Category Archives: General

TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off: Final Results & Wrap-Up

Welcome to the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off!

hotdogcollage

We’ve tasted all the hot dogs we’re going to taste for 2014…five divisions covering 16 all-beef dogs. If you’ve missed any of our taste tests, you can go back to the first installment for details on how we selected and judged the hot dogs and read details from each division taste-off.

Last time, Kirkland Signature beat Bar-S and Armour to take the win in the fifth and final Stray Dog Division. To wrap-up the taste-off, let’s summarize the results across all of the hot dogs we tasted and provide some closing comments.

Overall Results

Brand Price Weighted Score
Oscar Mayer $2.98 66.8572
Ball Park Deli Style $3.99 65.7372
Farmer John $3.64 64.5828
Open Nature Uncured $4.99 63.4172
Nathan’s Famous $2.98 62.88
Oscar Mayer Selects Angus Uncured $3.98 62.8572
Applegate The Great Organic Uncured $8.69 61.7028
Ball Park Angus $3.98 61.68
Kirkland Signature $10.99 61.12
Hebrew National $2.98 60.5828
Ball Park $2.98 58.2856
Bar-S $4.99 57.1428
Applegate The Great Organic Stadium $8.99 57.1428
Organic Prairie $8.99 52.5372
Armour $2.79 48.5372
Wellshire Organic $5.99 47.3828
Oscar Mayer Beef Franks
Oscar Mayer Beef Franks

It turns out that the basic Oscar Mayer beef frank is the big winner, scoring higher than all other hot dogs in the taste test. And at $2.98 a package, they were among the least expensive hot dogs in the pack.

Conclusions

Here’s what we learned from tasting these 16 varieties of tube steak.

  • There are a lot of decent all-beef hot dogs out there. While there were a few stand-outs and a few bad dogs, most were decent with above average or very good scores. Personally, having tasted all these hot dogs, I would stick to the ones with scores of 60 or higher.
  • Appearance before grilling is not a good predictor of a tasty hot dog. While this was not part of our judging criteria, it’s interesting to note that some of the hot dogs that looked great before grilling did not taste great after grilling, and some of the more pale hot dogs grilled up beautifully and tasted very good.
  • Price is not a good predictor of a tasty hot dog. Some of the highest-rated dogs in our taste tests were among the least expensive. This may have to do with mass production and high sales volume for popular brands like Oscar Mayer and Kirkland Signature that drives the price down for a good quality hot dog.
  • Uncured non-organic hot dogs taste good. We got good results from the two hot dogs tasted in the Almost Organic Division that were cured using the sodium nitrate that occurs naturally in celery juice or celery powder.
  • Organic hot dogs were not superior. Highest-scoring Applegate The Great Organic Uncured was an expensive hot dog that finished 7th overall in the rankings. If buying organic hot dogs, do so for reasons other than taste.
  • There are taste differences between varieties within the same brand. We tasted three varieties of Ball Park hot dogs—regular, Angus, and Deli Style—and there were discernible differences in taste. In the case of Ball Park, the more expensive Angus and Deli Style dogs proved better than the regular variety. In the case of Applegate, the Stadium variety did not taste as good as the regular variety. In the case of Oscar Mayer, the regular variety tasted better than the Selects Angus variety.
  • Condiments level the playing field. Eating hot dogs on buns with condiments was not part of the judging, but we ate a lot of them that way after testing. Many of the subtleties you taste when eating a hot dog plain are lost when you wrap it in bread and smother it with condiments.
  • We’re tired of eating hot dogs. After tasting so many dogs in five rounds of testing, we’re ready for a break.

Thank you for joining us on this hot dog journey! Special thanks to everyone that provided comments and suggestions for hot dogs we should test in the future. Hopefully we’ll get to your favorite in 2015. We’ll broaden the tasting criteria to include dogs in natural casings, big 1/4 pound dogs, and some of the seasoned franks coming to market these days.

