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Jan 9, 2010 10:59 AM

Nathan's Hot Dogs

Below is a post that I put on the Ontario Board. It contains info about Nathan's hot dogs and other beef dogs. Since my post was general while the thread on the Ontario Board was specifically about finding good hot dogs in Toronto, the moderators requested that I post it here on the General Chowhounding Topics Board.

I live in the U.S. (New Jersey) where I have access to Nathan's. First off let
me say that their mustard is actually Gold's mustard that is made for Nathan's
in a private label arrangement. Don't know if it's available in Canada.

Even though Nathan's is available in practically ever supermarket I've ever been
in, the natural casing franks are a little more difficult to find. If you have a
choice, go for the natural casing dogs and prepare them on a grill or griddle.
As for the Nathan's franchises, they are hit or miss. The good ones prepare the
natural casing franks on a hot griddle. I've been to a few that prepare the dogs
well and they are every bit as good as those at the original Nathan's in Coney

The not so good locations (franchises) use the skinless franks and prepare them
on a roller grill. Sometimes the dogs are greasy; sometimes dry from being on
the roller too long. Many times the dogs are not hot enough. Clearly inferior to
the griddle cooked natural casing dogs that are hot and have a char that you
don't find from those prepared on the roller grills. Roller grills, at least in
New Jersey, can not be found at any reputable hot dog stand. These things are
for convenience stores, gas stations, and movie theatres. It's a shame that even
in the U.S. close to where Nathan's originated, there are people whose only
exposure to Nathan's is a poorly prepared skinless hot dog from a roller grill.
And they wonder what the fuss is all about.

While Nathan's is a very good beef dog, there are better; at least in and around
New Jersey. Sabrett is less greasy. And not the ones prepared dirty water style.
The 10 to a lb franks that are grilled and served at Papaya King, Gray's Papaya,
and Katz's. Best Provisions out of New Jersey makes a superior beef frank. Made
from bull meat but with a better blend of spices. Spicy, but with less garlic
than Nathan's and more complexity. Boars Head and Usinger's (out of Wisconsin)
are also superior to Nathan's. But Nathan's is a quality dog that is worth
seeking out.

I don't agree that "a hot dog is just a hot dog". Many dogs are made from low
quality meat scraps and fillers. Better hot dogs are made from cuts of beef or
beef and pork supplemented with trimmings. The finest hot dogs are made from
whole cuts of beef or beef/pork, or beef/pork/veal without trimmings. I don't
know about Canada, but near where I live there are European style pork stores
and butcher shops that make high quality dogs that taste so much better than
what you get in stores. Thumann's out of New Jersey makes perhaps the best hot
dogs I've had. And I've had literally about 200 different kinds. It's a
beef/pork German style dog that is made from whole cuts of top quality beef and
pork. The pork comes right off their hams.

Although I haven't tasted a Nathan's frank from many years ago, I believe Embee
when he says their dogs were better in the past. Recently they were made by many
different companies including Sabrett (Marathon). And the recipe didn't have
corn or wheat gluten. I e-mailed the company and asked why the claim that the
hot dogs are made to the same recipe that they were in 1916, supposedly from
Nathan Handwereker's wife or wife's grandmother when corn and wheat gluten
weren't used then. I never got an answer. Perhaps Jade Alberts can answer this
for us. Now their franks are made by a company called SMG Meats.

High quality dogs like Nathan's and those named above don't need a lot of
toppings. Just a little mustard is how I enjoy mine. Toppings mask the flavor of
a quality frank. In my opinion if you don't start with a quality frank, it
doesn't matter what you do to it. If you do have a quality frank, it should be
the focus of the taste experience.

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  1. New Jersey is, perhaps, the hot dog centre of the universe. You have many different variants prepared for specific private labels and for specific cooking methods. (I've never seen a deep fried frank in Toronto.)

    There may be better options than Nathan's in NJ, but (IMO), there are NO good all beef dogs sold here. Some brands contain high quality ingredients, but good taste does not necessarily follow.

    The winner of a recent, very unscientific hot dog tasting at a local newspaper was Shopsy's, a once local deli brand now owned by a major corporation. It won, simply, because it didn't offend anyone. It was my second choice. Heaped with condiments, it would be okay.

    My first choice, and the only one I'd be able to stomach without condiments, was an expensive "Kobe" dog. It was okay, but not worth anywhere near its lofty price. Supposedly a special "gourmet" dog, it barely met my personal "common hot dog" criteria.

    As for the remainder, I wouldn't eat any of them by choice.

    When I was growing up in Brooklyn, long...long ago, there were different dogs for different tastes, but most of them tasted at least okay.

    You had to go to Coney Island to get Nathan's, which were top-of-the line and unavailable anywhere else. But there were, indeed, other choices.

