The first Coney Island hot dog stand opened in 1871 and sold 3,684 dogs during its first year of operation. In 2005, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans are expected to eat 27.5 million hot dogs at major league baseball parks, 150 million dogs on July 4, and seven billion dogs during the course of the summer.
Hot dog sales are easy to track inside the walls of a retail store or restaurant, but the number of hot dogs sold at concession stands and carnivals is harder to calculate. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that an additional 38 percent of hot dog sales between Memorial Day and Labor Day occur in these locations. But in the supermarket aisles, according to ACNielsen Strategic Planner, sales for 2004 ($1.6 billion) were actually down almost one percent from the previous year. Is our love affair with the hot dog coming to an end?
I don’t think so. In fact, I like hot dogs. They are fun to eat and fun to cook. And I love sauerkraut. But it seems like these products aren't keeping up with the nutritional correction that’s taking place. Or are they, and we just haven’t tasted those “healthier versions” recently?
Well, hot dog makers have been hard at work reformulating their recipes over the past couple of years to produce fat free and lower fat hot dogs that taste quite good. So before you take another bite, read those labels (especially the fat and sodium content) and think about re-tasting one of the healthier alternatives. Here's a look at the latest offerings on the market:
Hot Dogs 101:
MEAT: This is the ultimate generic term for hot dogs and can include very low-quality cuts of meat from beef and pork and most frequently added fillers. They’re plentiful and very cheap. Calories in one hot dog can be 150 to 180 depending on size; fat, 13 to 17 g; protein, 5 to 6 mg, and sodium, 450 to 550 mg or higher.
BEEF: This category can be either all beef from all parts of the cow or kosher beef from selected sections of the cow. All kosher hot dogs must bear the kosher symbol (K) or (U). They’re generally more flavorful than “meat” dogs, contain only beef, no fillers, and they're carefully spiced. Calories, fat, and protein are the same as meat hot dogs, but sodium is usually less, about 400 mg.
LOW FAT: The marbling of beef is responsible for much of its flavor, whether it’s a steak or a hot dog, and some manufacturers have been able to reduce the amount of fat and amp up the seasonings to retain that benchmark hot dog taste. Calories are a mere 60 per dog, fat is a modest 1.5 g, but protein and sodium are about the same, 6 g and 400 mg respectively. Low-fat and fat-free hot dogs currently represent only about five percent of the market despite the campaigns for low-fat foods.
FAT FREE: These dogs are more difficult to cook, and can include sugars, more sodium, and more intense flavorings to balance the loss of fat as a flavoring. With 0 mg of fat, and only 45 calories and the typical 6 g of protein, this looks good on the nutrition chart, but still registers a very high 460 mg of sodium.
CHICKEN OR TURKEY HOT DOGS: The skin of turkey or chicken, which contains most of its fat, is responsible for much of its flavor. Even though they’re lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, some turkey and chicken dogs contain even more reduced amounts of fat, which is balanced with amped up seasonings to duplicate that familiar “bite” of beef or pork hot dogs. Others call a poultry dog a poultry dog, and season accordingly. Calories are a mere 60 per dog, fat is a modest 1.5 mg, but protein and sodium are about the same, 6 g and 400 mg respectively.
FAT FREE CHICKEN OR TURKEY: These dogs are more difficult to cook, and can include sugars, more sodium, and more intense flavorings to balance the loss of fat as a flavoring. With 0 mg of fat, and only 45 calories and the typical 6 g of protein, this looks good on the nutrition chart, but still registers a very high 460 mg of sodium.
There are also hot dogs made from tofu, tuna, salmon and other types of seafood, many of which can be found both in the refrigerated section of your supermarket as well as frozen. This summer, do one of your own taste tests and try a variety of hot dogs. You may be surprised at just how tasty some of the newer, “healthier” hot dogs really are!
*Note: Be careful when cooking, as many of the non-beef/pork hot dogs can be overcooked very easily. So, be sure to read the cooking directions carefully.
Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .