Hot dogs, hamburgers, and firing up the grill go hand in hand with warm weather, baseball season, summertime, and of course the Fourth of July. I’d like to talk to you now about one of these that our children, in particular, stuff down their throats in droves during the summer months. Hot dogs. In fact, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans consume a whopping 20 billion hot dogs in just one year. It’s also estimated by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council that a surprising ninety-five percent of American households serve hot dogs for a meal.
Let’s learn a little more about these dogs for which Americans truly have an affection spending a startling $1.6 billion dollars on in supermarkets in 2010 alone.
How Hot Dogs Are Made
There are a few basic steps to making hot dogs, although some of the spices vary and order of steps varies according to where the dogs will be sold. That’s right, according to the people at hot dog manufacturing facilities, where the dogs are sold dictates how they taste as people in different regions have different preferences when it comes to their hot dogs.
10 Steps to Making a Hot Dog
Step 1: Trimmings are raked into stainless steel cases. (Trimmings are what’s left over after cutting up steaks and pork chops.)
Step 2: The trimmings are next dumped into a chopper where they are what else but chopped.
Step 3: Water, salt, corn syrup or sorbitol, food starch and liquid smoke are added.
Step 4: All ingredients are blended in a large vat.
Step 5: Secret spices are now added. These vary based on where the hot dogs will be sold.
Step 6: Sodium nitrate is added for extending shelf life and color enhancement.
Step 7: The meat mixture is put through a funnel and comes out the other end looking a lot like what a meat smoothie would resemble.
Step 8: The dogs are stuffed into cellulose tubing and cut every 5 ¼ inches.
Step 9: The now close to hot dogs are baked.
Step 10: The cooked hot dogs are doused in cold, salty water and packaged.
These are the ten steps to making a hot dog according to the Science Channels television show, “How It’s Made.” And it seems that the German immigrants were on to this way back when. It’s been reported that in the 1860’s on the streets of New York City these now infamous and much desired dogs were being consumed.
What’s in A Hot Dog?
The burning question everyone wants to know is what exactly is in these things we call hot dogs. The subject of many playground jokes is what comes in our hot dogs.
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, hot dogs are made of the following:
“All hot dogs are cured and cooked sausages that consist of mainly:
- chicken and turkey
- a combination of meat and poultry.
Meats used in hot dogs come from the muscle of the animal and looks much like what you buy in the grocer’s case. Other ingredients include water, curing agents and spices, such as garlic, salt, sugar, ground mustard, nutmeg, coriander and white pepper.”
Now that’s not so bad at first glance. But let me remind you of two important and unhealthy ingredients found in hot dogs:
Sodium nitrate is a preservative that adds color to the dog turning it from a grayish color to a pinkish as well as extending shelf life. Sodium nitrate has been linked to cancer if it’s consumed heavily in the diet through ingesting certain processed meats including hot dogs.
You probably know of the potential health dangers associated with MSG. MSG is used in hot dogs as a flavoring and is labeled as an excitotoxin meaning that it stimulates the sensitive neurons to the point where they die.
But that’s not all that’s in hot dogs. If you’re shopping the hot dog case you may notice a few packages that say, ‘variety meats.’ These are the extras you may find in your hot dogs such as liver, heart, and kidneys. The United States Department of Agriculture does require the manufacturers to disclose this information and you’ll find it labeled in one of the following two ways:
- Meat by products
- Variety meats
Unless for some reason you want to consume this in your hot dog simply look for ‘all meat’ hot dogs. Hot dogs with labels such as ‘all beef’ or ‘all turkey’ will not include any of these unsavory meat by products.
Hearts, Livers, and What?
And if you thought you couldn’t be any more dissuaded from eating hot dogs there’s one more vital point you should know about what’s in your coveted dog. Although since 2004 this process has been made illegal in the United States it’s important to avoid mechanically separated meats that used to be included in hot dogs.
In fact, as say the regulations by the United States Food and Safety Inspection Services, hot dogs can contain no more than twenty percent mechanically separated meat, but really you don’t even want this.
Mechanically separated meats or MSM are linked to mad cow disease and this is why they are now being closely regulated. What happens with MSM is that they are pushed through a sort of sieve with bone and meat attached. The force separates the edible meat from the bone and creates a paste like substance. This is just one more reason to think twice before popping those dogs on the grill this summer.
Healthy Alternatives to Hot Dogs
I know for some of you this is bad news. You (and probably your kids) love hot dogs. You love to hit the ball park and eat up these tasty treats. This year consider buying hot dogs that may be a little healthier – or should I say a little bit less unhealthy – for your family.
Check out the organic section of your grocery store or hit the local health food store. Look for nitrate free hot dogs and ones that labeled ‘all beef,’ ‘all turkey,’ or all a specific kind of meat. Remember that even these hot dogs are high in fat and still may contain some very unhealthy ingredients. The best bet is to find a healthier dog and consume them on only very rare occasions.