Explains how to cook hot dogs on the charcoal grill, in a pan, microwave or poached. Plus tips for serving and ideas for classic and gourmet hot dog toppings.
While the dish has one of the most bizarre names in food history, hot dogs are the most popular finger food around the world. Sausage is one of the oldest processed foods in human history and was featured in Homer’s Odyssey around the 9th century BC. The hot dog is said to have been imported to America along with European immigrants in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Around 1900 the idea of putting the sausage in a bun came up – the name “hot dog” came later and has since become one of the most famous American dishes. As Bruce Kraig put it in Hot Dog: A Global History (yes, this book exists), “It’s one of the symbols that Americans have identified with, and to some extent still do.”
This is not just true of Americans, however. Hot dogs are known as street food around the world and are also great for cooking and grilling at home, no matter where you come from. Even a person with no cooking experience can follow this guide for how to cook hot dogs!
But the fun comes with varying the toppings, sausages and rolls to create a one-of-a-kind specimen – a real battle for the best hot dog can result. Just put together a small buffet with different ingredients and let the best grill master in your circle of friends do the job!
How to cook hot dogs perfectly
There are three main components for every hot dog: the bun, the “sausage” and the other ingredients for topping. In this article, we’re going to walk you through each component and give you some great tips to make the best hot dogs at home with ease.
The usual hot dog bun is made of soft white bread and can be found in almost every supermarket and is therefore immediately ready for use. For those who are looking for something special and want a bit more bite, there are also hot dog rolls with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. But you can also use mini baguettes, bread and rolls or pretzels. The more experienced cooks among us can prepare homemade brioche in the shape of an elongated hot dog.
With so many options, the question of which is the best hot dog bun is quickly resolved. The answer is very simple: stick with the classic. Much more important is the question of whether to toast the rolls or not. For a better taste, we recommend toast the rolls briefly, either on the grill (no longer than 30 seconds) or in the toaster.
The hot dog sausage
Two kinds of sausages most common, and both have their roots in German cuisine: the frankfurt and wiener sausages. Frankfurter can be made from beef only, pork only (the most popular choice in the US), or a mixture of both. Wiener have similar meat variations, but are usually thinner and are often sold in jars. Interestingly, every cooked sausage in Germany is called wiener. Nowadays there are poultry or vegan hot dogs and other hot dog specialties from selected butcher shops.
How to cook hot dogs: Cooking techniques
Although most of the hot dogs from the supermarket are ready to eat, we still have to warm them up. There are different cooking techniques here.
Before searing, cut a few short, diagonal slits in the sausage to prevent the sausage from popping or shrinking. You can even wrap your sausage in bacon for extra crispness, fat, and flavor. You don’t need to cut the slits if you are poaching in a saucepan or a microwave.
Whatever technique you choose, the only thing that can go wrong is overcooking the sausages. So use the heat sparingly, you just have to warm up the sausages and not cook them! As a general rule, grilled, broiled and fried sausages usually have a tougher texture while sausages poached in water in a saucepan or in the microwave are more tender.
A charcoal grill or gas barbecue is great for the best smoky taste. Cook the hot dogs on the cooler side of the grill so that they can heat through without burning on the outside. You’re looking for that perfect brownish-red color. Lay the dogs at an angle for that beautiful, diagonal char mark that makes your mouth water.
Cook one minute on each side. Then move the hot dogs to the hot side of the grill. If your hot dogs haven’t developed that delicious-looking, deep brown color, move them to the hot side of the grill and keep them rolling until they’re looking perfect.
Grill pan method 1
A grill or grill pan also gives the sausage a good grill note, but with a less smoky taste. Heat the grill pan over medium to high heat and add just a little oil to the pan. Then grill the hot dogs enough to warm them through and give some seared flavour on the outside. Do not overcook them, otherwise they end up very tough.
