Are hot dogs pork, or do they consist of a blend of different meats? The answer depends on the product—and could affect your results. Here’s how to tell whether the hot dogs you buy are made from pork, beef, or a combination.
Are Hot Dogs Pork?
Hot dogs may be made out of pork, but there are also all-beef versions available. Many commercially available brands will contain a combination of beef and pork. If they’re made of all pork or all beef, it will say so on the product’s label. The casings should also come from the same source unless otherwise indicated.
What Is A Hot Dog?
Hot dogs fall under the blanket term frankfurter, which also covers bologna and wieners. In the United States, the contents of frankfurters are regulated by law—meat processors can’t just throw anything in there, contrary to popular belief.
Traditionally, hot dogs were made from pork, beef, veal, or a combination. These days, however, it’s possible to find hot dogs that contain poultry instead. There are even some plant-based options available.
Aside from the meat trimmings and fat, hot dogs usually include seasonings such as salt, paprika, and garlic. Other chemical compounds may be included to increase the product’s shelf life.
Some of these compounds can pose health risks if they’re consumed in large doses. That’s why it’s a good idea to limit your intake of processed meats like sausages and franks.
Hot dogs are available in various sizes. Cocktail wieners are among the smallest, measuring about 2 inches in length. On the other end of the spectrum, foot-long dogs are popular at baseball games and other sporting events.
The standard size for a hot dog is around 6 inches. These are typically sold in packages of 8 to 10.
According to US regulations, frankfurters can contain no more than 30 percent fat or 10 percent added water. The processors can also add up to 3.5 percent meat binders and extenders, which is likely where the “anything goes” rumor comes from.
In addition to the above, isolated soy protein can make up 2 percent of the hot dog’s contents. No matter what combinations are used, the processors must list all of these filler ingredients on the label.
Speaking of labels, watch for these terms: “With variety meats” and “with byproducts.” When you see these on the label, it means that the frankfurter contains at least 15 percent of raw muscle meat, along with byproducts that may include organ meats.
Other regulated terms include the following:
- Pork—Indicates that the hot dog is made solely of pork products
- Beef or All-Beef—The hot dog contains only beef, with no milk solids or soy proteins
- Kosher—An all-beef hot dog that usually contains generous amounts of garlic
- Frankfurter—Indicates that the product may be made of various meat types and contain up to 3.5 percent filler
- Mechanically Separated Meat—Indicates that the bones and attached meat were forced through high-pressure equipment; can make up no more than 20 percent of the contents; not permitted for beef products
A Word About Regional Styles
Hot dogs may be presented in a myriad of ways, and the presentation is typically influenced by the region. Here are some of the most popular ones you’ll encounter.
Chicago residents often refer to their brand of hot dogs as being “dragged through the garden.” The term hails back to the Depression, when vendors would sell their hot dogs topped with a virtual salad.
A true Chicago-style dog comes in a poppy seed bun. Toppings include yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped raw onions, sliced tomato, and a sprinkling of celery salt. Don’t try to customize one—if it doesn’t have all of the above, it’s not a Chicago dog.
Kansas City Style
In Kansas City, hot dogs are presented in a simpler way. Each one comes on a sesame seed bun, topped with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese. One could argue that this is the hot dog version of a Reuben sandwich, only without the dressing.
New York City Style
Hot dogs in the Big Apple are usually boiled, then topped with sauerkraut and tangy brown mustard, sometimes adding a spicy onion sauce to the mix. Also, note that New Yorkers prefer all-beef franks for their recipe.
Coney Island Style
Coney Island dogs are topped with a savory meat sauce, similar to chili. Some people prefer to add other toppings such as cheese and raw onions, but traditionalists say that this ruins the effect.
What’s The Difference Between Hot Dogs and Sausages?
Sausage is another umbrella term, covering any processed meat product that includes fat and seasonings. Hot dogs fall under this umbrella, but there are a few distinctions that set them apart from what most Americans think of as sausage.
The American hot dog is a variation on the German frankfurter. Its interior texture is smooth, almost resembling a type of clay. In most traditional sausages, the insides are more recognizable as ground meat products with spices added.
Also, hot dogs are typically displayed as a main course, whereas sausages can be used in a variety of recipes. While you can chop up hot dogs and add them to dishes like macaroni and cheese, they’re more often the star of the show.
Can You Eat Hot Dogs Without Cooking Them?
Hot dogs are a pre-cooked product. After the meat is stuffed in the casings, the hot dogs are smoked or cooked in some other way, meaning you can eat them without cooking them to the recommended safe temperature for sausage (see below).
However, it’s still not a good idea to eat the meat cold. Most pre-cooked sausages should be heated to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit for best results. In addition to being safer, this helps to bring out the flavor of the sausage.
Are Hot Dogs Sold In Casings?
Most of the time, the hot dogs you buy in the store will come with casings. These are the thin membranes that hold the contents of the sausage in place.
Natural casings are made from the intestines of animals, often pigs or sheep. There are also collagen casings available, which are made from animal hides. Artificial casings made from plastic or cellulose are not edible.
Be aware that if the casing comes from a different animal than the source of the sausage’s contents, the processors have to say so on the label. This means that all-beef hot dogs must include casings from cows unless the label clearly states otherwise.
Safe Serving Temperatures for Ground Meat Products
Recommended serving temperatures may vary depending on the product. For example, beef tenderloin steaks are best when served rare, no more than 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Pork butt, on the other hand, should cook to nearly 200 degrees before serving.
When it comes to ground meat products, however, the recommendation is the same whether you’re dealing with red meat or poultry. All ground meat needs to cook to a minimum of 160 degrees before it’s safe to consume.
The bacteria that cause food-borne illness are found on the surface of the animal’s flesh. When the meat is ground together, any bacteria on the surface could spread throughout the mixture.
When you’re cooking fresh raw sausages, you should check the internal temperature to make sure the meat has reached the 160-degree marker. This isn’t a concern since hot dogs are fully cooked, but you should still cook them to 145 degrees for optimum results.
The Bottom Line
These days, hot dogs may be made of pork or beef—sometimes a combination of both. The label should let you know which meats are included.
If you buy hot dogs from the deli case at the supermarket, ask the employees if they’re made from pork or beef. They should be able to find that information for you.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!