Nothing says summer like the sizzle of hot dogs on the grill. In fact, July is National Hot Dog Month, as designated by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. So it’s the perfect time to brush off the grill and take your cooking outdoors, if you haven’t already.
We know grilling experts when we see them, and that’s why we asked our energy partner, Spire, for advice on grilling the perfect frank. Here are nine tips they provided to help you celebrate National Hot Dog Month in style.
1. Get your grill in shape before you start
Give your franks a nice, clean grill to sit on. Scrape your grate down with a grill brush if you need to, so you can be sure nothing’s getting on your dog but delicious, crispy flavor. If you have a propane or charcoal grill, you’ll need to make sure you have enough fuel on hand to get through the afternoon. Of course, with a natural gas grill that wouldn’t be an issue. Then give the grate a few blasts with a non-stick grilling spray before you turn on the heat.
2. Consider splurging
Don’t be tempted to cut corners on hot dog quality in the name of budget-consciousness. You’re only going to get a good hot dog if you start with good meat. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank — you can get natural, all-beef hot dogs at most grocery stores for not much more than the budget brands.
3. Thaw your hot dogs completely before starting to grill.
For even cooking, make sure your dog is thoroughly room temperature before you put it on the grill. If you’re working with frozen hot dogs, put them in the fridge to thaw overnight so they’ll be ready when it’s time to go. Then let them sit out on the counter for about 20 minutes before grilling to let them come to room temperature.
(Some recommend boiling your dogs before grilling them, but this isn’t necessary — in fact, it can actually result in a less-flavorful hot dog. But if you aren’t sure your formerly frozen hot dogs are completely thawed, you can lightly poach them for a couple of minutes in hot water to get them up to room temperature before grilling.)
4. Put slits in your dogs to prevent shriveling.
Before putting your hot dogs on the grill, make four or five little slits widthwise along each dog. This results in shorter cooking time and a plumper, juicier, less-shriveled final product. Resist the urge to slit the sausage all the way down its length, though—you’ll end up with a drier dog.
5. Maintain a nice, even, medium heat.
Too high, and you’ll end up with hot dog jerky or a charred dog with an icy center. Too low, and you spend the whole day watching it cook and never develop a good crust. Get your grill to a nice, medium heat (or medium-low, for leaner franks) and keep it that way. (Another benefit of having a a natural gas grill—it’s easy to control the temperature and keep it consistent.)
6. Bring your grill to temperature before adding your meat.
Since heat is such an important factor, make sure your grill is all the way up to that medium heat before you start grilling. You don’t want to leave your hot dog to sit there getting leathery while your grill heats up. And while natural gas grills heat up quickly and with a touch of a button, you owe it to your dogs to give grill time to heat up thoroughly—grill marks only come from a nice, hot grate, so close the lid and give it about 10 to 15 minutes to preheat.
7. Don’t walk away.
Don’t just slap your hot dogs on the grill and walk away—they’ll need turning if you want to get those nice grill marks all the way around. It should take about six minutes for a standard frank (or up to 10 for a jumbo one) to get a flavorful, even crisp. After they start to expand but before they start sputtering is your sweet spot.
8. Remember the buns.
Those perfect, plump, juicy hot dogs deserve a crispy place to rest. After you take your dogs off the grill, give your buns about a minute split-side down on the grill to toast them up. Brush them with butter first if you want to get fancy.
9. Get creative with condiments.
You’ll never go wrong with the classic mustard, ketchup and relish. But there’s no reason to stop there. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council has a roundup of regional hot dog fixings, so you can get inspired by state fairs and ball parks around the country.
New York. Your New York dog is going to come with steamed white onions and yellow mustard, but it’s not a Coney Island dog if it doesn’t have meat sauce, too.
Chicago. Chicago dogs come with yellow mustard, dark green relish, chopped raw onion, sport peppers, tomato slices and a pickle spear, topped with celery salt. Pick up a pack of poppyseed buns if you’re planning on making Chicago-style hot dogs.
Kansas City. Kansas City dogs come with sauerkraut, brown mustard and melted Swiss cheese. After-dinner mints are optional but recommended.
Houston. Baseball fans at Minute Maid Park in Houston eat their dogs with chili, cheese and jalapenos.
Atlanta. At Turner Field, baseball fans enjoy hot dogs topped with coleslaw and sweet, delicious Vidalia onions.
Phoenix. Southern Arizona isn’t the birthplace of the Sonoran hot dog, but it’s arguably the adopted home. A Sonoran dog is wrapped in bacon and served with pinto beans, grilled onions, green peppers, chopped fresh tomatoes, relish, tomatillo jalapeno salsa, mayonnaise, mustard and shredded cheese.
We’d like to thank Spire for the tips for hot dog perfection — and for enough flavor inspiration to keep us grilling hot dogs all the way through the end of the summer. It might be time to stock up on salsa, and cheese, and relish, and onions, and breath mints.