Memorial Day weekend is here -- and the season for hot dogs and cookouts has begun. We asked a group of experts how to make the perfect hot dog -- without getting fancy.
Their responses lay out the fundamental rules an amateur cook can follow to impress their guests:
Natural Casing: The best hot dogs look a bit like a sausage -- with a natural casing made of pork or lamb. "So when you bite into it, it snaps," says Barry Nemerow, co-owner of The Weiner's Circle in Chicago. "You get a real burst of flavor with all the seasonings and everything in there."
Don't Boil It: Sure, the legendary hot dog carts may get away with it. But you can aim higher than that. "If you don't want to turn on a grill, broil it," says Grace Keros, owner of The American Coney Island in Detroit. "Put it on a pancake griddle, or put it in the toaster oven. But please -- do not boil your natural-casing hot dog, because it will be mushy and rubbery."
The Bun: Since you've got the grill fired up, lightly heat the buns over the fire when the dogs are nearly done. And don't be afraid to butter them first. "Mom's grilled-cheese sandwich when you were a kid was always kind of made in a frying pan with butter -- and was always delicious," says Brian Shebairo of Crif Dogs in New York City. "Anything with butter on it is great. I'm not saying it's good for you, but ..."
The Mustard: Plain yellow will do, but you should try a German-style mustard, maybe with a dash of horseradish, Shebairo says.
The Onions: Jim Rivers, who runs Ole Time Hot Dogs in Cary, N.C., has advice on the best onions to top your hot dog: "The white onions last longer, and are much crisper than the yellow onions. I've got people asking me for extra onions, because they're so crisp."
Hold The Ketchup: It may sound odd to some, but all the cooks we consulted begged home cooks to (please!) skip the ketchup. Unless, that is, your guests demand it. "One thing I've learned about serving food," Rivers says, "you've got one chance. If it's not good, they won't come back."
Bonus Points: You can try scoring the hot dogs (use a small knife to cut diagonal lines in them) to make sure they cook consistently. And if you add chili, make sure it's of the "creamy" variety -- ground beef, without beans.
If you think of a hot dog as a vehicle for condiments, you may want to consult recipes for chili, onion sauce and 'all-the-way" dogs. Or you can just make hamburgers for the grill -- either in a traditional style or with elaborate recipes. And you may want to serve your meats up alongside some great potato salad.