The first hot dog of summer is a sacred, precious thing, one of life’s simplest and most fleeting pleasures. It’s best consumed in a backyard, right off the grill. Or at the ballpark. Or next to a pool.
It is not best in a windowless, fluorescent-lit conference room, and it is certainly not ideal when followed in close succession by the second through 15th hot dogs of summer. But these are the sacrifices we make for journalism.
We want the first hot dog of your summer to be the best one. So we ate 15 of them to figure out exactly which one that would be.
Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard your jokes about what goes into hot dogs. We know they’re not healthy, and we don’t care. We wanted to rank the best hot dogs in America because hot dogs are America. At their essence, both hot dogs and America are a bunch of, uh, parts from all over the place that come together to create something special. They can be bad sometimes – and bad for you – but when they’re good, they’re really good.
We take our meat tubes seriously over here at The Washington Post. We judged the dogs – purchased in Washington from national retailers – on four factors: taste, appearance, seasoning balance (a good blend of sweet, spicy, salty and smoky), and “snap.” You know snap – it’s what it should feel like to bite into a hot dog. A good hot dog isn’t too soft or mushy. A good hot dog casing bursts a little when you bite it (but it also doesn’t require too much chewing, which can be off-putting). We only included all-beef hot dogs in the test.
We wanted to try the hot dogs the way that most people would prepare them at home. So, we made them on a grill pan and gave the tasters potato buns to accompany their dogs. But there was one strict rule: Their first bites had to be bun-free, so that they would taste the meat on its own. Condiments were strictly prohibited.