Since hot dogs are already cooked by the time they are packed, you need only to focus on choosing a heating method that brings out the desired texture. While grilling is popular in the East, steaming and boiling tend to be the preferred method in the Midwest.
Rutti’s Hut in New Jersey is the spiritual home of the New Jersey Ripper, a deep-fried wiener with a casing that's cleaved asunder by dropping the dog into 350-degree Fahrenheit oil for 3 to 5 minutes. The effect can also be recreated on the stovetop in a Dutch oven, or by using a deep-fat fryer. If you like a crunchy hot dog, deep-frying is unbeatable. To keep the casing intact, fry just shy of 3 minutes instead.
Grilling hot dogs allows for crisp skin and grill marks, but it can cause the dogs to char and shrivel. To prevent this, cook the wieners over medium heat and turn them regularly as they brown. They should be done after 12 minutes.
Hot dogs bought from roadside carts taste so good because they sit in a hot water bath for hours, keeping them plump and succulent. No wiener, however, benefits from straight boiling, which will rupture the casing. Instead, drop the hot dogs into a pot of boiling water, cover and remove it immediately from the heat. After 5 to 7 minutes, the meat will be heated through, ideally to 160 F for maximum safety.
Steaming works even better, as none of the flavor gets lost to the water. Either steam them in a covered skillet with just enough water to cover the base, or place the hot dogs in a rack and steam them over boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes. Since steamed hot dogs have a soft casing, handle them with tongs rather than a fork, which risks puncturing the skin and releasing valuable juices.
Microwaving might not appeal to the hot dog purist, but for cooks in a hurry, it is the fastest route from package to bun. Wrap the hot dog in a paper towel to seal in the steam and contain any ruptures, and microwave on full power for 20 to 30 seconds.
At the other end of the scale, a slow-cooker comes to the rescue if a large batch of hot dogs needs to be prepared for a party. A staggering 60 wieners standing upright fit in a 6-quart slow-cooker. Since the wieners are already full of fat and water, don't add any extra liquid; cooking them dry also reduces the likelihood of any splitting. Cook the hot dogs for 4 hours on low or 2 hours on high.
Even though hot dogs are fully cooked, they should be kept above 140 F, out of the danger zone. Leaving them in so-called Dirty Dog Water automatically does this, providing the temperature is monitored. Otherwise, keep them in the oven at around 200 F. Cooked hot dogs should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour on a hot day above 90 degrees F. Once opened, a pack of hot dogs can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.
- Bon Appetit: 10 Weird Ways to Cook Hot Dogs, From Sous Vide to Electrocution
- A Year of Slow Cooking: Hot Dogs for a Crowd
- In Good Taste: Cook Hot Dogs Without a Grill
- NJ.com: Hot Dog Heaven
- The New York Times: New Jersey’s Own Hot Dogs
- The Weiser Kitchen: Texas Wiener Dogs of New Jersey
- National Hot Dog and Sausage Council
- Fox News: 5 Tips for Making the Perfect Hot Dog
- Oscar Mayer: How to Cook the Perfect Hot Dog
- Food Safety.gov: Hot Dog Safety Basics