What's Up, Dog?

What's Up, Dog?

Ah, hot dogs. The staple of American ball games and backyard BBQs. Such a simple food, so why does it seem like they’re always being reimagined? And what’s with the cloud of controversy -- are they really that unhealthy? Here’s what you need to know for the dog days of summer.


The Current Pickle

200K pounds of hot dogs are being recalled for possibly containing metal (we’re having recall déjà vu from our syrup newsletter). Be sure you toss any dogs with the “Nathan’s” or “Curtis” label that have expiration dates in July and August (more info here), because metal shards are NOT among the list of acceptable ingredients – though a metal salt like sodium nitrate can be an ingredient, as it’s used to cure the meat, preserving the pink color and inhibiting bacteria that could cause botulism.

So sodium nitrate is a good thing, right? Welp, nitrates and nitrites have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, chronic diseases, and mortality, specifically when consumed in the form of processed meats like hot dogs. So we’re starting to see big companies like Oscar Meyer and Ball Park bow to consumer pressure and change over to a “clean” label with no artificial preservatives, nitrates and nitrites, or byproducts. This is great news, right!? Not so fast… Even though we’re always happy to see artificial ingredients go, that “clean label” hot dog likely contains celery juice or powder, which also contains nitrite! 😭

And one last thought on sodium nitrate: it’s also used to make fertilizers and fireworks. So if you eat a frank in a lush park this summer, and see yellow fireworks overhead, you’ll have the stuff above, below, and inside you! Which could seem really cool or totally strange…we’ll let you feel your own feels.

What’s the Dillio with Picking a Hot Dog?

Man, there are many hot dog options out there now!  The two top companies now offer at least 34 hot dog varieties between them, putting us in a real dill-emma. (Though now it’s easier to separate real dogs from the imposters,  thanks to HBO’s Silicon Valley! But we digress…) When you are ready to get your frank fix, we love the Eating Well guide and Greatist’s assessment of picking out hot dogs. Some key takeaways:

  • Watch the salt. Some dogs have over 20% of your daily of sodium allowance, and that’s before you pile on ketchup, mustard, and relish! Look for hot dogs with less than 500mg sodium, which generally rules out all “bun length,” jumbo, and XL varieties.
  • A clean label is slightly better. Seeking a “clean label” (one that has celery juice in the ingredient list vs. sodium nitrate, uses the word “uncured,” and doesn’t have corn syrup or words you can’t pronounce) is ultimately a better option if you’re reaching for a hot dog.
  • Pick organic. Legally, meat in organic dogs must never receive antibiotics or hormone treatments. 👍
  • Avoid mechanically-separated meat, which according to the USDA, is "any product resulting from the mechanical separation and removal of most of the bone from attached skeletal muscle and other tissue of poultry carcasses and parts of carcasses that has a paste-like form and consistency.” Um…Yum? If you can grab an all-beef dog (mechanically-separated beef is outlawed in the US – whereas other meats like pork and turkey are not), you can avoid this gross mystery paste!

Because of the increased health risks associated with processed meat, we think about hot dogs as treats -- enjoy them occasionally! Plan now to make these fun Fireworks-inspired franks on the Fourth with one of our Pickle Picks:

4th of July dogs.jpg

The Hot Pickle

If you‘re hungry for more visuals on how hot dogs are made, check out this video with Snoop Dogg’s observations on the process (and a glimpse of that pink paste!).

Spoiler alert:


If that made you want to turn over a new bun and avoid packaged hot dogs entirely, there are some great ideas out there about what else to put in the bun – like marinated carrots or grilled avocado, a broccoli hot dog from Amanda Cohen at Dirt Candy, or even your own homemade franks!