Now go eat some hot dogs and enjoy the rest of your summer!

 All Taste Offs

Gas Grills Rule

img_2356-1024According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, in 2013 the grill industry shipped nearly 14 million grills and smokers in North America.  That number breaks down as follows:

  • Total Gas Grill Shipments (58 percent of sales) – 8,053,000
  • Total Charcoal Grill Shipments (40 percent of sales) – 5,590,000
  • Total Electric Grill Shipments (2 percent of sales) – 302,000

Gas grills continue to dominate as the most popular type of grill sold!

Learn more about 2014 grilling trends from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.

TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off: Stray Dog Division

Welcome to the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off!

This is the fifth and final round of our summer hot dog taste-off for 2014. If this is your first visit to the taste-off, make sure to read the first installment for details on how we’re selecting and judging the hot dogs.

Last time, Applegate The Great Organic Uncured beat three rivals quite easily in the Organic Division. This time, we taste three mutts that did not fit easily into our previous division contests.

The Stray Dog Division

The entries in this division include:

  • Bar-S (Sigma): $4.99
  • Armour (Armour-Eckrich): $2.79
  • Kirkland Signature (Costco): $10.99

Bar-S claims to be the #1 best-selling hot dog brand in America. The most popular varieties found in supermarkets in San Jose, California were chicken/pork/beef and chicken/pork, but we kept shopping and eventually found an all-beef variety for our taste test. At $4.99, it was a bit pricey compared to better-known brands like Oscar Mayer and Ball Park.

Armour is an iconic American brand, and those of a certain age will remember the famous jingle about Armour being “the dog kids love to bite”. We searched high and low for this dog and finally found it hiding in a Mexican supermarket. The hot dog itself was on the small side, weighing in at just 1.5 ounces. This is 1/2 ounce short of the 2 ounce criteria we established for hot dogs in the taste-off, but the judges granted a waiver to this classic dog so we could taste it in the competition. At $2.79, Armour was one of the less expensive dogs in the taste-off.

Finally, Kirkland Signature is a popular hot dog brand sold at Costco. Not to be confused with the 1/4 pound version sold in the food court, this is a standard length, 2 ounce hot dog that comes 12 to a package, 3 packages in a bundle. We had to buy 36 hot dogs just to taste 2 samples! However, at $10.99 for 72 ounces of meat, Kirkland Signature represents the best dollar value of all hot dogs in our taste-off.

(Note that in these photos, the hot dogs are always shown in the order listed above.)

The Stray Dog Division – Front view
The Stray Dog Division – Front view
The Stray Dog Division – Rear view
The Stray Dog Division – Rear view
The Stray Dog Division – Without packaging
The Stray Dog Division – Without packaging

The hot dogs were grilled together and served to the judges.

Grilling the hot dogs
Grilling the hot dogs

Once the hot dogs were grilled but not overly cooked, they were brought indoors and immediately judged on appearance, then sampled and judged on taste and tenderness/texture.

Hot dogs ready for judging
Hot dogs ready for judging

The Results

Kirkland Signature swept the warehouse floor with both of its rivals, beating Bar-S by 4 points and biting Armour by 12.6 points. With it’s sub-50 point score, Armour is sent to the doghouse as our second-lowest-scoring hot dog in all five rounds of taste testing.

Here are the weighted scores:

  • Bar-S: 57.1428
  • Armour: 48.5372
  • Kirkland Signature: 61.12
Judges’ Comment Cards
  • Bar-S: Pale color, above average taste, decent texture
  • Armour: Very good appearance, odd baloney-like taste, bland, too soft, virtually no texture
  • Kirkland Signature: Excellent color and sheen, good smoke and spice flavor, snappy texture, hard bits in sample for one judge

So Kirkland Signature wins big in our final round of the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off! Next week we’ll summarize our findings across all 16 entries and offer some closing comments about the hot dogs we tasted.

All Taste Offs

TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off: Organic Division

Welcome to the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off!