    We had Sabrett's in several styles and all kinds of kosher dogs. We had Hebrew National (much tastier than they are now), Hod Carmel, Zion, Schmulka Bernstein, and more that I can't remember.

    Even some of the supermarket brands were better. While I never wanted to "be" an Oscar Meyer wiener, I could eat one in a pinch. No longer.

    Today's Nathan's franks have only a hint of the original flavour profile. They always had casings and they did not contain sorbital or several kinds of gluten. There is no way they follow an original 1916 recipe. Sorbital? There's nothing wrong with the stuff, but give me a break.... I suspect that the original recipe was too assertive to score well in major marketing research tests.

    No, the franchising company won't answer you and , with total respect, Jade Alberts would know less about this than I. Murray Handwerker delivered them personally to my summer camp in 1956.

    1. I'm so glad that you've mentioned Thumann's - indeed, I've had hotdogs (from dirty water to those at the various ball parks) and nothing I've tasted thus far matches the great snap and taste of Thumann's. Everytime that I've visited NJ, I've asked my friends to fire up the grill and let me cook some Thumann's. :)

      3 Replies
      1. re: HSz

        I didn't mention that Thumann's makes 3 different recipe dogs. An all beef, a beef/pork griller, and one made especially for deep frying. The one I was referring to is the beef/pork griller sold in the blue and white package.

        1. re: hotdoglover

          Hmm. I admit that I've never taken a closer look at the bag. I shall need to ask my friends what they're buying at the store. All I know is that I've never tasted the same snap in the hotdogs I've had up here. Every time I've gone and visited NJ, we've always grilled a package :D

        2. re: HSz

          Is it the natural casing that gives it that snap? I want to make sure I get the right Nathan's (when I get the chance, that is).

        3. I have mentioned this to Embee before and I'll say it again. To say that there are no "Good" dogs in TO is wrong. There are "Good" dogs. What we are sorely lacking in is "Great" dogs. Mrs. Sippi and I did a couple of non scientific tastings and found that a tasting of 5 "Gourmet" brands against a ubiquitous supermarket, all beef brand had said supermarket brand (Juicy Jumbos) the winner.

          Also, Nathan's are better than Hebrew National but neither are available here.

          Now, I have inlaws in Alabama and import Nathan's whenever I head south and it's superiority to our dogs is embarrassing.

          I also on one hand agree with Embee that it's just a hot dog but sometimes the simple hot dog is a great treat. I will also suggest that the simple things are the easiest to screw up. Try getting a great burger in TO. Most places try WAY too hard.


          7 Replies
          1. re: Davwud

            We're never going to agree on this one;-)

            I consider the expensive "Kobe" franks at McEwan's as edible and the Shopsy's "Original Recipe" and Cumbrae's beef franks as okay with some condiments. I tasted the "Kobe" stuff at the newspaper tasting and I bought the Shopsy and Cumbrae products once.

            Is any beef hotdog in Toronto good? NO!

            The superiority of the Nathan's product is, indeed, embarrassing. Better than HN (available here in the past, but not today)? That comes down to personal taste. I'd rate them both as "good".

            I do agree that sometimes a simple hotdog can be a treat, but nothing I can buy here qualifies. Great hot dog? Yes, the Nathan's and HN dogs sold in the fifties were great. While I'll make ridiculous trips to Buffalo to buy them, they don't rate as great today.

            1. re: embee

              A recurring theme of your most interesting and informative posts seems to be that the quality -defined in its broadest sense - of today's foods is markedly inferior to those of the past. While this is undoubtably true in many, if not most cases, I wonder if perhaps your memory may be conspiring to make old eating experiences seem more enjoyable than current ones?
              Nostalgic memories of past experiences are generally pleasant. The human memory, thank God, generally tends to maximize past good experiences while minimizing or even completely forgetting the bad or negative.
              Another factor may be that when you were younger you had less sophisticated tastes as now and were less discriminating.
              Am I on to something or full of hot air?

              1. re: Doctormhl1

                No, you aren't on to something, but you aren't full of hot air either. Your point is undeniably true, but it doesn't apply to the comments I've made here.

                Yes, I had less sophisticated tastes, but the tastes I miss aren't sophisticated. We have access to many more foods now than when I was growing up. Interesting foods were hard to find when I arrived in Toronto, but that's hardly true today.

                The restaurants of my youth served a much narrower range of food, at every price level, than one can get today. The one big difference was that most food served was "real" and (for better or worse) fully cooked in the restaurant's kitchen.

                I don't have warm memories of homemade comfort foods - my mother was an appallingly bad cook. We had almost no processed food in our (kosher) home, but mom could unfailingly turn high quality fresh food into dross. She couldn't even make decent chicken soup.

