Hot Dogs For Every Occasion: what you need to know

July 11, 2014

July is national hot dog month! Here are the five things you need to know...

Hot dogs have faced some scrutiny over the years. The contents are sometimes questionable, whether it's the meat itself or the added ingredients. But hot dogs are en vogue, part of the latest food craze making an appearance in gourmet kitchens and specialty food trucks, and July is National hot dog month! Summer is the time for grilling and hot dogs are usually on the menu, here’s what you need to know.

Think what’s inside is a mystery? Well, the meat they are made with isn't that mysterious. According to the FDA, hot dogs can be made of pork, chicken, beef, turkey or a combo thereof, all of which must be explicitly listed on the label. Only mechanically separated chicken, turkey or pork (meaning meat extracted from the bone by a machine) are permitted; the FDA no longer allows mechanically separated beef. Additionally, any byproducts (organ meats) must be named in the ingredients. Keep in mind that kosher and halal hot dogs are made with 100 percent beef. There are also various organic options that use only specific parts of an animal – read labels, there is a hot dog for every taste and preference!

They don’t have to be unhealthy. It's true that some hot dogs contain nitrates or nitrites, along with other chemical preservatives. Why are they used? For instance, sodium nitrite helps prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism in humans. Sodium nitrate is sometimes used as a color fixative in cured meat and poultry products (bologna, hot dogs, bacon). They get a bad name due to their potential link to cancer, heart disease and other ailments. The EPA concluded in 2007 that there is "conflicting evidence" whether exposure to nitrates leads to cancer in adults and children. There are hot dog options on the shelves labeled as "nitrate free" – but always read ingredients. Nitrates are also found in vegetables like celery, leading some hot dog brands to include celery juice in their recipes as a natural preservative.

Hot dogs are an “ancient food!” The frankfurter was developed sometime around 1484 or 1487 in the German city of Frankfurt. Although, other places, like Vienna, Austria, claim that the hot dog is their invention.  When did the hot dog come to the US? The man most responsible for popularizing the hot dog in the US was Nathan Handwerker, a Jewish immigrant from Poland. In 1915 he worked at a hot dog stand at Coney Island, he saved his profits and a few years later, Nathan’s Famous was born.

They are very versatile. Hot dogs don't usually have a strong taste, so just about anything you add will complement them. Whether you want to top it with even more meat and cheese, or with any of your favorite greens, the hot dog can stand up to it all. Whether grilled, or boiled, you can also integrate them into pastas, eggs, rice, sandwiches, tacos, stir fries and more.

America loves hotdogs. It is estimated that on average, Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs a year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council!