There’s not a ton of debate as to the best way to cook a hot dog: steamed/simmered is a dog stand tradition, grilled is beloved by the backyard set, and microwaved from frozen and served with white bread works pretty well for all the weekend dads out there. The territory has all been charted. Alexander wept, for there were no more hot dog worlds to conquer. But what’s that, off in the distance?
Oh. Damn. That there is one hell of a sales pitch. Bet that’s how David Cronenberg cooks his hot dogs.
From what I can tell (there’s not a ton of firsthand info out there), the Presto HotDogger lived in that glorious time of unbridled kitchen hubris between the end of World War II and the widespread adoption of the microwave. It gets a brief mention in the official Presto company history, but that’s about it.
For a firsthand take on this wondrous appliance, I turned to Doug Sohn, hot dogger emeritus, previous guest of The Takeout, and walking hot dog museum in fashionable glasses.
“We had one on display at [Hot Doug’s] and I remember, as a kid, when things like this were introduced,” he told me via text. “My favorite part was the molten hot razor-sharp spikes that impale the hot dog. I guess Presto didn’t have very good lawyers back then.”
Doug, stop, no need to put the hard sell on. To the online auctions!
For a kitchen appliance that did exactly one thing, and was made obsolete in short order, there’s a surprising number of these HotDoggers out there for aftermarket purchase. We sprung for the pre-tested model (I’d say my time is valuable, buuuuut....) and eagerly awaited its arrival.
In life, as in Ryan’s photo, it truly does look like the puzzle box of the damned that turns hedonistic hot dogs into agonized hot dog Cenobytes. It’s also spectacularly dangerous by present-day standards. There’s no power indicator, nor the creature comfort of an on/off switch. Once you slide on on the lid and plug it in, this thing’s sending 120 volts into the hellteeth, full stop. Your doomed tubes of meat complete the circuit and incant the unholy summoning. All in 60 seconds, as the hilariously scant instruction manual tells us.
The recklessness of safety was the best thing about the HotDogger for all of 40 seconds, before we discovered this:
MEAT SWEATS! That’s how you know it’s working! It’s literally the only way you know it’s working! A single tear fell down my cheek at precisely the 56-second mark.
Of course I had to take this thing into the brewery where I work. My coworkers, as fond of free food as most officemates, showed up for science. All of them gave thumbs up to the finished product save Luis, our HR rep, who could only speak of a vague sense of dread and foreboding.
Celery salt helped with that, though.
In texture and flavor, these electrified hot dogs were about the same as those cooked with zero mad science. But they’re kind of... wetter? This might be a thing you have to try for yourself and find your own magical term for. Either way, very passable hot dog. You could definitely open a stand with a fleet of HotDoggers if you could find a crooked enough insurance company.
Look, if one is going to purchase a tremendously unsafe hot dog novelty, the very least that one can do is take it in a few irresponsible directions. So that’s what happened.
I hereby absolve the fine folks at Presto from any disasters and injuries below this point.
Starting simple, we gave one of the hot dogs about a minute’s worth of extra juice. And that’s when we learned that after a certain point, hot dogs start to sizzle and make increasingly alarming noises. Past a certain point, the power cannot be contained and the hubris of mankind sunders the hot dog in twain.
(The hot dog represents society.)
Another suggestion from a colleague. I say “colleague” here to sound less like I’m electrocuting random foodstuffs while being generally egged on. It just sounds more respectable.
Twinkie was a big ol’ miss. It lacked the essential hotdogginess to convey the awesome power. The sponge cake and treat goo didn’t conduct electricity, for reasons you shouldn’t be asking an English major about. You have no idea how disappointing it was not to have an exploding napalm Twinkie mess to deal with.
Twinkie, you’re a fine snack cake, but here you’re just Star-Lord trying to lift Mjolnir.
This one’s a suggestion from Takeout editor Marnie Shure, possibly worried that I don’t get enough vegetables in the course of these things. Again, similar to the Twinkie, nothing doing here.
Another failure. I definitely ate one of these failures.
I am broadly in support of plant-based meat alternatives. I’ve got some vegans in the family, and the taste has grown leaps and bounds in recent years. (I grab White Castle Impossible Sliders on the semi-regular!) Purveyors of faux meat have stepped up to the “treat this like actual meat” challenge, and so INTO THE BOX these go.
Temperature-wise, these sausages cooked to where they needed to. Texture-wise... ehhhh. A puddle probably isn’t a great sign. Meat alternatives tend to do better when you heat them to the point where they show the textural variety of the real deal. Electrocution makes them one uniformly hot tube of meat-flavored goop. Not their finest hour. Sorry, buddies.
So despite Doug’s earlier advice to me that the dogs might not heat all the way through, we were getting solid temperature results. So why not throw a bratwurst in there and see if we could bring it to a reasonable approximation of “cooked”? This is a great and very advisable idea.
We learned nothing.