A simple hot dog, grilled in the open air: heaven. But which of the supermarket dogs cooks up the best? We asked Danny Meyer—the impresario of all-American eats at Shake Shack and the new Central Park concession stand Public Fare—to try nine store-bought brands. He was joined by Blue Smoke chef Kenny Callaghan and Public Fare chef Robb Garceau, who also did the cooking. The crew blind-tasted each dog twice: first bare, then on a plain bun with Gulden’s spicy brown mustard. Up to ten total points were awarded for taste, texture, and how well the dog played to its garniture.
Hebrew National Reduced Fat Beef Franks
$3.99 for seven at Trader Joe’s
Hebrew National won for eliciting instant nostalgia. “Reminds me of the fried salami I used to have growing up in St. Louis,” Meyer mused. “This is what I like,” said Callaghan. “It’s a meatier hot dog.”
Tallgrass Beef Hot Dogs
$6.99 for six at Fairway
The Kansas-based company’s grass-fed tube steak tasted the most “beefy” to Meyer, and the others agreed. Callaghan admired the dog’s “balance, bite, and snap.”
Papaya King Beef Frankfurters
$4.50 for six at Fairway
The famed New York link perked up Meyer after a run of disappointing dogs: “I’m going back for a second bite,” he said. “It’s a hot-dog eater’s hot dog; it does what you want it to.”
Niman Ranch Fearless Beef Franks
$5.19 for four at Fairway
Garceau picked up on “classic hot-dog spice.” Meyer thought Niman “nailed the texture.” The taste was lacking in definition, he said, but was “not offensive” and much improved with mustard.
Sabrett Skinless Beef Frankfurters
$4.79 for eight at Westside Market
The aroma this food-cart standard sent off was tantalizing enough that Meyer’s hopes were raised, but the taste let him down. “Not enough spice,” he said. Callaghan liked the salt level, though, and the meat isn’t “an oil slick in your mouth,” Garceau said approvingly.
Nathan’s Famous Skinless Beef Franks
$4.59 for eight at Westside Market
The Coney Island contender was too processed for the bunch. “This is like very commercial breakfast sausage on an airplane,” Meyer said dismissively. “A lot of salt,” added Callaghan.
Oscar Mayer Beef Franks
$3.99 for ten at Westside Market
“America’s Favorite Hot Dog” was a “loser” for Meyer, who disliked the “cottony mouthfeel,” lack of snap, and lingering aftertaste: “You need a pickle or beer to wash it down.”
D’Artagnan Uncured Duck Hot Dogs
$6.19 for four at Fairway
“Someone’s trying hard to make a hot dog out of something you shouldn’t make a hot dog out of,” Meyer decided. “Texture’s not nice,” added Garceau.
Applegate Farms Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
$5.99 for eight at Whole Foods
Despite the all-natural pedigree, the dog tasted all too synthetic. Callaghan detected filler he called “cereal.” And “cucumber and corn” undertones inspired Meyer to rename the link “Pickles ’n’ Bits.”