Best of the wurst

Our guide to the relative health qualities of hot dogs

By Sophie Wilkins and Andy Tullis


Published Aug 11, 2014 at 12:10AM / Updated Aug 14, 2014 at 11:29AM

When it comes to hot dogs, there are a couple ways to go. You have your mustard-only purists, who believe ketchup never belongs anywhere near a hot dog. You have your ketchup fanatics, who think a hot dog should be saturated with the stuff. And then you have the rest of us, who will put almost anything on a hot dog and call it good.

But what kind of hot dog? That’s a tougher question, especially if you’re looking for more healthy choices.

A hot dog is basically a frankfurter, a smoked, seasoned and precooked sausage made of beef, pork, veal, chicken or turkey. The name frankfurter comes from Frankfurt, Germany, where similar pork sausages were created. Other names for hot dogs include wieners, associated with hot dogs that contain pork, and franks, associated with all-beef dogs.

There are also hot dogs made of veggies, tofu, chicken, turkey and more. If you’re vegan, vegetarian, kosher or simply preservative-free, there are plenty of options in your grocery aisle. With so many choices, it can be hard to decide which is best for you.

Most beef hot dogs contain sodium nitrite or nitrate, a chemical salt used to cure meat, that is reported to be harmful in high amounts. If it’s nitrites you’d like to stay away from, a beef-free option will be your best bet. All-beef hot dogs also tend to contain more fat.

Options with less fat and salt include vegetarian substitutes, like veggie or tofu dogs, as well as turkey dogs. Tofu dogs may actually be your best bet as far as protein is concerned, containing a full 3 grams more than other varieties we examined. Two kinds of the hot dogs we surveyed from a local grocery store contain little to no sugar — the kosher, 100 percent beef dog and the turkey dog — while chicken franks and tofu and veggie dogs contained cane sugar or syrup to add flavor. Some beef dogs will also have sugar added.

Most hot dogs have natural casing or casing made from sheep intestine that gives them that delicious satisfying snap when you bite into them. Kosher casing can be so expensive for commercial purposes that most kosher dogs are skinless.

Bottom line: Classic beef dogs are going to have higher fat and sodium content and contain nitrites. Vegetarian alternatives will have lower sodium and fat levels and may have more protein but also added sugar. Lower-fat options like turkey and chicken dogs will probably need a little assistance from sodium and sugar in the flavor department. •

Ball Park Beef Franks

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin

Ball Park Beef Franks

Nutrition per 57g serving: 190 calories, 16g fat, 7g saturated fat, 550mg sodium, 7g protein, 2g sugar

Contains corn syrup and sodium nitrite.

Oscar Meyer Classic Beef Franks

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin

Oscar Meyer Classic Beef Franks

Nutrition per 45g serving: 140 calories, 12g fat, 5g saturated fat, 360mg sodium, 5g protein, 1g sugar

Contains corn syrup and sodium nitrite.

Hebrew National 100% Beef Franks

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Hebrew National 100% Beef Franks

Nutrition per 49g serving: 150 calories, 14g fat, 6g saturated fat, 460mg sodium, 6g protein, 0g sugar

Contains sodium nitrite.

LightLife Smart Dogs

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin

LightLife Smart Dogs Veggie Protein Links

Nutrition per 42g serving: 50 calories, 2g fat, 0g saturated fat, 330mg sodium, 7g protein, 0g sugar

Contains cane syrup.

Tofurky Hot Dogs

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Tofurky Hot Dogs

Nutrition per 43g serving: 100 calories, 4.5g fat, 0g saturated fat, 330mg sodium, 10g protein, 2g sugar

Contains organic cane sugar.

Applegate Organic Uncured Turkey Hot Dog

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Applegate Organic Uncured Turkey Hot Dog

Nutrition per 48g serving: 60 calories, 3.5g fat, 1g saturated fat, 370mg sodium, 7g protein, 0g sugar

No sodium nitrites, corn syrup or cane syrup.

Oscar Meyer Cheese Hot Dogs

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin

Oscar Meyer Cheese Hot Dogs

Nutrition per 45g serving: 140 calories, 13g fat, 4g saturated fat, 540mg sodium, 5g protein, no sugar listed

Contains corn syrup and sodium nitrite.

Harvestland Uncured Chicken Franks

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin

Harvestland Uncured Chicken Franks

Nutrition per 42g serving: 90 calories, 6g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 400mg sodium, 6g protein, 1g sugar

Contains evaporated cane syrup.