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The Secret Life Of Hot Dogs


When I was growing up my parents made a deal: my mom prepared meals on weeknights and my dad was in charge of weekend dinners. Of course, this meant ordering take-out or going out to eat on Saturday nights, and grilling up hamburgers or hot dogs on Sunday nights. It was a routine my father could handle and every Sunday at around 5 pm or so, he would come find me and ask me if I wanted a “hut dog” or a hamburger. Yeah, that’s not a typo. For whatever reason he called them hut dogs and still does.

Have you ever thought about what a hot dog actually is? We know a hamburger is ground meat shaped into a patty, but what exactly is the strange tubular mystery we know as the hot dog? I remember hearing horror stories of them being smooshed up beaver tails, pig feet, and cow bums but I think (and hope!) that was just an urban legend.

Let’s have a closer look at what these dogs really are made of. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, hot dogs are made up of pork, beef, chicken, turkey, or a combination of meat and poultry. Muscle meat is what is used in hot dogs along with other ingredients such as water, curing agents, and spcies.

Seems pretty normal right? Well, not exactly. The following is the list of ingredients from a package of commercially popular hot dogs which claim to have an “authentic ball-park taste”:

mechanically separated chicken, pork and/or beef, water, potato starch, salt, wheat flour, wheat gluten, modified milk ingredients, modified wheat flour, dextrose, sodium erythorbate, hydrolyzed soy protein, onion powder, smoke flavour, sodium nitrite, yeast extract, spice, garlic powder, smoke. Gluten, wheat, milk, corn, soy and MSG.

Where to even begin with these? We know what things like potato starch and wheat flour are. We also have some idea what modified milk ingredients are referring to, so let’s focus on the stuff that are total head-scratchers.

Hot Dogs Decoded:

  •  Mechanically Separated Chicken, Pork, and/or Beef: Certain brands of hot dogs may state “made with mechanically separated meats (MSM)”. What this MSM meat is, is a slurry of a meat product created by forcing bones with meat attached under high pressure in order to separate the bone from the meat tissue. In 2004, MSM beef was no longer permitted in processed meats due to concerns over relations to mad cow disease. However, today, hot dogs still may contain up to 20% MSM pork, as well as any amount of MSM chicken or turkey. The U.S. Food and Safety Insepction Service maintains that these meats are safe to eat.
  • Sodium Nitrite:  A preservative used in meats and fish. It is used to preserve a certain colour and prevent the growth of the bacterium which causes botulism. Sodium nitrite reacts with stomach acid and other chemicals in the stomach to produce nitrosamines. These have been shown to cause cancer in aminals.
  • Sodium Erythorbate: This is a food additive used mainly in meats, poultry, and soft drinks. It is often used in hot dogs to facilitate curing and helps to retain that pink colour. It also helps to improve flavour stability and prevents the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.
  • Yeast Extract: A taste enhancer that actually contains MSG (monosodium glutamate). This neurotoxic chemical has been associated with various health concerns such as reproductive disorders, migraine headaches, endocrine imbalances, and obesity, as well as many others.

Whatever they’re made of, people really do love them since it’s been said that the U.S. population consumes 20 billion hot dogs per year. That amounts to 70 hot dogs per person per year. Judging from the above ingredients, that spells trouble with a capital T in terms of healthy eating. There is a solution though – eating whole foods! Check back here next week for a super awesometown recipe that puts these dogs to shame.

Question Of The Day: What “mysterious” food are you curious about?

15 responses to “The Secret Life Of Hot Dogs”

  1. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday says:

    And speaking of weird processed meats,this Mother Jones article about Spam processing plants and autoimmune disease in their workers is really interesting:

  2. Josh says:

    This should be science fiction, but unfortunately it’s science fact.

    And, the words “street” and “meat” should never appear beside each other. I had trouble even including them in the same sentence.

  3. Hannah says:

    Oy, hot dogs do scare me quite a bit… And what scares me more is how much my dad loves them. Swear to god, he got so excited about the hot dog sale going on this week at the local grocery store, he bough 6 packs. Yes, 6 packs of 8 each. Ugh…

  4. Kate says:

    I can’t believe we regularly feed these to our kids (as a culture, not me personally…I will be avoiding serving these to my kids as much as I possibly can be, at my house or elsewhere!!). I’m sick to my stomach thinking about hot dogs, and not just because I’m not a fan, but because I knew these things before.
    At a family gathering yesterday, chicken was cooked on the grill, but my girls’ cousin was having a hot dog instead, and they offered hot dogs to the girls’ as well. Even though I know the chicken was pumped full of chemicals and definitely not farm raised, it was at least a better alternative to the hot dogs. I hope, anyway.

  5. Sondi says:

    I find the vegetarian ‘fake meats’ kind of mysterious. They seem to have an awful lot of ingredients and preservatives, too.

  6. Erica says:

    Oh boy, scary stuff. I worked in a deli and pretty much everything contained MSM. It’s disgusting, they melt the meat down and pour it into the shapes that then become slice-able coldcuts. We also sold all our pig fat to be made into soap, how wonderful! All this to-go food is really scary once we look into it.

  7. Shannon says:

    A question though… I don’t eat hot dogs, haven’t for years and years… wouldn’t touch them. However, what is it with the smell of ‘street meat’ and why does it make me want one every time I smell them cooking?!? Nostalgic memories of fun nights, eating a hot dog on the side walk at 4 in the morning. It can’t be that…

  8. Kristin (Cook, Bake, Nibble) says:

    Ew. never been a hot dog eater. I did love a good sausage… now the idea makes me queasy. And no, that was not an innuendo ;) I much prefer home made veggie bugers :)


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