We rate the mighty tube steak
The offerings at Sonic looked good, especially the condiments on the Chicago dog at left. But except for the toothsome pretzel bun, center, the end result was mostly mush.
Beth: Let’s talk about hot dogs. You’re not really supposed to think about what’s in them, right?
Tom: As long as there are no vermin bones, I’m okay with it. It’s like eating sweetbreads! Not knowing what you’re ingesting is half the fun.
Nick: I want some exciting toppings. What do you look for in a hot dog bun?
Tom: Some sort of containment.
Beth: Containment is your standard? That’s setting the bar low.
Nick: I would like some containment and girth, something to bite into. You find a lot of sandwich shops where the bread doesn’t taste good—I’m a big bread fan.
Beth: We have to justify this feature about hot dogs for our sandwich chains focus. So hot dog equals sandwich? Discuss.
Tom: Yes! Bread, meat and condiments sounds like a sandwich to me.
First stop: Sonic
Nick: Here we are at a Sonic Drive-in. We’re going to have to eat outside, not on the leather seats in my brand new car. I’ll place the order: I’m going to do a Chicago dog, a cheesy bacon pretzel dog, and a New York dog. Two medium Diet Cokes and a sweet green tea. All for $14.18, delivered by a carhop.
Beth: How do you feel about sitting in your car and waiting for your food?
Nick: I’m not a huge fan. Half the point of eating fast food is not cleaning up after yourself.
Tom: What if we were two screaming children instead of your co-workers?
Nick: They’d be in day care. OK, I have the bacon cheese dog with the pretzel bun. It looks very appetizing with that nice Velveeta-style cheese.
Beth: I think Nick’s gets the award for the look of the bun. Mine is way too soft. Everything is a mush ball. The hot dog is too soft as well. But the sport peppers are hot in every way.
Nick: I’m enjoying the pretzel bun. The hot dog, not so much. The cheese is overwhelming, and not everything needs bacon.
Beth: Isn’t that sacrilege? I think Nick won on this round, with the pretzel bun. I think I won for best condiment, the sport peppers.
Tom: I didn’t win for anything, except sweetest sweet tea: D+.
Nick: I give mine a C. The bun was especially good.
Beth: Mine was a D except for the condiments, which pushes it up to a C-.
Checkers had just two offerings.
Checking into Checkers
Beth: There are only two choices here, so I’m sitting this one out.
Tom: If two of us get sick we’ll be in trouble.
Beth: This is making me nervous. We’ve been waiting for these dogs for 20 minutes. Oh, here they come.
Nick: This is better than Sonic’s. It has a little bite, and some texture. It seems like it might be grilled, or at least there’s coloration.
Tom: I like the raw onion on top. It fits what a chili dog should be. The chili is very bland but surprisingly chunky and meaty. This looks less exciting than the ones we got at Sonic, but it’s better. Grilling the dog and toasting the bun removes some of the moisture. I’ll give that a C-.
Nick: It seems like a very standard grill-out, picnic hot dog. I’ll give it a C again. The hot dog was better but it was a very standard bun.
Tom Kaiser’s grin was as big as his Butcher & the Boar ‘dog on the first day of reporting.
The high life
Beth: We’re at Butcher & the Boar in Minneapolis, a place where sausages are king. This counts as our control group, because B&B is not a franchise, but really we chose it just because it has a fun beer garden that opens at 4 p.m.!
Tom: A high-end meat eater’s haven, with a tent out back. This is the glamping version of a beer garden.
Beth: Our server said the difference between a hot dog, sausage and brat is the casing.
Nick: That’s the wrong answer. I looked it up. With hot dogs, the filling is emulsified at a very cold temperature because it keeps the fat and the lipids from bonding together. In a sausage, the filling is a lot coarser.
Nick: I only eat fine paste. The finest.
Beth: Is this really a fair comparison, the Butcher & the Boar?
Tom: Yes, my god yes. This is showing what a creative chef can do with something that’s standard, a hot dog. There are good chefs at large restaurant franchises, so why couldn’t they raise the bar?
Beth: Plus they have cocktails. We haven’t talked about how cheap they all are, until now of course. How much were the dogs today?
Nick: It was $2.50 and $2.99 today. At Checker’s, mine was $1, and Tom’s was $2 with that spectacular chili.
Tom: At Butcher & the Boar the price is $10. Any hot dog beyond that better have truffles on it.
Beth: We’re ordering all four sausages on the menu: the Butcher Brat, the Smoked Cheddarwurst, the smoked hot link, and the B&B footlong. This footlong is so delicious. Talk about a snap!
Butcher & the Boar and its four ‘dogs.
Tom: There are so many textures. There’s mustard and mayo, and multiple kinds of peppers, and lightly fried shoestring potatoes. Oh, it’s so good.
Beth: Nick, yours is a classic bratwurst. And the mustard on there looks gorgeous, with sauerkraut and sweet pickles.