This is the fourth round in our summer hot dog taste-off. If this is your first visit to the taste-off, make sure to read the first installment for details on how we’re selecting and judging the hot dogs.

Last time, Oscar Mayer Selects whipped Open Nature in the Almost Organic Division taste-off. This week, we take on the most sincere hot dog category of all.

The Organic Division

These hot dogs are labeled “uncured”, meaning that they’ve been cured using the sodium nitrate that occurs naturally in sea salt and celery juice or celery powder. They contain certified organic, grass-fed beef from cattle that have never been administered antibiotics or hormones and have been humanely raised.

  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured: $8.69
  • Organic Prairie Organic Uncured: $8.99
  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured Stadium: $8.99
  • Wellshire Organic Uncured: $5.99

(Note that in these photos, the hot dogs are always shown in the order listed above.)

The Organic Division - Front view
The Organic Division – Front view
The Organic Division - Rear view
The Organic Division – Rear view
The Organic Division - Without packaging
The Organic Division – Without packaging

The hot dogs were grilled together and served to the judges.

Grilling the hot dogs
Grilling the hot dogs

Once the hot dogs were grilled but not overly cooked, they were brought indoors and immediately judged on appearance, then sampled and judged on taste and tenderness/texture.

Hot dogs ready for judging
Hot dogs ready for judging

The Results

Applegate The Great Organic Uncured beat its sibling Applegate The Great Organic Stadium by 4.5 points, mowed-down Open Prairie by 9 points, and took Wellshire Organic to the woodshed with a spanking of 14 points. In fact, with a sub-50 point score, Wellshire Organic holds the distinction of being our lowest scoring hot dog in four rounds of taste testing to date.

Here are the weighted scores:

  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured: 61.7028
  • Organic Prairie Organic Uncured: 52.5372
  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured Stadium: 57.1428
  • Wellshire Organic Uncured: 47.3828

It’s interesting to note that in terms of appearance, taste and tenderness/texture, the Applegate The Great Organic Uncured hot dog did as well or better than many of the big brand and premium dogs we’ve tested in other divisions…but at a cost of $5-6 more per package.

Judges’ Comment Cards

  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured: Plump, shiny, very good flavor, very good texture
  • Organic Prairie Organic Uncured: Plump, good sheen, springy texture, sausage flavor
  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured Stadium: Pale, chewy texture, above average flavor
  • Wellshire Organic Uncured: Thin, bland, chewy, texture a bit hard

So Applegate The Great Organic Uncured is the winner of the Organic Division! Stay tuned for our last division contest of 2014: The Stray Dog Division.

All Taste Offs

TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off: Almost Organic Division

Welcome to the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off!

This is the third installment of our summer hot dog taste-off. If this is your first visit to the taste-off, make sure to read the first installment for details on how we’re selecting and judging the hot dogs.

Last week, Ball Park Deli Style was the winner over Hebrew National, Nathan’s Famous Skinless, and Ball Park Angus in the Big Brand Premium Division taste-off. This week, we’re examining a small category in the world of hot dogdom.

The Almost Organic Division

These hot dogs share some attributes with organic hot dogs but are not certified organic. Although they are labeled “uncured”, they have essentially been cured using the sodium nitrate that occurs naturally in celery juice or celery powder.

  • Open Nature (Lucerne/Safeway): $4.99
  • Oscar Mayer Selects (Kraft): $3.98

(Note that in these photos, the hot dogs are always shown in the order listed above.)

The Almost Organic Division - Front view
The Almost Organic Division – Front view
The Almost Organic Division - Rear view
The Almost Organic Division – Rear view
The Almost Organic Division - Without packaging
The Almost Organic Division – Without packaging

You’ll notice that the Open Nature hot dog looks more brown than the Oscar Mayer Selects. The Open Nature packaging makes claims about no antibiotics, no added hormones, and all vegetarian fed; the Oscar Mayer Selects packaging makes no such claims.

