If you’re Mitt Romney, don’t bother reading any further. We already know your favorite meat is hot dog, Mitt. You definitely know how to make them.
But the rest of you sad losers better pay attention, because the Fourth of July is almost here and I’m tired of eating your pathetic attempts at grilled meat tubes.
1. Buy a good hot dog
Hot dogs should be made of beef. I’ll accept a beef-pork (aka bork) blend if necessary, but the ideal dog is made only of cow. It’s the same reason I am constantly dressing actual dogs in leather.
Local brands are excellent — Rockin’ HD Ranch does a 100 percent Wagyu beef dog that comes from pasture-raised cattle without any added hormones or antibiotics. (Find them at Uptown Market and Homeland at 9225 N. May Ave.)
Those are sold via Schwab’s, which also makes hickory-smoked all-beef Thunder dogs.
If you can’t find those, the best national brand in my opinion are Hebrew National. The 98 percent fat free dogs are okay, but this is about celebrating America, so you better get the full-fat ones.
2. Buy a cheap hot dog bun
Hot dog buns are like wallpaper — the best ones are hardly noticeable. The dog is the star of the show.
It’s like “Lassie.” Don’t bother getting a really fancy Timmy that’s going to try to upstage Lassie. You’re here for the dog, so focus on the dog. White or wheat, it doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s bun-shaped and doesn’t disintegrate as soon as it comes into contact with the meat.
3. Get out your knife
What’s the main problem with hot dogs? You.
We’ve been trained to just toss hot dogs on the grill with almost no preparation. They begin to curl up almost immediately — a symptom of contracting proteins in the meat — which makes it hard to give them a nice, even char.
Hot dogs are FULL OF FAT. The fat is the flavor. It activates the spices. It keeps the dogs juicy. But you don’t actually need to eat all the fat to enjoy the hot dog, which is why we’re going to do a little surgery.
Using a paring knife, begin cutting a spiral around the hot dog. Ideally you’ll only go in about a quarter of the way through the meat. What this does is open up the hot dog to allow some of that fat to escape. At the same time, the fat that’s running down will cook and allow some of the meat to crisp up.
The spiral shape you’ve cut allows proteins to contract without curling the whole dog, so it lays straight and it easily turned for even cooking. And, finally, when you’re done cooking, your hot dogs have lots of nooks to hold condiments. Get ready to have your mind blown.
4. Pay attention
Maybe you don’t think hot dogs are worth your time. You’re dumb. Stop being dumb.
Whenever you’re grilling, the food is the focus. Hot dogs may seem simple, but that’s only if you’re actually engaged with the cooking. Toss them on and walk away and suddenly it’s five minutes and they’re burnt on one side.
“It’s just carbon!” you say. Tell that to your kids. Your neighbors. Those are carbon-based lifeforms and I don’t think they’d appreciate you burning them, you monster.
Actually, I don’t mind a little burnt patch, but if you can get that skin just to the point of blistering without burning, you’ve earned your spatula and comical apron.
5. Dress that dog
Mustard and relish.
That’s all a dog actually needs. But that’s just me, professional writer of food opinions. If you want to ruin your hot dog with ketchup, go right ahead.
(Ketchup is fine, to be honest. I’m just salty. Like a hot dog.)
The ideal set-up for your hot dog dressing station includes at least two kinds of mustard (Dijon and yellow), ketchup (fancy, if possible), sweet and dill relish, good sauerkraut (not from a can), shredded cheese, etc. Think of it as a savory ice cream bar. Let your guests’ taste buds and imaginations run wild and free.