A hot dog is a splendid thing. It makes an excellent summer entree and an even better jousting implement. But what gives a good dog its signature snap? Folks, it’s all in the casing, that meaty little tube that keeps a frankfurter standing at attention. Hold onto your weenies and join me in a quick rundown of the most popular types of hot dog casings.
When you think of a mass-manufactured hot dog—Oscar Meyer, Hebrew National, and the like—you’re likely envisioning a product that was created using cellulose casings. Cellulose is a plant-based polysaccharide (basically, a carbohydrate) found in the woody parts of plants, like stalks and stems. But just because it’s plant-based doesn’t mean it’s edible. In commercial settings, cellulose casings are stripped off before the dogs go to market.
If that sounds complicated, take a second to watch one of my all-time fave videos. In it, you’ll see how commercially manufactured hot dog filling is stuffed into long rolls of cellulose casings for cooking. Once the hot dogs are cooked, they’re stripped of their casings and can stand alone. (At the 4:14 mark where the video starts below, you’ll witness the might and fury of a machine that peels 700 hot dogs per minute. God, what a product.)
If you opt for fresh, artisanal frankfurters, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a natural hot dog casing. Per the American Meat Science Association, natural hot dog casings are typically made from an animal’s small intestine, large intestine, or part of the stomach, although some traditionalists will employ casings made from the bladder. Natural casings have a lovely, tender bite and are highly permeable, allowing the meat inside to take on a smoky flavor. They are, however, a bit more prone to tangling than their collagen counterparts (see below), which are naturally more rigid and easier to fill.
In most cases, collagen casings are the home cook’s answer to natural casings. They’re also edible and made from animal tissue, but they’re a bit easier to find online than natural casings. Since both collagen and natural casings are edible, you won’t have to worry about stripping them off of your homemade dogs. That only applies, of course, if you’re excited by the prospect of making homemade dogs. I... likely will never pursue that. I’ve got other options.