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How to cook or grill a hot dog perfectly every time

Read this first to find out different ways to prepare this outdoor barbecue classic

Hot dogs on a grill
Getty Images

First things first. In case you didn’t know, a hot dog is a sausage. It’s produced, cured, and stored the same way as bologna, frankfurters, and Vienna sausages. It’s a quick and easy meal that has so many options for toppings. No, ketchup shouldn’t go on your dog. Mustard definitely. Sauerkraut, absolutely. Chili beans and cheddar cheese? Absolutely.

We have put together this little guide to get you ready for summer holidays, backyard barbecues, and outdoor eating — so you can make the perfect dog, whether you grill hot dogs or put them in the oven.

Preparing to cook your hot dogs

Hot dogs and cold cuts
Pexels / Pixabay

Any meat you plan to cook should be at room temperature so it will cook evenly, and this includes your franks. If they are frozen let them thaw out in the refrigerator overnight. When cooking any type of meat, it should be at room temperature so it cooks evenly. The last thing you want is to sink your teeth into a half-hot/half-cold frankfurter.

Kitchen hack: If you forgot to pull the hot dogs out of the freezer, you can quickly thaw them by placing them in a bowl and running cold water over them. Cold water raises the temperature of the meat from the outside in and will not cook the meat while defrosting.

Take a fork or small knife and poke a few holes into your hot dogs, similar to what you should be doing with your baked potatoes. This will allow the hot dogs to cook without exploding or splitting.

How to cook hot dogs

Grilled burgers, hot dogs, and asparagus

Let’s discuss some cooking techniques: grilling hot dogs with a charcoal grill or a gas grill and cooking hot dogs on the stovetop or the oven (yes, the oven).

Charcoal grilling

The best way to cook hot dogs is with a charcoal grill or fire. You get the best flavor from the heat, the best grill marks, and the best char. You want to use a charcoal chimney to get your coals red hot. Once they are hot, and about three-fourths of the coals have a gray ash covering, spread them out evenly on the bottom of your grate and place the lid on the grill to heat up.

By the time the grill is warmed up, your dogs should be at room temperature. Place them on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes then rotate to the other side for another 3 minutes. You’ll get great grill marks, and the hot dogs will be cooked all the way through. Tent the perfect grill-marked hot dogs with foil and prepare your grilled hot dog buns. Brush some butter on the buns and grill until warm, which should be less than 30 seconds per bun.

Gas grilling

If you don’t have a charcoal grill, you can definitely use a gas grill. Start your grill on high, let it nice and hot. Once it’s hot, turn the burners down to medium heat and grill the hot dogs for 3 minutes, flip and grill another 3 minutes. Tent with foil and begin grilling your hot dog buns with butter.

Oven cooking

If you don’t have a grill, the oven is our next favorite method. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and while it is heating, place your broiler pan or skillet in the oven to heat. When the oven comes to temp, turn it down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, cook on one side for 2 minutes, and turn and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

The char won’t be the same as on the charcoal or gas grill, but your hot dogs will have some nice coloring on them. You can turn the broiler on, brush butter on the buns, and then place the buns butter side up to get some brown coloring. Don’t let it go too long because the broiler will work quickly!

Stovetop cooking

Let’s say you don’t have a grill. If that is the case you can absolutely cook them on the stovetop. You’ll want to use a cast-iron skillet or even a griddle. Get the skillet or griddle hot by using high heat. Once heated, turn the burners down and cook your hot doges, still using the 3 minutes per side technique. Remove the dogs, tent them, and then grill your buns in the skillet or griddle.

A hot dog is a sandwich

Hot dog with topppings
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This is a big debate. To settle the debate, we turn to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines a sandwich as:

a: two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between, or
b: one slice of bread covered with food

If you are wondering what kind of hot dogs to pick up, here are some of the best hot dog brands on the market today. To complete the sandwich, you’ll have to pick up some “bread.” Depending on the area of the country you are in, you may have hot dog buns or you may have hot dog rolls. They’ll all work the same but it will be a bit tougher to grill the hot dog rolls.

Eating a hot dog

Three hot dogs with different topppings
Kajakiki / Getty Images

Believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to eat a hot dog. Since it’s a sandwich (see above), it is meant to be eaten with your hands and NOT a fork; unless maybe it’s overloaded with chili beans. You’ll need to figure out what you’re going to put on your dog, too, as the options are endless.

Either way, the trick is to use both hands, keep the hot dog level, and go in for a bite by tilting your head and making sure you grab a bite of the bun, the dog, and your toppings all at once. There are some that say eat your hot dog in small bites, there are some that say to eat it in no less than five bites. We’re of the mindset that if you follow the above instructions, you can’t fail, no matter how many bites it takes.

Hot dog toppings

Hot dogs.
Caleb Oquendo / Pexels

We’ve alluded to the toppings and the endless number of things you can put on your grilled hot dogs, especially if you want to go with something unique, so let’s give you some ideas to work with.

Classic toppings

  • Not ketchup!
  • Mustard (yellow, brown, spicy)
  • Relish (dill, sweet, relish with neon green relish)
  • Onions (chopped, diced)
  • Pickles (spears, slices)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar, pepper jack)
  • Peppers (hot or mild)

Unique toppings:

  • Pulled pork
  • Mac and cheese
  • Chili
  • Guacamole
  • Kimchi
  • Slaw (coleslaw, potato salad)
  • Crushed potato chips
  • Bacon bits
  • Jalapenos (sliced or chopped)
  • Sriracha mayo

Global-inspired dogs and toppings:

  • Chicago dog: Sport peppers, neon relish, chopped tomatoes, dill pickle spear, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun
  • Sonoran dog: Bacon-wrapped hot dog, pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and mayonnaise on a hot dog bun
  • Baja dog: Bacon-wrapped hot dog, grilled onions and peppers, guacamole, chipotle mayo, and cotija cheese on a flour tortilla
Joe Morales
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Joe Morales is a trained chef with over five years of experience working in fine dining and Michelin recommended restaurants…
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