I Don’t Fool Around With No Oscar Meyer Weiner

I love hot dogs. In my youth, they were the Holy Grail of junk food, since we were only allowed to get them for summer cookout parties or eat them at other peoples’ houses. Every now and then, my Grandfather would make me some real Frankfurters from the Kosher deli: bunless, fatter than dogs, and with skin that I peeled off uneasily, they tasted right but the context was all wrong. I would murder hot dogs in high school when they were on the lunch menu, and once wandered Central Park with a friend eating a dog at every stand we passed. I think we had eaten seven each by the time we made it the Met to look at some paintings. Now, much later, they’re something that all three of us agree are a tasty treat, and we buy a pack of good organic ones every month or so. So making them from scratch for this month’s Charcutepalooza seemed like a no-brainer.

Ground once, salted and rested 48 hours, chilled to a stiffness for second grinding.

Except for the fact that I was pressed for time and not really feeling it when the time came. That intangible feel is my secret ingredient in the kitchen, and its absence usually means that mediocrity is on the menu. I got the seasoning and grinding done (local grass-fed short ribs) ahead of time, basically following the recipe in Charcuterie, and including a two-day rest before the blending. I was worried a bit about the emulsion breaking, but I kept everything cold and there were no problems. Come stuffing time, though, I was rushed. I got the family involved, and we stuffed a dinner plate-sized coil in about half an hour. The Kitchen Aid stuffing attachment had some issues with the very sticky forcemeat, and the thin nozzle we needed to use for the sheep casings only made for more resistance. There were a couple of blowouts, but it went smoothly enough. I was quickly nostalgic for the ease of stuffing regular sausage, though, where the coarse meat fairly tumbles through the hopper and leaps eagerly out into the waiting casing.

A dense and sticky proposition.

The next problem came because I left the coil to sit for a bit while I lit the smoker and did some other things. I had twisted a few links for us to try pre-smoking, and those were easy. And pretty good at that, just simmered up dirty water-style. But for whatever reason the rested coil blew out at every single twist. This was not relaxing. I rigged up a grate on some bricks in the smoker, and put them in there to smoke, except I took my eye off the ball for a bit too long and they full on cooked to a sputtering, charred doneness. So we ate them for lunch. Not the worst outcome, but a far cry from my visions of lovingly vacuum-sealing six-packs of them for the chest freezer, where they’d take their place alongside the miso-cured bacon and other stunningly good homemade meat products.

I had some grand plans for these, but those will have to wait until I have something I’m prouder of. If I hadn’t been out of town, I could have taken a preliminary stab at this beforehand and learned some lessons. But such is life. Photos were also a problem, given that I had messy hands and little time. You’ll just have to imagine the splendor of my smeary, irregular links. So this post sucks on pretty much every front. I do think, though, that it’s important to be honest and celebrate failures and disappointments; the learning curve can’t be pushed without breaking sometimes. And it was a good education for Milo, who really understood the process for the first time and got a visible thrill from twisting the first batch of links.

If I do this again, I will stuff them into hog casings so they fill more readily and don’t cook so quickly. I’ll also tinker with the seasonings a bit, since these lacked a certain something. A bit of heat, maybe, and some acidity. Korean pepper and kimchi brine would work well, I think, and cold-smoking would make for a more consistent result. But I have to say–and this as an earnest and accomplished advocate of making every damn thing possible from scratch–these were nowhere near as good as the ones we buy. A second attempt would surely improve the result, but right now I rate homemade hot dogs as roughly equivalent to using Doctor Bronner’s peppermint soap as a personal lubricant: it’ll get the job done, but the pain far outweighs the pleasure.

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  1. July 15

    I was not impressed with my hot dogs either. The pastry bag stuffing actually went surprisingly well, but the taste did nothing for me. They tasted like, well, emulsified meat. I figured it was because I didn’t use pink salt and didn’t smoke them…but it might have been the lackluster spices, too. Anyway, not having a history of love for the (hot) dog, I wasn’t too bummed out. I far prefer the sausages we made last month, though!

  2. July 15

    Stuff them after the first grinding. Work on your seasonings (baking spices).

  3. July 16

    My personal favorite thing about this post: The “Doctor Bronner’s peppermint soap as personal lubricant” analogy. Way to create a visual. 🙂

  4. July 16

    I feel your pain.

    Definitely hog casing, I knew that sheep casings would be a world of pain.

    And cold smoking sets up the casings to give that perfect snap.

    You must have the first edition of Charcuterie, my edition’s hot dog recipe doesn’t use short ribs.

  5. Peter
    July 16

    Winnie: I figured it would, and I do too.

    CC: Yeah, but then they’d be sausages and not dogs.

    Kim: So there was a silver lining.

    David: I’m going to use the rest of the mixture to stuff hog casings and cold smoke them. At some point.

  6. July 16

    I think the internet is heaving a huge sigh of relief that you finally made something that wasn’t outrageously delicious and perfect. Thanks for taking one for the team, and making us all feel better! So well put, about your heart not being in it. And that Dr. Bronner proverb is a keeper. Ouch.

  7. July 16

    I wasn’t thrilled with the hot dog recipe in Charcuterie. I made one batch and thought they were bland. So, after looking at a bunch of other recipes, I derived my own which I then sold to a client who is rolling out a line of grassfed beef products for national distribution. Even so, I thought the recipe could be tweaked. Point is, this stuff takes time, be patient. I tell myself the same thing all the time.

  8. Peter
    July 16

    Julia: It’s a point of pride with me to describe the failures as well. I am suspicious of blogs where everything is always hyperbolically good.

    Bob: I should have called you before I began this project. On the plus side, I’ve had some ideas on the subject that augur well for the next try.

  9. July 16

    bob, i wanna eat your hot dog. but not in the biblical sense or anything…

    peter – i feel so much better about myself knowing that you failed. and hey, does anyone ever eat hotdog patties? you could grill and put them on a burger bun. i am totally onto something here.

  10. Peter
    July 18

    I was thinking about just making wontons with the rest.

  11. July 18

    That last photo…seems to be a good approximation of how you feel about the whole thing. I enjoyed your Dr. Bronner summation. Made your point!

  12. Peter
    July 19

    Yeah, pretty much. “Uncooperative” is a good word for that paste. I’ll give it another shot at some point.

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