My vegetarian brother hovered over the stove, staring at a package of uncooked beef hot dogs that he graciously planned to cook for the rest of us, his omnivorous family (he was eating Beyond Brats). “What do I do with these?” he asked, and I chuckled to myself at his naiveté.
But two days later, my meat-eating, hot-dog-loving friend asked me the same question, and I realized: Does no one actually know how to cook hot dogs?
First of all, most processed hot dogs are precooked, so you won’t likely give anyone food poisoning if you serve them cold, straight from the fridge in all their slippery, rubbery glory. (Reheating them, however, does ensure that you’ll kill any listeria that could potentially be lurking.) But you shouldn’t do that.
The ideal hot dog is heated up until it’s nice and plump on the inside and golden (or even charred) on the outside. However, if you ask someone about the best way to prepare a hot dog, you should get ready for a fight. Few people agree on whether you should grill them, pan-fry them, microwave them, roast them in the oven or boil them. You can even spiral-cut them or cook them up into creepy little octopuses. Food writers have tested every which-way in the name of science, but there’s still no consensus.
However you want to cook your dog, there’s a simple technique for each method that you should master before cookout season approaches. Check them out below, ranked from our favorite to least favorite methods.
1. Pan-Frying (starting with a good steam)
This ensures a plump interior and a crispy exterior, and allows you to control the level of golden brown on the outside. Don’t let the word “frying” fool you ― there’s no oil involved.
Put half an inch of water in a frying pan and let it come to a simmer on medium-high heat.
Add the hot dogs to the pan, a few at a time, and pop a lid on the pan for about 2-3 minutes to let them steam. If the water boils off and the bottom of the pan is dry before the 2-3 minutes are up, just add some more water, a little at a time.
After 2-3 minutes of steaming, remove the lid from the pan and let the water boil dry. Now roll the hot dogs around for a few minutes to get them browned on all sides.
This’ll give you great char marks and a nice smoky flavor.
Turn on your grill. You want one side of your grill to be hotter and one cooler.
Start cooking the hot dogs on the cooler side of the grill (this prevents the outsides from burning too quickly). Cook them for one minute on each side.
Move the hot dogs to the hot side of the grill until they reach the color you desire.
This method is ideal if you’re making a big batch for a crowd.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Put hot dogs on a cookie sheet that’s been lined with foil (this makes cleanup super easy!) and cook for 15 minutes. They’ll sizzle and start to turn brown, so keep an eye on them until you get your desired outcome.
The folks at Leite’s Culinaria have shared an essential hot dog microwaving trick that uses a paper towel. To microwave a better dog, just wrap it in a paper towel before nuking for 30 seconds at 80% power. Covering it with a paper towel holds in the steam ensuring a plump, juicy dog. Easy and delicious.
Just don’t do it. As the folks at Nathan’s Famous say, “Honestly we just don’t recommend it. We didn’t back in 1916 when Nathan Handwerker started it all, and we still don’t today. When you boil a Nathan’s, all that special flavor rushes out into the water. And let’s be frank: who wants to eat a watered-down hot dog?”
(But if you insist, you should bring your water to a rolling boil and cook the hot dogs for 5-6 minutes.)