When you open a package of hot dogs, you’ll sometimes notice white patches on a few of them—or perhaps the whole bunch. What exactly is that stuff? Does it mean the hot dogs have spoiled, or is it still safe to eat them? Let’s explore this strange phenomenon.
White Stuff on Hot Dog
White or grayish patches on raw prepackaged hot dogs are often the result of discoloration due to processing or packaging. If a white substance comes out of the hot dog as it cooks, it means the proteins are reacting to the heat and secreting a mixture of water, protein, and fat.
Hot Dogs: An Overview
Hot dogs have become so embedded in American culture that most of us don’t think much about what’s in them. But if you want to learn more about why there’s white stuff on the outside, a lesson might be in order.
This cookout staple has roots in Germany, where some believe it originated. Others think that it was invented by German immigrants in the US. Either way, it’s a small, thin sausage that’s typically made from pork, beef, or a mixture of the two.
Compared to other popular sausages such as kielbasa and bratwurst, hot dogs have a mild flavor that pairs well with a myriad of condiments. Paprika and garlic are common flavorings, but hot dogs have a fairly high salt ratio as well.
Are Hot Dogs Precooked?
The hot dogs that are sold commercially are usually precooked unless the package indicates otherwise. You can tell by the consistency of the sausage, which is firmer and far less malleable than raw ground meat products.
This means that the meat has already been cooked to a safe temperature, so technically, it should be safe to consume right out of the package. That said, reheating the hot dogs brings out their flavor and gives them a pleasing juicy texture.
If you aren’t sure whether the hot dogs are cooked or not, be sure to bring them to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you serve them. In fact, even if you’re sure they are cooked, reheating them to this temp won’t do them any harm.
Can You Make Hot Dogs From Scratch?
It is possible to make your own hot dogs at home, the same as you would other types of sausage. The key is to use a very fine grind, because that’s what gives hot dogs their trademark smooth texture.
Making your own sausage is a worthwhile pastime because you’ll always know where your ingredients came from—not to mention exactly what they are. You can also control the amount of salt and fat that you use, as well as the flavor.
You can get away with making various types of sausage using a food processor. That won’t work here because you need to use a fine grinding plate. If you don’t already have a meat grinder and you want to experiment with making hot dogs, it’s time to invest in one.
White Stuff on Hot Dog
Most of the time, white spots on meat are a clear sign of spoilage. They typically indicate mold, which we’ll discuss more in the next section.
When there are white patches along the sides of prepackaged hot dogs, the reason is often less nefarious. To understand why, you’ll need to know a couple of things about the cooking process.
When food manufacturers make hot dogs, they fill sausage casings with the finely ground pork and/or beef mixture. The links are then heated—either steamed, boiled, or perhaps smoked—which denatures the proteins in the meat.
This is a key step in the procedure because it gives the hot dogs a longer shelf life in addition to a smooth texture. However, the process can be uneven, as the links may overlap in spots as they’re heating up.
When this happens, the spots that overlap won’t turn the same color as the parts that have been fully exposed to the heat. That can result in the white spots that you see on hot dogs when you open the packaging.
What’s more, the links also overlap in the package. This can cause discoloration as well. In either case, these white or grayish patches are nothing to be overly concerned about.
White Stuff on Hot Dog After Cooking
What if the hot dogs looked all right when you unwrapped them, but some white stuff formed on the outside after they were cooked? This might look bizarre, but it’s actually a perfectly safe and normal reaction as well.
When the hot dogs are exposed to heat, the proteins can react by coagulating and forming a white substance. You may have noticed this when cooking chicken or pork as well.
The white stuff that comes out of meat when it’s cooking is a mixture of protein molecules and water. In other words, while it has a strange texture, it’s completely harmless and safe to consume.
You can attempt to avoid this reaction by cooking the hot dogs over low heat. Since they’re already fully cooked (at least most of the time), it’s fine to reheat them slowly.
How To Tell If Hot Dogs Are Spoiled
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ll reiterate the importance of being able to tell when hot dogs have outlasted their freshness. Though they’re processed in a way that allows them to stay fresh for a while (see below), hot dogs can still go bad.
Your first clue should be an unusual odor. Hot dogs might have a vaguely smoky scent, but otherwise they don’t smell like much of anything—that is, as long as they’re fresh. Once they’ve started to spoil, they’ll take on a sour or eggy smell.
Also, watch out for the texture. It’s normal for the links to feel slightly damp when you first unwrap them, as the package probably contains a small amount of brine for preservation purposes. Slimy or sticky hot dogs, on the other hand, are no longer good.
As we’ve mentioned, some pale patches along the sides of the link are normal, especially if you can see that the affected area was pressed up against another hot dog. But throw out the whole package if any of the meat has turned green or is showing patches of mold.
How Long Do Hot Dogs Last?
Before you open the package, the hot dogs should keep for up to 2 weeks. When making your purchase, check the sell-by date to see how long the package might have been on display.
This is one of the many convenient aspects of choosing hot dogs for your cookout—you can buy them several days or even a couple of weeks in advance. However, be aware that they won’t keep as long after you break the seal on the package.
An opened package of store-bought hot dogs should last for a week. The exposure to air will hasten the growth of bacteria, so try to cook them off within a few days.
You can freeze the hot dogs if you aren’t going to have time to eat them that soon. When frozen, the links will stay fresh indefinitely, but they’ll start to dry out after a couple of months.
Once you’ve reheated the hot dogs, the leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days. That is, if you have any. Feel free to freeze them at this point if you’d like. For best results, thaw and reheat the hot dogs within 2 months.
What if you’ve made your own hot dogs from scratch? The recipes usually call for parboiling the sausages immediately after they’re stuffed into casings, which prolongs their shelf life. They should stay fresh for about 1 week.
When you see white stuff—or any discoloration you think is unusual—on a meat product, it’s a good idea to take a step back and ask yourself what it might be. But when it comes to hot dogs, some white or pale patches are typically nothing to worry about.