I Tried 8 Methods of Cooking Hot Dogs and Found an Absolute Winner (No Other Came Close)

published May 23, 2024
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overhead photo of seven hot dogs cooked in different ways arranged on a marble surface
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

I have a secret to confess: For the majority of my life, I have despised hot dogs. I avoided them whenever possible, but that all changed about five years ago when I was food styling a video shoot all about hot dogs. I decided to give them another chance. I tasted them with an open mind, and realized I had been holding out for no good reason. They were really, really good — savory, meaty, juicy, and downright delicious. 

Since then, I’ve eaten hot dogs on several different occasions and found them to range anywhere from “meh” to life-changing. Like so many foods, I know that the end results depend on how the hot dogs are cooked. Subpar techniques can leave them disappointingly tough and rubbery in spots, leathery and super salty, or squishy with a diluted flavor. 

Unlike the previous hot dog showdown I worked on (which was focused on different ways to prep hot dogs before grilling), this time around I tested eight different cooking methods to find the most reliable path to delicious franks. 

Quick Overview

What’s the Best Way to Cook Hot Dogs?

Grilling very clearly declared itself as the winner; its texture and flavor were superior. No other method came close to producing results that were as delicious.

A Few Notes on Methodology

  • The hot dogs: I used all-beef hot dogs for my testing and chose Hebrew National brand. I tested half a pack (3 franks) for each test, with the exception of the slow cooker test, for which I used a whole pack.
  • The testing: I tested all of the hot dogs on one day, over a period of about two hours. (I set up the slow cooker test a few hours ahead.) As soon as one method was completed, I would taste the hot dogs fresh. With every method, I tasted bites from 2 different franks, and from both the end and the middle portion.
  • The ratings: I rated each method on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 reserved for absolute perfection. The main criteria for my ratings were flavor and texture, with a bit of consideration also going into the ease or difficulty of the method. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Microwave

Rating: 2/10

About this method: Using guidance from Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, I wrapped a single frank in a paper towel and heated it on high in my 1100-watt microwave for 40 seconds. I repeated this process with two more franks (one at a time). I did not heat multiple hot dogs at a time, as I wanted to give them the best opportunity to heat evenly.

Results: I know that many a frazzled parent turns to this method to feed a hungry kid (or themselves). It’s quick and easy, and it works when one’s hangry and needs food stat. But it produces absolutely subpar results. The hot dogs cook very unevenly, withering noticeably on either end while the middle remains plump. Although the middle part of the hot dogs tasted fine, those overcooked ends were disappointingly dry and leathery, with a rubbery mouthfeel. I will never use this method again.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Boiled

Rating: 3/10

About this method: I followed step 1 of this recipe from Allrecipes, which instructs you to bring a pot of water to a boil, turn the heat down to low, and place a hot dog in the water (I added 3 to the water). You then cook the hot dog(s) for 5 minutes. Afterwards, I drained them briefly on a paper towel.

Results: This is certainly a classic way to cook hot dogs; it’s the method I remember most from my childhood. But boy does it produce lackluster franks. After boiling, the hot dogs’ appearance is just dreadful — a wan gray-pink color. The texture is soft and slightly spongy, without that great snap you get when you bite into a truly great hot dog. Even though these franks were cooked in liquid, they seemed a little dry — noticeably less juicy than the others. Perhaps some of their moisture leached out into the cooking water, along with some of their flavor, which was rather muted. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Baked

Rating: 4/10

About this method: For this, I used the instructions from Nathan’s. I heated my oven to 400°F, arranged the hot dogs on a small sheet pan, and baked them for 15 minutes.

Results: I was surprised by the results here, as I really expected this method to fare better than it did. The hot dogs dried out a bit in the oven, their skins becoming a little wrinkly. Biting in, the exterior was very leathery. As for the flavor, it was noticeably much saltier, as if it got overly concentrated as the hot dogs dehydrated in the dry heat of the oven. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Steamed

Rating: 5/10

About this method: I followed the pan-frying instructions offered by Nathan’s. I filled a skillet with about a half-inch of water and heated it over medium-high until the water started to boil off. I added the hot dogs and steamed them, turning them occasionally, until they darkened and were heated through (about 4 1/4 minutes). 

