It’s almost 4th of July. What better way to celebrate than to taste a bunch of hot dogs and confirm every preconceived notion anyone outside your immediate circle has about you?
That’s what The New York Times did with its first blind tasting of this staple of American cook-outs. Let’s start with the defensive opening to this endeavor:
The New York Times Food department hasn’t taken a close look at hot dogs in some time.
No kiddin’. But hot dogs are different now, you see. Better! So, The New York Times shall favor them with its gaze once again.
Back when hot dogs were on every list of foods to avoid — alarming additives, questionable cuts, salt and fat galore — home cooks didn’t want to know too much about what was in them.
But cooks are different now, and so are hot dogs. We want to know that what we’re eating is as good as it can be. Hot dogs are made from better ingredients, with fewer additives.
Whew. If Kobayashi gave this much preamble to a pig-in-a-blanket, he’d never have won a thing.
Up next, the judges:
And the judges? Some may say that enlisting three native New Yorkers — Sam Sifton, Melissa Clark and me — amounted to putting a thumb on the scale.
Some might say that. But surely it wouldn’t lead to a contest built on an elitist insularity that summarily excludes dogs with more broad appeal outside one city.
All-beef hot dogs are part of the city’s food DNA. (So are forcefully expressed opinions and a general skepticism about the food of Other Places.) Nationally popular pork-beef specimens like red hots, Vienna sausages, Coneys and weenies wouldn’t have a chance.
But the question became moot as I researched the contenders, and it quickly became clear that only all-beef franks could be invited to this event.
Well, at least they didn’t capitalize Other Places as if the whole of America and the frankfurters it consumes are separate and foreign. Oh, damn, they did.
I will not quibble with their criteria and tasting structure: Once with just dogs, for “seasoning, beefiness, snap, texture.” Once in the bun, with consistent condimentation, to “assess the melding of meat and bread, sweetness and spice, salt and juice that makes up a perfect hot dog.”
And the winner is…..
Wellshire Farms, a brand sold only at Whole Foods markets.
“Smoky, herby — is this fancy,” was one judge’s take. Yes. Yes, it is.
The Hebrew National came in second, at least, so we’ll give them some credit for that.
Happy birthday, America! If you enjoy only additive-free, all-beef hot dogs and live within several blocks of a Whole Foods, here’s the list for you!