoriness and the most appealing beefiness. And it was the plumpest frank of the five, the dog with the widest girth. My wife took this blind taste test and arrived independently at this conclusion as well: Ball Park’s was also her hands-down favorite.