Hot Dogs: Not fit for consumption

When it comes summer time (and even spring) we all gravitate towards a different way of eating, especially if you live in an area where the climate changes from cold to warm. Our bodies seem to need different types of foods during the various seasons of the year. However, there are some foods associated with the good ole’ summertime you may want to stay away from despite their nostalgic ‘good ole USA’ feel.

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:

  • pork
  • beef
  • 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

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:

  1. Meat by products
  2. 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.


Josh Axe

Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!

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38 comments so far - add yours!

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for the info on how hot dogs are manufactured. It is helpful and necessary to know where food comes from in order to make wise choices. I feel that the link title ‘This Fourth of July Food is a Clear Invitation to Cancer’ is a bit over dramatized though! People don’t need a scare tactic to hear good information from a friend. Your genuine care of others shines through in your teaching, and we already want to hear what you have to say.

    • Barbara Saunders says:

      I agree with Sarah. Eating hot dogs for dinner twice is week is one thing; enjoying a “tasty treat” at the ballpark a couple of times a year and the annual Fourth of July barbecue is quite another.

      If people have been eating these since the 1860s (when fruit and other healthy foods were in shorter supply,) then rising cancer rates cannot be blamed on hot-dog eating.

    • Rebecca says:

      Actually, I think it was very appropriately titled! Parents should be informed of cancer risks associated with nitrites and nitrates…Especially parents who feed their children hotdogs daily. Thank you Dr. Axe for the information!! :)

  2. Lisa from PA says:

    We only buy nitrate free ones and/or natural ones. I check the ingredients for msg, etc. and so I think we are okay. We don’t eat them often, either. So we can still enjoy a hotdog now and then and not feel badly.

    • Rick says:

      Actually Applegate farms has hot dogs that are not only nitrate free, 100% organic beef and uncured, but they are also grass fed! This means that although they are high in fat, the fats you get from eating these hot dogs are way higher in omega 3 content. We eat those whenever we eat hot dogs and they are delicious.

      If you are going to throw some dogs on the grill this memorial day weekend pick up some of those and eat your dogs guilt free!

      • Gwen says:

        Rick, I have eaten their hot dogs and they were really good. I don’t eat hot dogs often, but like one every now and then. I also really like their turkey bacon!! So good.

  3. Julie Reynolds says:

    When I was 7 years old my school took us on a “field trip” to Rudy Farms (this was a long time ago – I’m not a spring chicken). Why, I’ll never know since it was very traumatic. We were lined up and marched down row by row watching cows be hit on the head with what looked like a giant hammer with electricity, then a grappling hook grabed them under the head and slung them down a pully system and slit their necks with a HUGE knife. At this point they were out of our sight and came back into view with their hair all burned off. Blood was all over the floor – we had to wear rubber booties. Then we saw the hot dog and bologna “vat” it was completely covered with flies. I though it was a black top at first until they flew away when the tour guide waved his arms over it. Needless to say I’ve never eaten bologna or hot dogs! Ick.

    • chelsea says:

      Are you serious?!?! That was a field trip for 7 yrs olds?!?! That’s insane! That seems like child abuse! Or the equivalent of taking a kid to an R-rated movie! Ugh, the thought just freaks me out…. Seriously, I’d have to go to a therapist after! So sorry you were exposed to that! And even more sorry that sort of thing exists….

      • susan says:

        They did say that it was a long time ago, not sure how long but it must of been quite a while ago. There would be no way this would be allowed now or in the recent years lol peta would be all over them!

    • Sarah says:

      As bad as that was for a 7 year old to see – a good thing came of it! You don’t eat bologna or hot dogs. I believe in telling kids the truth about our foods – not just sugar coating it! I know that I wouldn’t want to see that especially being a vegetarian.

  4. Brandi says:

    Also, people usually like to drink DIEt coke with hot dogs. The chemical reaction with the Sodium Nitrates & MSG combined with the Phenylalanine (in the diet coke) cause brain tumors!

  5. Lisa Bleicher says:

    Good article to educate people of what is in their food. One comment, at the end of your article I wish you would have included to urge people to seek out local, humane, organic, farms. I am blessed to have a local farm with grass fed, free range, drug free, cows, butchered humanely, made with organic spices and nitrate, nitrite free!

  6. Elodie says:

    Oscar Meyer has actually started offering all beef or all turkey dogs with no nitrates and no nitrites. I haven’t checked the pkg for MSG content, but that may be a better alternative. (?)

  7. Claudia says:

    Trader Joe’s has some affordable, excellent uncured hot dogs made of beef, turkey and chicken. They’re made with pronouncable ingredients.

    My favorite by far are Whole Foods’ buffalo hot dogs. They contain ground buffalo, honey and spices, that’s it. I think to enjoy good quality hot dogs every so often shouldn’t be such a cause for concern, fat and all.

