I must admit, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the good ole’ American hot dog lately. You know, it’s the Fourth of July – summer and as the old saying goes – baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet!

That combined with the fact that I was visiting the San Diego County Fair recently and happened upon a food truck version of Pink’s Hot Dogs. This place is legendary in Hollywood. I see it featured on best of food shows all the time because it’s famous on the West Coast for its hot dogs that “snap” when you take a bite.

A snap you might ask – what does that have to do with a hot dog?

Well, it turns out that many people consider the snap one of the best parts of eating a hot dog. The Pink’s dog was delicious and yes, it snapped when I took a bite – a snappy exterior, tender, juicy interior all added up to hot dog joy.

This type of hot dog is very different from the “dirty water” dogs on the streets of New York – those are boiled and hold their own place in my heart. But this year, I wanted a grilled, snappy dog.

I started with the latest “best of” lists and found several. I combined the results of those to see which brands landed on each. Then I researched what attributes in a hot dog were needed to indeed make it “snap.”

And everything led to the fact that what I really was searching for was a garlicky, all-beef hot dog with a NATURAL CASING.

That is the secret to the snap – a hot do with a natural casing. Sounds easy but finding them took me on quite the hot dog hunt.

A natural casing means a casing usually made of pork or lamb. It literally encases the meat inside just like any sausage. When you grill up a dog with a natural casing – the casing because a little crackly and holds in all the juices. But what I found was that most of the dogs in the grocery are actually skinless.

So, I went back to the best-of lists only to be frustrated again because I quickly learned that hot dogs (just like their toppings) are very regional. And most of the ones voted best were simply not available at our neighborhood groceries. Here’s are the top vote getters – and of these, I was only able to find one of them - the Boar’s Head at Fry’s – and that took me a couple of trips to realize they weren’t in the hot dog aisle but in the deli section of the store. I found lots of Nathan’s dogs but never found the ones with the natural casing. The others are available in either the New York area or the Midwest.

Here are some of the most common “winners:”

• Nathan’s Natural Casing

• Sabrett’s (New York)

• Boar’s Head +

• Vienna Beef (Chicago)

• Papaya King (New York)

But I wasn’t going to give up! So I set out to try and find some good options for a garlicky, all-beef hot dog with the coveted natural casing – which were available at some of our favorite grocery stores.

And I did!

I found three kinds that are a bit different but delicious:

•The Boar’s Head Beef Frankfurters from Fry’s deli.

•The Fork in the Road Mighty Good Dogs with Pasture-Raised Beef from Whole Foods.

•The All Natural Jumbo Uncured Beef Franks from Trader Joe’s (try these if you like a bigger, more sausage like dog that still snaps!

These and more varieties went through the very scientific (not!) taste testing of anyone who came in my home within the last week. They were given a hot dog and asked to give me their opinion. And these three were the faves. They all run in the $6 price range.

How to Cook for the Snap.

To get the snap you’ve got to cook these hot dogs on a grill – indoor or outdoor or in a pan on the stove. Boiling won’t get you the snap. And the biggest DON’T is to use tongs – never use a fork to turn them on the grill.

Cook them slowly, turning with tongs until done to your liking.

Then, of course, the next step is topping with your favorite condiments … and that’s an entirely different conversation.


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