Results: Although this method is referred to as pan-frying, it’s clearly a steaming method. These dogs had a nice texture, with a bit of snap and a juicy interior. The flavor was interestingly uneven, though. Some bites tasted diluted and a little water-logged, while others were saltier and more sausage-y. Overall, the results were a solid “meh.”

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Air Fryer

Rating: 6.5/10

About this method: Using a Pioneer Woman recipe as a loose guide, I arranged three hot dogs in my air fryer basket and air-fried them at 400°F for 5 minutes, turning them over after 2 1/2 minutes. (Note: I did not use the cutting instructions in the recipe; I simply placed the hot dogs in the air fryer without cutting into them at all.)

Results: These hot dogs looked very much like the ones you see on the rotating racks at gas stations: glistening, browned, and a little shriveled. Biting in, the skin was a little tough but did offer a nice bit of snap, and the dogs tasted saltier than most of the others. If you like a super-savory hot dog with concentrated salty flavor, this easy method will be right up your alley.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Slow Cooker

Rating: 7/10

About this method: I used the instructions from Allrecipes to test this method: Stand the hot dogs upright in your slow cooker, close the lid (without adding any liquid), and cook on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours. I have an oval-shaped slow cooker, so standing the hot dogs upright was a little tricky; I placed a couple of small heatproof bowls in the cooker to prop the dogs up against the side of the crock. I chose to cook on low for 4 hours. 

Results: The hot dogs looked like sausage — they were dark brown and were a completely different color than any of the other hot dogs. They had a firm, meaty texture and deeply meaty flavor without tasting too salty like some of the other methods. I could see using this method if I were serving a crowd; you could fit a lot of hot dogs in a slow cooker. One thing I didn’t love was that some of the meat juices cooked out and caramelized into a crusty, sticky puddle on the edge of my slow cooker crock; I had to soak it for a few hours to clean all of it out. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Broiled

Rating: 8/10

About this method: To test this method, I used the instructions from Recipes.net. I arranged my oven rack in the uppermost position and preheated the broiler to high. I arranged the hot dogs on a small sheet pan and cut a few diagonal slits into each one. I broiled the franks for 4 minutes, turning them occasionally to brown them on all sides.

Results: These hot dogs were evenly browned, evenly cooked, and wonderfully juicy. They didn’t have a distinct snap like the winning method had, but overall the texture was very nice — a little crispiness on the exterior with a fantastically plump and juicy interior. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Hot Dog Cooking Method: Grill

Rating: 10/10

About this method: I once again turned to Nathan’s for guidance. I heated my gas grill for a two-level fire, with one side cranked up to high and the other side more toward medium-low. I started the hot dogs on the cooler side, cooking about 1 1/2 minutes per side to heat them through. Then I moved them to the hot side of the grill, turning them frequently until they developed an even brown color and a few spots of char. I did not close the grill lid as I cooked.

Results: Wow! This method simply blew all the others away, giving the hot dogs both superior texture and exemplary flavor. Biting in, there was a noticeable snap of the casing, followed by intense juiciness in the tender middle. The teensy bit of char contributed irresistible robust woodsy flavor, complementing and contrasting the salty-cured, sausage-y nature of the franks. A grilled frank is, basically, the platonic ideal of a hot dog. 

Overall Key Takeaways

  • The key to the success of the grilling method is two-zone heat — a cooler side to warm the hot dogs through gently, and a hot side to finish them off with a little sear and char. With a gas grill, it’s easy to create these zones, but you could also bank charcoal more densely on one side and have the coals more sparse on the other. 
  • The flavor and texture payoffs make grilling absolutely worth the little bit of effort, but if you don’t have a grill, the broiler method works pretty well in a pinch. It just won’t give you that smoky char finish.