  8. Penny says:

    Facts allow us the priviledge to make clearer decisions . Appreciate the share of wisdom. Happy, healthy 4th to you & yours..

  9. Ramy says:

    There are some of us making healthy alternatives. We have hotdogs with no nitrates or nitrites, and no MSG. They are made from our pasture raised hogs and beef.
    They are very nicely seasoned and have texture, versus the “meat paste” consistency of the typical hotdog.
    I have not eaten hotdogs for years for the reasons in this article, but I love these and so does my toddler. They are not a mainstay in our diet, but at least I don’t feel guilty giving them to her.
    Unfortunately for most, they are only available in the Dallas Fort Worth area through our Home Delivery. See Texas Daily Harvest on the web for more information.

  10. Kristina says:

    What is your thought on Applegate Farms hot dogs? Not as a staple in ones diet, but as an occasional “treat” or “splurge”?

  11. Kristina says:

    What is your thought on Applegate Farms hot dogs? Not as a staple in one’s diet, but as an occasional “treat” or “splurge”?

  12. Jose says:

    How about Hebrew National? They are “Kosher”. There is no sign of “nines” and “ates” in them.

  13. Sue says:

    Bison hotdogs are a great!

  14. Do you have any insight as to how the hot dogs from Beyond Organic are made?

    • Joy Thompson says:

      Beyond Organic does such a great job of making everything they make be as healthy as possible that I can’t imagine that they aren’t making their hotdogs the same way. However, their hotdogs taste awful. They are supposed to be reformulating the recipe soon. Maybe they already have! We can hope!

  15. Guerry says:

    Good job with how “dogs” are basically made!
    Trimmings & coloring sure DOES be unhealthy.
    Years ago, around 1980, a friend of mine
    who retired from a Company’s Meat-Packing
    plant, warned me & many others against eating
    hot dogs. He simply said, “If you saw how hot
    dogs are made, & what goes into them….you will never eat them!”

  16. Joy Thompson says:

    Thanks for a great article. I agree that they should not be consumed on a regular basis, but an occasional hotdog now and then is OK. Of course the ones without nitrates and MSG are the best, but if those aren’t available where you shop, just make sure you use a whole-grain bun, (or no bun at all), and put lots of anti-oxidant-rich condiments on it like ketchup, mustard, onions, pickles, sauerkraut, etc., and enjoy. I think the guilt we feel when eating the “not so healthy” foods is worse on our bodies than occasionally eating them.

    • Joey says:

      This is a good point on so many levels. I dont believe eating oreos, hotdogs (insert your food here) in moderation is bad. The problem in America is that 80-100% of the food that is manufactured is all crap. Eating a “Dr Axe” diet regularly, but splurging here and there are small amounts of “guilty pleasures” isn’t going to kill anyone. After we’ve been rid of all the nasty chemicals and such that is put in processed food, you may get a headache from your splurge though. Proof that its not good anyway!

      Drinking a Coke a week isn’t going to give anyone Diabetes, but drinking 3 a day will… on top of rotting your teeth and raising your blood pressure.

      • Joy Thompson says:

        “…rotting your teeth and raising your blood pressure”, and de-mineralizing your bones. Also, the fact that finally got me to quit craving Pepsi was finding out that they contract with Senomyx, a company that uses human embryonic kidney cells (from aborted babies) to produce flavor enhancers for the food/beverage industry. It really ultimately all comes down to choices…we have so many choices, don’t we?

      • Joy Thompson says:

        I should have also said that Senomyx has recently agreed to stop using the above-mentioned kidney cells in it’s work with Pepsi. In the meantime, I’m Free-At-Last…Free-At-Last…Thank God-Almighty, I’m Free-At-Last!

  17. Melissa says:

    Dr. Axe, you say: “Remember that even these hot dogs are high in fat and still may contain some very unhealthy ingredients.”

    Do you consider fat from healthy meat sources to be unhealthy? Please tell me you are not in the boat that proposes healthy saturated fat (like grassfed butter, milk, cheese, pastured meats) is evil. Oh man… I really started to love your website. Say it’s not so! :)

    • Sarah says:

      Yes they are better options but even if it’s organic & grass fed it is still an animal protein which are very bad for our bodies. Less than 20% of your diet should consist of them. You can actually reverse heart diesease by adopting a vegetarian life style. Cancer, Aids, and almost any degenerative disease and disorder can be cured by organic juicing and detoxifying your body along with the juicing!

  18. MARILYN says:



  19. Ron says:

    I do not remember the last hot dog I ate. My father-in-law worked in a meat packing plant and told me how hot dogs were made. That was enough for me!

  20. Evelyn Lois Hunter says:

    Since 2001 I have been a vegetarian. Tonight for supper I had a Yves vegetarian hot dog which is much, much healthier than regular hot dogs.

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