                The breads available in my neighbourhood were fabulous, but from a very limited range. We had rye, caraway rye, corn rye, marble rye, pumpernickel, challah, and (from one place) croissants. But you couldn't get a baguette to save your life. Real bread almost disappeared for a while, but there are now more varieties than ever before. Bagels, however, ain't the same - or even close - today.

                Cheeses included Kraft slices, Velveeta,Cheez Whiz, Mun-Chee, some plausible Emmentaler, and Cracker Barrel at the top of the line. The supply of great tasting cheese, both artisanal and mass produced, is now better than ever.

                Though cream and cottage cheese quality has declined for years, Western Creamery goes on and on. Royal Beef sells an extraordinary, still warm ricotta (I can't recall the producer) on Saturday mornings.

                I've never meant to suggest that "quality -defined in its broadest sense - of today's foods is markedly inferior to those of the past". Many of the processed foods (that's what we're talking about here) available back then were undeniably awful.

                Some have improved with time while others have become worse. Some processed foods sold today are both more sophisticated and tastier than anything you could buy fifty years ago.

                I'm talking in these posts about specific foods available in specific places. I've never said good hot dogs don't exist anywhere - I'm referring only to the all beef dogs sold in Toronto. Davwud (whose post appears above) disagrees - and he's quite the "roadfood" connoisseur - but Davwud didn't taste a Nathan's frank in 1956.

                The Nathan's dogs I ate at Coney Island (or when Murray Handwerker brought them to my summer camp), and the HN dogs I ate throughout NYC, both had much stronger, fuller flavours than products of the same name sold today.

                Were all hot dogs better? of course not. Levitt's franks, considered Montreal's finest at the time, were disgusting in 1966.

                The kosher (and kosher style) salamis of my childhood were redolent of garlic and spice, and could be dried to further intensify their flavour. While some Montreal Karnatzel retains these qualities, today's Chicago 58 salami (Toronto's best) can no longer be hung without spoiling and doesn't taste of very much.

                This applies to other foods as well: KFC chicken, McDonald's and Harvey's fries, Arby's "roast beef", Good Humor and Breyer's ice creams, Entenmann's cakes, Thomas English muffins, A & W root beer.

                But some things (e.g., the original Haagen Dazs flavours) taste much as I remember them, and I still find them good. Fox's U-Bet syrup is as bad as ever, and as indispensable as ever for making certain fountain drinks.

                Issues often arise when a local product is sold to a big corporation and rolled out nationally. Food producers try to find the formula that scores highest in their marketing research tests. They don't worry about the much smaller market that notices, and cares about, the flavour loss and diesn't mind a shorter shelf life. Eventually, those who remember simply die off.

                Many products now contain chemicals that didn't exist, or weren't used in food, when I was a kid. If you grew up eating these, they may not taste weird. To me, they do. I can't comprehend how anyone can reject the taste of real cheddar cheese as "too strong", yet enjoy the much stronger, and totally chemical, taste of nacho dip.

                The bakery dept head at my local Loblaw's thinks real whipped cream is disgusting, and I know lots of people who (before they learned about trans fat) wouldn't trade margarine for butter if butter cost half as much.

                I've posted elsewhere about trying to recreate bakery products from a place called "Ebinger's", a defunct Brooklyn chain, and especially their Blackout Cake. I have failed repeatedly.

                Rose Levy Berenbaum, a noted baking book author, made a comment similar to yours: "the cake is not impossible to recreate, but the memories may be...I have the definite feeling that, in the case of Blackout Cake, the memories are better than the cake ever was".

                I believed this myself for years before recognizing that it damn well was the cake, a very specific memory shared by, possibly, millions. Damn the nostalgia (which, of course, is real). Just find me that damn cake.

                1. re: embee

                  There is a quote out there somewhere to the effect of , nostalgia being the best from of seasoning.


                  1. re: embee

                    "The bakery dept head at my local Loblaw's thinks real whipped cream is disgusting"

                    The horror. What kind of a hiring decision was that? That is someone who shouldn't be a bakery dept. head, in my opinion, let alone a bakery employee.

                2. re: embee

                  If you're already making trips to Buffalo to buy them, why don't you get Sahlens? They're better in every way than anything else available in a grocery store.

              2. happy new year budd.

                there is a new place up here in new canaan ct called The Filling Station that will serve HDs and burgers. Do you happen to know what dogs they may be using?

                It opens in a few weeks and jfood needs to know whether he should be excited.


                1. The only kosher dog we get here in central Ohio is Hebrew National. Really miss Sinai, Oscherwitz and Best's. You mention Best's Provisions, are they the Bests of old that came from Chicago? I thought Sara Lee acquired them and shut them down in 2009.

                  Good hot dogs and deli are very rare where I live. I may have to make a tasting trip of New Jersey and New York. First, I will need to stock up on Alka Seltzer!

                  1 Reply