Americans love their hot dogs, especially come summer. This year, between Memorial Day and Labor Day alone, Americans will consume 7 billion hot dogs. Laid end to end, that's enough dogs to stretch 125 times from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany, two wiener capitals of the world.
Not all of those dogs will be the all-beef variety, of course. But a classic all-beef hot dog is the type sold on hundreds of Manhattan street corners, not to mention from most of Washington's own pushcarts. It should be a little spicy, a little greasy and have a definite snap to it as you bite down. It's more popular with adults than kids, who tend to like a softer dog, one with fillers.
Alas, after taste-testing more than 15 different brands of hot dogs, we found that not every all-beef wienie is a winner. Some taste more like bacon than beef, some are mushy and bland. But a few have that great all-beef taste with just the right amount of fat and salt, two indispensable ingredients in a good wiener. Here's what we found, dog by dog:
NATHAN'S SKINLESS BEEF FRANKS The best of the bunch, with just the right amount of spices, fat and beef taste. (About $3.50 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs.) Available at most supermarkets and some warehouse stores.
HEBREW NATIONAL BEEF FRANKS An extremely close second to Nathan's: moist, full-flavored and enough salt to make it a great hot dog. (About $3.70 per 12-ounce package, seven dogs.) Available at most supermarkets and some warehouse stores.
BALL PARK BEEF FRANKS Just the way kids like 'em: mushy and somehow sweet and salty at the same time. (About $3 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs.) Available at most supermarkets.
DIETZ & WATSON NEW YORK BRAND BEEF FRANKS Good spicy taste and a great crunch. (About $5 per pound, seven to eight dogs). Available at most supermarkets.
ESSKAY BEEF FRANKS This familiar orange and black packaging--look for the Oriole--holds some decidedly average dogs. (About $2.80 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs.) Available at most supermarkets.
GWALTNEY BIG 8'S Where's the beef? Gwaltney's Jumbo Beef Hot Dogs are big all right, but long on that sweet, almost baconlike cured flavor. (About $2.80 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs.) Available at most supermarkets.
OSCAR MAYER BEEF FRANKS A G-rated dog that's mushy (and sweet) enough to appeal to children. (About $3.45 per 16-ounce package, 8 dogs). Available at most supermarkets.
SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF DOGS This staple of New York and District pushcarts is nicely spiced and has good texture, but a little too much hickory-smoke flavor. (About $4 per 16-ounce package at Giant, eight dogs; about $2 per pound at Costco, if you buy 50 dogs.) Available at Costco and Giant Food.
SUPER G KOSHER BEEF FRANKS Not too salty and a nice beefy flavor, but with a taste of garlic powder that lingers on. (About $2.40 per 12-ounce package, seven dogs.) Available at Giant Food.
YORKSHIRE FARMS ALL NATURAL UNCURED BEEF HOT DOGS This spicy dog, which tastes more like sausage than an all-American wiener, is definitely not kid friendly. (About $4 per 16-ounce package, five dogs). Available at Fresh Fields and Sutton Place Gourmet stores.
ZION BEEF FRANKS These old-fashioned linked dogs conjure up memories of the butcher (and countless cartoons), but they come off as a bit bland. (About $6.70 per pound.) Available at the deli counter of Giant Food.
APPLEGATE FARMS NATURAL UNCURED BEEF HOT DOGS A gray rubbery dog that somehow manages to taste like turkey. (About $4 per 12-ounce package, eight dogs.) Available at Fresh Fields.
SAFEWAY JUMBO BEEF FRANKS It's hard to get past the extreme salty taste, which sticks around for a long, long time. (About $2 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs.) Available at Safeway.
SAFEWAY SELECT BEEF FRANKS Maybe it's the mysterious "flavorings" listed among the ingredients that give this dog such an artificial taste. (About $2.50 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs.) Available at Safeway.
SMITHFIELD BEEF HOT DOGS A good hot dog should be a tad greasy, but this one's off the chart. (About $1.80 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs.) At most supermarkets.
SUPER G BEEF FRANKS Think honey-glazed ham with way too much grease and you'll get the drift. (About $2.40 per 16-ounce package, eight dogs). Available at Giant Food.