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Jan 3, 2010 03:30 PM

Where to buy Half Smokes at a Grocery?

It's my understanding that half-smokes are half beef and half pork. I understand that Ben's Chili Bowl is the quintessential vendor of half smokes. I also understand that they have them made for them by a meat packer in Baltimore.

Does anyone know where I can buy half smokes a grocery? Most groceries usually have a pretty good assortment of various smoked sausages, but nothing that is half beef/half pork.

Does Ben's vendor sell half smokes through any local outlets?


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  1. Ben's gets their half smokes from Manger's in Baltimore. Manger's does sell half-smokes to retailers, but says that the retail version is slightly different from the one that they supply to Ben's; the easiest way to get the retail ones in DC is from Canales at Eastern Market.

    5 Replies
    1. re: sweth

      BK Millers in Clinton, MD sells Manger's halfsmokes (hot or mild) in 5lb packs. $17. These are what you'll find at Canales. I've found that they're indistinguishable from the version at Ben's.

      1. re: monkeyrotica

        In the City Paper article about the half-smoke a few years ago, the guy from Manger's all but admitted that the differences between the "Ben's" halfsmoke and the regular one that they sell are very small and just there so that Ben's can claim that their halfsmokes are unique. But yes, I also can't tell the difference.

        It occurs to me nowthat I will be at Peregrine coffee for a meeting tomorrow morning; I may have to pop across the street and get me some hot halfsmokes...

        1. re: sweth

          I recently purchased some Mangers Hot Halfsmokes that did not come in a natural casing. I wish I hadn't; the flavor is fine, but the distinctive natural casing snap was missing. Their regular halfsmokes still come with the casing. Perhaps this is a cost saving maneuver on their part.

          1. re: monkeyrotica

            i'd bet some customers get skeeved by the idea of casings or maybe if using natural is more time and quality intensive then your theory is right (or maybe a bit of both)

            1. re: hill food

              There was a hotdog documentary on FoodTV a while back. Before the caseless wiener machine was developed, hotdog making was a fairly tedious business: you had a finite length of natural casing that had to be constantly reloaded onto the machine. The caseless process cut costs exponentially to the point that today more than 95 percent of hotdogs sold in America are caseless. Since Mangers is such a relatively small brand, I'd imagine they'd try everything to cut costs, including going caseless, which is a shame. The caseless wieners just taste like boiled bologna to me.

    2. In a pinch, Shoppers sells Capitol Half Smokes. Only "chain" grocery store around that sells half smokes, as far as I know. Come in a pkg of 5.

      20 Replies
      1. re: cb1

        Steve mentioned the Capitol Half Smokes at Shoppers a while back, and a few days after that I saw them at my local store (7 Corners), but they were gone, as was their place on the shelf, a week later and haven't been back since. I suppose I could ask if they're going to bring them back, but then I'd have to buy some. <g>

        1. re: MikeR

          They were at my Shoppers in Rockville yesterday

          1. re: Pappy

            Pappy, you saw the Capitol ones, or Mangers?

            Anyone ever had the Capitol Half Smokes?

              1. re: DanielK

                Yes, I've had the Capitol half smokes. Only ok if you have no alternative.

                1. re: Steve

                  I prefer the Capitol half smokes. I didn't care for the Mangers flavor.

                  1. re: Steve

                    Tonight I had no alternative....picked up five, fired up the grill and ate one for every period of the hockey game...LOL Great game btw.

                    Steve, honest opinion. Going to buy some for a Super Bowl party. BK Millers has 30 Briggs for the same price as 20 Mangers. Worth it to go for the Mangers? None of them taste as good as the ones we used to get outside RFK, but maybe that's just nostalgia weighing in....

                    1. re: cb1

                      I really don't know about the difference between the two. Whatever I eat on the street normally supplies my quota. I bought some very good ones at Canale's in Eastern Market, and the Capitol brand at Shopper's which I *probably* won't buy again.

