Have you ever wondered whether hot dogs are fully cooked before they’re packaged for sale? After all, grilling them is a popular summer pastime. So why do we take this step if they’re precooked? Read on to find out.
Are Hot Dogs Precooked?
Most of the time, the hot dogs that you’ll find in the supermarket have been precooked. You should be able to tell by their opaque color and firm texture. It’s safe to eat precooked hot dogs right out of the package, but they’ll be more juicy and flavorful if you reheat them first.
All About Hot Dogs
Hot dogs are a type of sausage that are German in origin, though they may have originally been made by immigrants in the US. Either way, it was a delicious and ingenious way to use up pork and beef scraps.
These days, of course, food manufacturers process hot dogs in bulk to keep up with demand. The total amount of hot dogs consumed by Americans between Memorial Day and Labor day alone is estimated to be around 7 billion.
The sausages are made by grinding pork, beef, or a combination, then adding seasonings and stuffing the mixture into casings. Sometimes chicken is added to the recipe as well.
Hot dogs are characterized by their smooth texture, which is achieved by feeding the meat through a very fine grinding plate. As far as flavor is concerned, they’re fairly mild, relying mainly on garlic and paprika for seasoning.
Why It’s Important
Why does it matter whether or not hot dogs are precooked? After all, you’ll probably reheat them anyway (see Do You Have To Reheat Hot Dogs?, below). So why even bother to find out?
Here’s why: Hot dogs are made from ground meat, which means they need to cook to at least 165 degrees before they’re safe to consume. These are the guidelines recommended by the USDA.
Why so high a temperature? The bacteria that you’re trying to destroy are found on the surface of the flesh, but when meat is fed through the grinder, the bacteria could be anywhere. Cooking it thoroughly is the only way to eradicate these bacteria.
Of course, the meat isn’t necessarily contaminated, but there’s no way to tell. This is true especially if you don’t know where the product came from.
The bottom line? Regardless of whether the ground meat product is made from beef, pork, or poultry, you need to cook it to 165 degrees in order to ensure food safety.
Are Hot Dogs Precooked?
Now for the good news: The hot dogs that we buy in the supermarket are typically cooked to a safe temperature before they’re packaged. If they’re not, it should say so on the label.
There are other ways to tell whether a sausage is precooked or still in its raw form. The texture of raw sausage is softer and more malleable, for one thing. If the link feels firm to the touch and can stand on one end without bending in the middle, it’s probably cooked.
The appearance of the meat is another telltale sign. Raw ground meat is translucent and pink or red in color, depending on what type of meat it is. Once cooked, it will turn opaque and the hues will shift from pink to white or brown.
However, cooked hot dogs might always be pink owing to the paprika in the recipe. Food manufacturers may also add artificial coloring to make the product more attractive. When it comes to hot dogs, you should rely more on the texture than the color alone.
Do You Have to Reheat Hot Dogs?
Can you eat raw hot dogs? As we’ve established, the answer is no—that is, not if you’re dealing with hot dogs that haven’t been cooked beforehand at all.
That said, if you’re talking about “raw” prepackaged hot dogs that have been cooked in advance, it’s technically safe to eat them without reheating them first. People have been doing it for years, and since the meat is already cooked, it shouldn’t do any harm.
We would still recommend reheating hot dogs, preferably on the grill. The heat will bring out the flavor and make the sausages juicier. Cooking them on the grill also gives the exterior a lovely crisp texture, which contrasts nicely with the tender insides.
You don’t have to test the internal temperature of precooked hot dogs, but you might want to do so in order to ensure that they’re piping hot throughout. An internal temp of 150 should do the trick.
Making Hot Dogs From Scratch
Hot dogs are so readily available in the US that most of us don’t even consider making our own from scratch. If you do, you just might be rewarded with the best hot dogs you’ve ever eaten.
It takes some time and effort to make homemade sausage, but no special skills are required. You just have to have the right equipment, not to mention the inclination to do it.
When you make your own sausage, you can adjust the seasonings however you’d like. The amount of salt you put in the recipe is up to you, as is the fat content. Bear in mind that sausages should have a meat-to-fat ratio of 70 to 30, or they’ll be too dry.
Most types of sausage can be made using a food processor. If you’d like to make your own hot dogs, though, it’s best to invest in a meat grinder. The fine grinding plate will give the hot dogs that smooth texture that we’re all accustomed to.
How Long Do Precooked Hot Dogs Last?
That depends on the type of hot dog you’re talking about, the storage method, and whether or not the package is opened.
An unopened package of precooked store-bought hot dogs should keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. If you opt to freeze the package instead, it will last indefinitely, but it’s better to thaw it within a few months.
Check the sell-by date on the package before you buy hot dogs. This date doesn’t necessarily indicate how long the meat will last, but it does provide you with some idea of how long the package has been on the shelf.
Once you’ve pierced the seal on the package, the sausages will be exposed to air. That shortens their shelf life to about 1 week. Don’t open the wrapper unless you’re planning to cook off at least one of the hot dogs right away.
After reheating, the hot dogs should last for 3 to 4 days. You can freeze reheated hot dogs as well, but bear in mind that they’ll be a bit dry after a couple of months at subzero temperatures.
If you’ve prepared your own hot dogs from scratch, you should parboil them before storing them in the fridge. Once you’ve taken this step, the hot dogs will keep for about a week. If you store them in their raw form, they may not last longer than a day or two.
Are hot dogs precooked? The ones you’ll find in the supermarket usually are. However, if you buy them from a specialty store or butcher shop, you might want to check the label to be sure that they’ve been cooked to a safe temperature.