Tom: I’m zeroing in on something. The humidity of the bun is important. It has to be low humidity, otherwise it’s mush.
Beth: I’ve never heard a bun described as low humidity.
Nick: This is a very scientific article.
Tom: Oh, the smoked hot link—mmmmm. It has spice to it and the texture is terrific.
Nick: I’m a big fan of the Italian-inspired hot dog. Very heavy, greasy, exactly right.
Tom: What are the things we keep hitting on? Snappiness is good. Actual meat flavor. A bun that can hold up to handling. Nothing outside of what a franchise brand can do.
Nick: As for grades: I would say B+ for the bratwurst. The mouth feel was A; the toppings were B-; the bun was B- for an average of a B+.
Beth: This is on a whole other plane from the others. The footlong was the bomb, A+, because of the fantastic snap.
Sort of Super
Beth: A lot of people have emailed me about hot dogs since my blog post on the topic, and many called them “tubes of mystery meat.” That’s appropriate given that we’re starting at a gas station today, day two of our tube steak tour.
Nick: You’re so biased. SuperAmerica has two dogs: a regular and a cheddarwurst. For $3.22 for two hot dogs, what a value. And the select-your-own condiment bar is really good.
Tom: That’s a good hot dog. The hot dog’s better than the cheddarwurst.
Nick: The brat was good, had a good snap.
Tom: We’ve busted through the experience of sitting in a gas station parking lot eating our lunch—depressing, yes, but oddly satisfying.
Nick: I’m surprised by all the people who said SuperAmerica was good—they were right.
Tom: I don’t see myself coming here for a hot dog once a week, but if I were in a pinch I would feel less bad about it.
Beth: I give the hot dog an A-, which I’m very surprised about. I thought I’d be giving it an F.
Nick: Or a G for gross. The condiment bar was very nice. I’d give it a B+.
Burger King’s debut hot dogs tasted good but the condiments were gloopy.
Where it all began
Beth: Now we’re off to Burger King, which started this whole project by introducing a hot dog for the first time in February. I’ve noticed you have to wait a few minutes after eating a hot dog for the nitrates to hit your body and give you that dizzy feeling—here it is for me. I like the attractive deli-style bags at Burger King. But when we open them, the ‘dogs aren’t as fetching.
Nick: It looks like the condiments came out of a tube.
Beth: I like the mouth feel of these hot dogs.
Tom: Good texture.
Beth: I like to use the word mouth feel.
Nick: This chili dog was pretty decent. I guess we’ll see what happens in my body. It tasted good. I would compare it with any good picnic dog. Better than Checkers and Sonic.
Nick: The condiments actually held up; it wasn’t just red slime.
Tom: I wonder what our sodium toxicity level is right now. We should have a Franchise Times doctor.
Nick: I would give this a C-. I think SuperAmerica is rising to a C+ or B-.
The Wienery proved a dive-y place can still serve a great hot dog.
Old stomping grounds
Beth: We’re at The Wienery now, Nick’s old stomping grounds when he was a journalism student at the University of Minnesota.
Nick: Yes, I used to come here all the time. Do you see all the green hospital bracelets on the walls? People come in here after rehab, have a hearty breakfast, and then put their bracelets on the wall.
Tom: Where’s yours?
Beth: This menu is great, 16 different kinds of dogs, with toppings ranging from mayo, cheese and sauerkraut for the Hairy Brain, to the Upsetter, with bacon, egg any style and cheese, or the Picnic Dog, with baked beans, cheese and coleslaw. You can choose a Vienna Beef hotdog, a Vienna Beef polish, a smoked bratwurst, a spicy Italian sausage, a vegan tofu dog or a vegetarian Italian, all for $4, $4.50 or $5.
Nick: They just have one cook, who’s also the bus boy, server, cashier and only employee. It’s amazing how small the kitchen is.
Beth: My dog is the Minneapolis, a classic Chicago dog with coleslaw. The hot dog itself is fantastic. The coleslaw is too creamy; I like more crunch to the veggies. The fries are fantastic. Tell me about your dogs.
Nick: I got the Cleveland dog, a Vienna Beef with rich, creamy coleslaw on top. Very, very good, it complemented the dog very well. I think it all comes down to the ingredient quality. You can have a dive-y place like this with a great dog. Definitely an A.
Tom: I got the Warsaw, which is simple: a Vienna Beef dog, kraut and mustard. I thought the dog itself was second to Butcher & the Boar in texture and flavor.
The serpentine benches at Burger King supported an overloaded Nick Upton.
Beth: And yet 40 percent of the price.
Tom: Because the bun is steamed, the kraut is making my bun start to liquefy—very off-putting. I can’t eat any more.
Beth: We’re going to have to call it: At 1:17 p.m. on day two of hot dog reporting, Tom hit the wall.
Tom: I need a blanket and a big bottle of water to start de-salting my body.