Grilling the hot dogs
Grilling the hot dogs

The hot dogs were grilled together and served to the judges.

Once the hot dogs were grilled but not overly cooked, they were brought indoors and immediately judged on appearance, then sampled and judged on taste and tenderness/texture.

Hot dogs ready for judging
Hot dogs ready for judging

The Results

Open Nature squeaks by Oscar Meyer Selects with a 0.56 point margin of victory.

Here are the weighted scores:

  • Open Nature: 63.4172
  • Oscar Mayer Selects: 62.8572
Judges’ Comment Cards
  • Open Nature: Nice color; looks like meat; nice sheen; firm texture
  • Oscar Mayer Selects: Nice color and sheen; good flavor, a bit too salty

So Open Nature is the winner of the Almost Organic Division! Stay turned for our next division contest: The Organic Division.

All Taste Offs

TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off: Big Brand Premium Division

Welcome to the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off!

We’re continuing our taste-off of the best hot dogs for summer grilling. If this is your first visit to the taste off, make sure to read the first installment for details on how we’re selecting and judging the hot dogs.

Last week, Oscar Mayer beat Ballpark and Farmer John in the Big Brand Basic Division taste-off. This week, we up the ante by tasting upscale tube steaks from the most recognizable names in hot dogs.

The Big Brand Premium Division

This division includes what some would consider higher quality hot dogs from the biggest names in the business.

  • Ball Park Angus (Hillshire): $3.98
  • Hebrew National (ConAgra): $2.98
  • Nathan’s Famous Skinless (licensed to John Morrell/Smithfield): $2.98
  • Ball Park Deli Style (Hillshire): $3.99

We had hoped for an entire division dedicated to kosher hot dogs, but Hebrew National was the only big brand available in supermarkets in San Jose, California where the taste-off was held. That’s why HN has been placed in the Premium Division alongside these worthy competitors.

(Note that in these photos, the hot dogs are always shown in the order listed above.)

The Big Brand Premium Division - Front view
The Big Brand Premium Division – Front view
The Big Brand Premium Division - Rear view
The Big Brand Premium Division – Rear view
The Big Brand Premium Division - Without packaging
The Big Brand Premium Division – Without packaging

Judges Make Exception For Hebrew National

The Hebrew National hot dogs shown here are 50% larger than the competition, weighing-in at 3 ounces each. The taste-off rules require a standard length hot dog weighing about 2 ounces each. Hebrew National makes a 1.72 ounce hot dog, but it’s not readily available in San Jose, California where the taste-off was held. In order to include HN in the competition, the judges made an exception to the rule to allow this larger hot dog.

Grilling the hot dogs
Grilling the hot dogs

The hot dogs were grilled together and served to the judges.

Once the hot dogs were grilled but not overly cooked, they were brought indoors and immediately judged on appearance, then sampled and judged on taste and tenderness/texture.

Hot dogs ready for judging
Hot dogs ready for judging

The Results

Ball Park Deli Style sliced up Nathan’s Famous by 2.9 points, gored Ball Park Angus by 4 points, and made Hebrew National say “Oy Vey!” by 5.2 points.

Here are the weighted scores:

  • Ball Park Angus: 61.68
  • Hebrew National: 60.5828
  • Nathan’s Famous Skinless: 62.88
  • Ball Park Deli Style: 65.7372
Judges’ Comment Cards
  • Ball Park Angus: Good color; salty; mushy
  • Hebrew National: Looked bland, tasted bland; good texture
  • Nathan’s Famous Skinless: Not the best color; good balance of salt and spices; good texture
  • Ball Park Deli Style: Nice color/sheen; excellent spicy flavor; good texture

So Ball Park Deli Style is the winner of the Big Brand Premium Division! Stay tuned for our next division contest: The Almost Organic Division.

All Taste-Offs

Happy Father’s Day

Sunday is Father’s Day, and I want to extend my greetings to all the dads out there!