                      1. re: Steve

                        To me, the Briggs halfsmokes just taste like big hotdogs. No natural casing and the grind is very fine. Capitol is more sausagey, but they're kinda small. More like a bratwurst than a halfsmoke. Maybe 2/3 the size of Mangers. Mangers regular has the coarse grind and the natural casing. Cooked over low heat for 30/45 minutes in an iron pan, that casing gets super crisp and the fats inside liquify into a searing hot explosion of exquisite halfsmoke ecstasy. Anything else is like sex without love. It's good if you can get it, but it pays to look for the real deal.

                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                          "Anything else is like sex without love. It's good if you can get it, but it pays to look for the real deal."

                          that needs to be wildly quoted and in many contexts

              2. re: MikeR

                I thought I saw them at Seven Corners Shoppers the last time I looked, about a month ago. I'm not suggesting they are as good as the ones at Eastern Market.

                1. re: Steve

                  The half-smokes I remember were made by Briggs or Esskay. They were 7-Eleven staples in my youth. Haven't seen them for years. Don't know if either company is still in business.

                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                    Briggs was the original, but they sold the name, and the ones currently sold under that name (which are still around--I saw some at one of the vendors at Eastern Market recently, I think) aren't very good.

                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                      Esskay was assimiltated by Smithfield many years ago, and the Esskay plant in east Balltmore was eventually torn down. I wouldn't count on anything branded Esskay today being like what you remember from your youth,

                      1. re: Hal Laurent

                        Honestly, I didn't consider them to be very special at the time. I'll take a Super Polish from Polock Johnny's any day.

                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                          Manger's actually makes the the polish sausage for Polock Johnny's as well

                          Polock Johnny's
                          3212 Washington Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21230

                          1. re: jason16

                            Half Smokes are good and all...but ZWEIGLE's still makes the best natural casing dogs......

                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                as well as the Ben's Chilli Bowl Half Smokes

                2. I'll put in a vote for the Capitol brand half smokes. They're on the shelf intermittently at the 7 Corners Shoppers - probably whenever the distributor comes around and sees that the shelf is empty (that's the way a lot of grocery stores are stocked). I picked up a package last time I saw them ($3 for a six pack) and had one for dinner the other night.

                  I haven't had a half smoke since I worked for the guv'mint and the cart vendor outside was sometimes the best choice for lunch, so I don't really have much to compare these to (that was more than 10 years ago) but I'll say that they had a bit of spice to them, didn't taste greasy, and now I undestand what people mean when they describe these things (and hot dogs) as having a "good snap" which I'd say the Capitol ones do.

                  I'm not a big enough fan to make a trip to Eastern Market for what most consider the genuine article, but the Capitol brand works more me as a casual meal, and when they're in stock, it's just a short walk up the hill to my local Shopper's.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: MikeR

                    wha'ts the best way to cook a capitol half smoke? cut in half in a frying pan? broil? grill? gimme some tips!

                    1. re: gortiz

                      Depends. If you're in a hurry, slice down the middle and fry. If you're grilling them over open flame, this is pretty much the only way to do it. If you grill them as-is without splitting, the skin gets burnt and the center stays raw. But if you want that signature snap and the burn of the hot fat, cook them covered in a cast iron pan over low heat for 15-20 minutes with a little oil.

                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        sweet, i'm going to slice them and cook them on a cast iron grill pan ... see if that works. do joints around town just cook them on flat grills? can you steam them?

                        1. re: gortiz

                          DC-3 and Ben's cook their dogs on a flattop. My experience has been that steaming/simmering isn't the best method for natural casing dogs. Like hot boudin, if you're not careful, they tend to rupture.

                      2. re: gortiz

                        I slashed them diagonally in a few places and grilled them over charcoal. It's definitely not how Ben's or the street vendors do it but they might be just a little healthier that way (except for the cancer that charcoal grilling supposedly gives you)..

                        1. re: MikeR

                          Slashing is how we used to do kielbasas, on the grill and in the pan.

                        2. re: gortiz

                          The best way? Take them to a 7-11, put them on their rotating hot dog grille thingy and come back in an hour. I didn't say it was the most practical way.