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Hot dogs are delicious, inexpensive, and easy to prepare—perfect for feeding a crowd during summer holidays or even just for your family on a weeknight. But not all hot dogs are created equal—some contain artificial ingredients, preservatives, and multiple proteins, while others are all-natural and all-beef. You just have to know how to find the good ones!

If you want to know more about hot dogs, you’re in the right place. Let’s talk about what hot dogs are made of, how they’re made, and how to spot a high quality hot dog at the grocery store.

What Are Hot Dogs Made Of?

Most hot dogs are made of three ingredients: beef trimmings, salt, and seasonings. Because hot dogs contain only a few ingredients, what these are and where they come from matter. Let’s start with the beef trimmings.

Beef Trimmings

Beef trimmings are the excess pieces of beef made when meat producers create cuts of beef such as steak, ribs, or brisket. These trimmings are still high quality, but they are not sold in this state because the pieces are too small and aren’t a uniform size. These pieces are used to make hot dogs.

Using beef trimmings reduces food waste because it finds a purpose for the whole animal. This puts less stress on the environment because meat producers can create more products using fewer animals.

Coleman Natural gets its beef trimmings from the highest quality cuts of meat possible. We purchase the trimmings from American family farmers that raise their livestock humanely and without the use of antibiotics, added hormones, or growth promotants.

Salt and Seasonings

Hot dogs are flavored using salt and seasonings.

Paprika, garlic, onion, mustard, coriander, and mace are all traditional hot dog spices. In addition to these spices, hot dogs can contain sweeteners. At Coleman Natural, we use natural sweeteners like cane sugar and honey instead of artificial sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup.

Our hot dogs are also uncured, which means we don’t add nitrates or nitrites to preserve them. Instead, we use all-natural cultured celery powder and sea salt to cure our hot dogs. Curing draws moisture out of meat to extend its life and ward off bacteria.

As mentioned, the quality of ingredients in hot dogs can vary pretty drastically, so be sure to read ingredient lists carefully, and note any alternate proteins, fillers, or artificial ingredients listed. You can find information about the quality of the product on the packaging label or through a brand’s website.

Coleman Natural doesn’t use meat containing added hormones or antibiotics, and we don’t use fillers to stretch our beef further either. We make it a priority to use only all-natural meat and stay transparent about our ingredients.

kid eating a hot dog

How Are Hot Dogs Made?

There are many steps to hot dog production. This is because hot dogs are not only seasoned and shaped, but also fully cooked by the time they hit shelves for consumers to purchase.

Here is the basic process to making hot dogs:

  1. Beef trimmings are ground to reduce their size.
  2. Seasonings, salt, and water are added.
  3. The combined ingredients go through a second blend to produce an ultra-fine grind.
  4. The mixture is stuffed into a plant-derived casing made of cellulose. Some hot dogs are stuffed into casings made from animal intestines. Animal casings usually remain on hot dogs after they are finished cooking, and cellulose casings are removed.
  5. The hot dog is smoked in its casing in a large oven. Hot dogs may be wood smoked or liquid smoked.
  6. The casing (if cellulose-based) is removed, and the fully-cooked hot dogs are packaged and sent to retailers.

Understanding the Difference Between the Good and the Bad

When looking for hot dogs, take the time to really understand what you’re reading on the label.

Senior Food Technologist for Perdue Farms (the parent company of Coleman Natural Foods) Robert McEwan explains that great hot dogs contain high quality, simple ingredients. You should be able to see where the meat comes from—Coleman Natural provides this information on its product labels—and recognize the ingredients that are used (unfamiliar chemicals and alternate proteins in the mix are a red flag).

Look out for fillers used to bulk up hot dogs, and binders used to hold ingredients together. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, it may be one of these additives.

Another way to identify high quality hot dogs is by their appearance. All of the hot dogs in a package should be uniform in color, but this color may not be the same across brands. Some brands of hot dogs can look lighter or darker than others, and this is an indicator of smoke level, not quality (darker hot dogs are often smokier).

Labels indicating “Raised in the USA” means the meat is sourced from animals born and raised in the United States, which is important for conscious consumers who want to support the domestic economy.

hot dogs on a flag

All-Beef Hot Dogs Don’t Just Taste Better

All-beef hot dogs aren’t only better for you and your family, they also taste better because they are made with high quality beef and only a few clean ingredient seasonings.

Whether you’re serving up hot dogs for a backyard party or an easy meal like the Deconstructed Chicago Dog Salad, all-natural beef hot dogs are always your best bet.