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Get Grilling: Hotdogs don’t get any respect, but they should

The humble weiner comes in many forms and flavours, and the fact that it doesn’t get the same respect as a steak is a just a culinary crime 
hot dog
Don’t be down on hotdogs, says barbecue columnist Hugh Kruzel. (Hugh Kruzel)

Steaks are king on the BBQ. We can generally agree on this.

Loins and bacon-wrapped lamb noisettes, queen; flattened Portuguese chickens and breasts of duck, true princes.  Pity the peasant (but pleasant) hotdog.

The cylindrical length of forced minced meat encased in a skin just gets no respect.  Dogs are the Rodney Dangerfield of the dining choices. Call it a saucisse and suddenly it is royalty.

Wieners, weenies, sausages, franks (and frankfurters), bangers and brats, wurst … they are all a single category, but really so different. Street vendors most often water-simmer and hold, but fired over charcoal or gas seems the best way to finish them and impart what we crave.

Perhaps lowest on the family tree is the steamed link; it often looks artificial and has a colour and odour that just makes it barely as appetizing as it possibly could aspire to be. To hide it, cover it all up with batter and deep fry for the iconic corn dog.

Contents of hotdogs commonly are trimmed, mechanically separated and homogenized organ and skeletal meat and fats, with the addition of meat slurry seasonings, including salt (lots), garlic and paprika. Think lots of flavourings! For long shelf-life, preservatives typically are sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite, which also impart that surreal pink tinge the shade of Barbie and Ken. Each company has their house style that is repeated summer after summer.

Okay, dogs are not just for one season, but it is estimated some 20 billion are consumed at America’s ballparks alone. Chicken is the base protein for the bulk, however, “All Beef” seems to be the more elite choice. Made under operating room conditions, mass-produced hotdogs are said to be safe to eat without additional cooking. Yikes!

Texture and taste are more what we are going for here so put aside most of the uniform industrial products and take it up a notch. Simple and inexpensive, there is no way you can knock Kirkland Signature Beef Polish sausages. At a recent office BBQ, this product could have gone home with a prize. From casing to chewability (is this a word?) these longer and larger wieners took grilling on successfully. Nice marks, mild charring, and that campfire look that usually only comes from the variability of the open-air pit fire. 

They didn’t split and they just looked so much more “real” than their unfortunate cousins.

Grocery store often have house brands that elevate options even more. The “Free From” ticket under the PC (President’s Choice) label features sans-antibiotic smoked Canadian grain-fed pork sausages. Juicy, but also lean. A little mango chutney and a grilled Kaiser just scream out for this bad brat. Four in a package, so they do get a bit pricey.

What about Chicago Red Hot? The Chicago-style is an all-beef frankfurter on a European poppy seed bun, then topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled peppers and a dash of celery salt.  

What? No ketchup?  Don’t dare ask for this condiment if really in Chicago, Illinois.

What about butcher-made?  Every shop in town has their own take on this. Spicy Italian, fennel-filled, herb and garlic, lamb plus herbes de Provence, Buffalo and sage, turkey and cranberry, and even vegetarian and beyond. The natural casing of these frankfurters have a positive resistance and "pop" when pressured, releasing pleasing nectar.

Whatever you do don’t pierce the casings while grilling. A stream of dangerously hot fluid can be ejected under pressure, but worse you are losing all the succulent goodness.

For a change (and for those who eschew buns because of gluten) do a mixed grill: once off the BBQ, slice sausages into diagonal bite-sized chunks and offer five to seven diverse dips. Garden dill with sour cream, racy lime with spicy oil, apricot (or peach) salsa, Dijon mustard and a dab of honey, or a chunky house-made “ketchup” might do the trick.

Lots of grilled vegetables, fried onion, buttered and baked aluminum wrapped sweet potato well salted and peppered, basmati rice with cardamom, and you’ve got a feast.

Get your grill going and give the humble sausage a chance to delight you and your honoured guests.

Hugh Kruzel is a writer and grilling enthusiast in Greater Sudbury.