Grill pan method 2
Add about half an inch of water to a skillet or frying pan over a medium-high heat. Heat the pan until the water starts to boil off. Gently add the hot dogs. You’ll only want to cook a few at a time with this method, which browns and steams them at the same time. Roll the hot dogs around to get them browned on all sides.
Cooking hot dogs in a saucepan
How long to boil hot dogs depends on the thickness of the sausage itself. But the main thing is that you should not actually BOIL the hot dogs, or they will burst. Rather, simmer them for a few minutes gently to warm through.
One fairly foolproof way to do it is to fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, take the pot off the stove and put the sausages in it. Set aside to warm up for a few minutes.
Cooking hot dogs in an oven
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a dish or tray with foil and cook the hot dogs for 12 to 15 minutes until they brown and start to slightly curl up.
Cooking hot dogs in microwave
Wrap each hot dog in a paper kitchen towel, or place it unwrapped on a microwave-safe plate and cover it with a paper towel (this helps keep in the moisture so the hot dog doesn’t dry out while cooking. Make sure you leave some space in between each one to help them cook through evenly. With a high-powered microwave, you will be able to cook them in just 60 seconds.
Cooking hot dogs in air fryer
You can also cook hot dogs in an air fryer. Preheat the air fryer to 390 degrees F (200 degrees C). Place buns in the basket of the air fryer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove buns to a plate. Then put your hot dogs in the basket of the air fryer and cook for 3 minutes.
Again, it can depend on the thickness of the hot dog what setting you put the fryer on and for how long. If you’re planning to do them for a party, experiment with some first to find the right result.
Toppings for a hot dog
As mentioned before, hot dogs are straightforward and can be combined with a variety of ingredients. You can choose the classic variant or be more daring. Make sure you try to combine salty, sour, and sweet components for the best, roundest hot dog taste. If you want to keep it simple, opt for pickles. They give the sausage’s juicy taste a tart, lively balance and extra crispness. We have put together ideas and combinations for you to cover your hot dog, which should not be missing at your next hot dog party:
- Classic hot dog: classic hot dog bun, sausage, cheese slices, crispy fried onions, ketchup, mustard, relish
- Relishes: sauerkraut, pickled cucumber, pickled jalapeno, kimchi
- Vegetables: onions (raw, fried, caramelized), red cabbage slaw, radish, canned corn
- Cheese: cheddar, mozzarella, blue cheese
- Herbs: coriander, spring onions, fresh Parsley
sauce: ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise (hot or normal), yellow mustard, BBQ sauce
- others: potato chips, tortilla chips, grilled pineapple, salsa, guacamole
Gourmet hot dog variations
Try these gourmet hot dog variations. We encourage you to use a little creativity to tweak your hot dog, and to start you off here are 5 combinations to create a gourmet upgrade for your hot dog.
- Asian style hot dog : classic hot dog bun with sesame seeds, poultry sausage, radish, chilli mayonnaise, chilli sauce, coriander and sesame
- German-style hot dog : classic hot dog bun, tartar sauce, bratwurst, red cabbage coleslaw, fried parsley, red onion
- Rustic hot dog: brioche, hot dog wrapped in bacon, tomato and bean ragout, grated cheddar cheese, chili rings
- New York style hot dog : classic hot dog bun, beef hot dog, sauerkraut, spicy mustard, caramelized onions
- Nacho cheese hot dog: classic hot dog bun with poppy seeds, beef and pork hot dog, nacho cheese, spring onions, pickled jalapeños, potato chips
Tips for serving hot dogs
Two final tips for topping and serving your hot dog: first prepare the individual ingredients before toasting the bun and heating the sausage. Secondly, you should cover the bun in the right order: bun, cheese slice, sausage, other ingredients such as vegetables or herbs, crushed cheese, sauce. For ingredients that can easily fall off, place them firmly anchored between the sausage and bread roll. And in no case be sparing with topping if you want to have the full taste of all ingredients with every bite!