Taste Test: The House Brand Wins

By Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hot dog lovers tend to be loyalists, with some regions harboring more fanatics than others. Don't get residents of Upstate New York started.

"I can't even discuss my favorite hot dogs with some people without getting into an argument," said Jo Natale, a spokeswoman for Wegmans, the grocery chain based in Rochester.

Rochester likes its hot dogs short and stout. Syracuse favors long and thin. Then there's the battle of the "white hots" (made of pork and veal) versus "the red hots" (pork and beef, with some veal). German American family-run manufacturers in the Upstate New York area such as Zweigle's and Hofmann's Sausage Co. helped develop the distinct styles in America; the Hofmann family began making sausage in Syracuse in 1879. In the Washington area, both kinds arrived in full force with the opening of the Wegmans supermarkets in Sterling and Fairfax.

With weekend grilling (and Memorial Day) upon us, we put the hot dogs to the test. They are different in texture and flavor from the all-beef variety. "All-beef hot dogs get their taste from spices -- especially garlic," said Rusty Flook, Hofmann's owner (and a fifth-generation Hofmann). Aside from the all-beef versions, upstate dogs get a flavor boost from pork, which also gives them a softer texture -- especially if some veal is added.

For the tasting, we were joined by Don Roden, owner of the Organic Butcher in McLean; Wolfgang Buchler, owner of Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe in Arlington; Marty Volk, owner of the Vienna Inn; and Gabrielle Silver, a manager at the inn. Charles J. Nackos, 83, of Vienna, who describes himself as the inn's oldest and most loyal customer, joined in.

The hot dogs were grilled over a charcoal fire. All are available at Wegmans; when available by mail, the e-mail address is listed.

Unless noted, the hot dogs we tasted were Rochester-style.

Former recipe editor Stephanie Witt Sedgwick writes a monthly Entertaining column for Food.

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