- Pick a better dog. This is the single most important step. Although it’s easy to stumble into a bad dog at the local grocer, if you know what you’re looking for, delicious options abound. For an elevated hot dog that preserves the classic approach, opt for an all-beef dog (the Kosher options are generally excellent - Hebrew National, Sinai Kosher, Chicago Reds, etc.). Further, some of the nitrate-free (sometimes labeled as uncured or all-natural) hot dogs preserve the rich flavor while avoiding the undesirable additives. It’s worth spending a little more $ for a good dog. And it’s worth sampling several different products to discover those that strike your fancy.
- Give your dogs a beer bath. Dissolve some honey and/or molasses into a stockpot with several bottles of a great malty beer, and then bring to a light simmer over medium-low heat. Once the beer simmers, reduce the heat to very low and add your hot dogs, making sure they’re immersed. Warm the hot dogs in the beer bath, but don’t bring them to a full rolling boil (this will render out too many fats and oils from the dogs too early). The beer bath will glaze the dogs with extra flavor. And the preheating will make them easier to grill over a hot fire - since you’ll only need to worry about getting a great sear.
- Create some texture. I love to score the top of a dog a few times just before grilling. The extra edges and surface area will create more places to build a nice crust/sear, and more places that your condiments can collect.
- Grill over charcoal and/or wood. You can get a nice sear from broiling in the oven, flash-frying in a cast-iron skillet, or even with a blow torch. But only a charcoal or wood grill will add the delicious layer of wood smoke flavor that can be the perfect final touch to a gourmet dog. Check out our Grilling 101 post for additional charcoal grilling tips
- Skip the Wonder Bread (and other similar tasteless, structureless buns). A nice split-top poppy seed bun or a chewy pretzel roll can take a good hot dog to the next level. Explore your options (including making your own). Note that the ratios of bread to meat are crucial. If you have a ¼ pound dog, you’ll need a substantial bun that won’t get soggy during the longer time needed to actually eat it. If you have a small dog, you’ll want a lighter bun that will support without overwhelming the meat.
- Elevate the condiments too. Not many people make their own ketchup, but those do have good reasons. A whole-grain champagne mustard will have you never looking back for the mainstream yellow stuff again. If you like pickles, definitely try the Garlic Dills from YeeHaw. Also explore non-traditional condiments: bleu cheese with raspberry chipotle grill sauce, white cheddar slaw with cinnamon BBQ sauce (https://www.culinarycrafts.com/ryans-homemade-bbq-sauce/), pickled mushrooms with cheese sauce, and more!