I hope you get to spend time with your dad on his special day. Maybe take over the grill and treat him to his favorite meal. If you can’t see your dad in person, give your dad a phone call and tell him how much you love him. If you’re into the high-tech stuff, use Facetime. Just make sure to tell him.

And if your dad is no longer with us, think a happy thought about him and honor his memory on Sunday.

Here’s my dad with his Weber gas grill. This grill was my first gas grill, and I gave it to him when I bought my Weber Summit. Sometimes I wish I still had that redhead. But I know it’s in good hands.

Love you, dad!

My dad, Gary
My dad, Gary

TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off: Big Brand Basic Division

Welcome to the TVWGG Hot Dog Taste-Off!

Hey there hot dog fans! Summer is approaching and that means it’s hot dog grilling season!

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be putting a bunch of hot dogs to the test and tell you which one is the best! Inspired by Slap Yo’ Daddy’s application of KCBS judging to fast food burgers, we’ve decided to do the same for that beloved summertime favorite, the hot dog.

We’ll organize the dogs into divisions and grill them together for the same amount of time on the same gas grill. Each dog will be judged using the 2014 KCBS scoring system for appearance, taste, and tenderness/texture. Hot dogs will be sampled plain, without buns or condiments. Judging will be conducted by me and my wife, Julie.

To simplify and standardize the taste-off, we’re limiting the competition to all-beef hot dogs of standard length (not bun length) weighing about 2 ounces each. All hot dogs are purchased at supermarkets in San Jose, CA.

First up: The Big Brand Basic Division

This division consists of basic beef franks from the heavy hitters of corporate hot dogdom:

  • Oscar Mayer (Kraft): $2.98
  • Ball Park (Hillshire): $2.98
  • Farmer John (Clougherty/Hormel): $3.64

(Note that in these photos, the hot dogs are always shown in the order listed above.)

The Big Brand Basic Division - Front view
The Big Brand Basic Division – Front view
The Big Brand Basic Division - Rear view
The Big Brand Basic Division – Rear view
The Basic Big Brand Division - Without packaging
The Big Brand Basic Division – Without packaging

The hot dogs were grilled together and served to the judges. There were some obvious differences in the way each brand grilled up. It should also be said that the front edge of the grill may run a bit hotter than the back.

Grilling the hot dogs
Grilling the hot dogs

Once the hot dogs were grilled but not overly cooked, they were brought indoors and immediately judged on appearance, then sampled and judged on taste and tenderness/texture.

Hot dogs ready for judging
Hot dogs ready for judging

The Results

Oscar Mayer plowed-under Farmer John by a margin of 2.3 points and sent Ball Park to the showers with a commanding  8.6 point victory.

Here are the weighted scores:

  • Oscar Mayer: 66.8572
  • Ball Park: 58.2856
  • Farmer John: 64.5828
Judges’ Comment Cards
  • Oscar Mayer: Nice sheen and color; balanced salty/smoky flavor; snappy exterior, good interior texture
  • Ball Park: Tastes like bologna; too soft; spongy texture
  • Farmer John: Good browning; nice smoky flavor

So Oscar Mayer is the winner of the Big Brand Basic Division! Stay tuned for our next division contest: The Big Brand Premium Division.

All Taste-Offs

Weber Built-In Gas Grills

Weber Summit S-660 built-in gas grill
Weber Summit S-660 built-in gas grill

Are you a hardcore Weber gas grill fan?

I ask because in my experience, only the hardest of hardcore fans knows that Weber makes built-in gas grills for outdoor kitchens and grilling islands.

Two models are offered in the Summit line: the S-460 4-burner and S-660 6-burner. Both grills come with infrared rotisserie, Sear Station burner, and a smoke box with dedicated burner as standard equipment. Both come in propane and natural gas versions.

And did you know there’s an optional built-in dual side burner?

So if you’re about to embark on an outdoor kitchen project this summer, consider including a Weber built-in gas grill in your plans. Your investment in Weber quality will pay dividends for years to come!