What Brand Is Behind Costco's Kirkland Hot Dogs?

Have you ever really, truly had the full, be-all-end-all Costco experience if you've never ordered one of the chain's iconic food court hot dogs? The warehouse retailer built its cult-like following by selling high-quality products at low prices, and perhaps the most quintessential example of that business model is Costco's Kirkland Signature Hot Dogs. You can buy the famous franks in huge packs in the meat section, or, as mentioned above, famously grab one with a steamed bun and a soda at the food court for $1.50. It's a price that's set in stone thanks to founder Jim Sinegal, who once famously said the following to CEO Craig Jelinek: "If you raise the [price of the] effing hot dog, I will kill you. Figure it out."  

So what's the secret to the taste and price of the famous Costco hotdogs? Well, Costco makes the dogs themselves at their own Kirkland meat processing factories, which keeps costs down and allows them to maintain taste and quality year after year. While a lot of Costco's private-label products, like its ice cream, are made by other brands and packaged with in-house labeling, Costco also maintains its own food manufacturing supply chain for products that are bestsellers. Even though it's a fun game for shoppers to guess which big company makes a certain product, when it comes to the signature hot dog, it's a total in-house operation.

What makes Costco's hot dogs so good?

It's understandable that if you've never had a hot dog at Costco, you might not get what all the hype is about. But as any frank-lover knows, not all dogs are created equal. The Kirkland dogs are made with 100% USDA-inspected beef and contain no fillers, byproducts, or corn syrup. The hot dogs in question are also comparatively huge, clocking in at almost four ounces each (at least the food court version) — plus, the hot dogs are bun-length, so you'll get a bite of meat with every bite of bread.

Indeed, Costco's hot dogs are so popular that the company sold 151 million of them in 2019 alone, per Business Insider  – and that number only counts the hot dogs sold in Costco food courts, not in retail packages at Costco warehouses. That's $226.5 million in revenue just in hot dogs for a single year. One Reddit user described fans' sentiments by saying that "the Costco hotdog is the most delicious and well-priced thing on Earth," adding that "humanity peaked when it was released to the public and nothing will ever top it."

As previously mentioned, a lot of Costco's Kirkland products are made by other larger companies, including diapers (made by Huggies), batteries (made by Duracell), and coffee (made by Starbucks), and for a long time, the company's hot dogs were made by Hebrew National, although they were sold under their brand name. As you, dear reader, have already most likely guessed, that's not the case anymore. So what exactly changed, and how, and why?

How hot dogs became an in-house product

According to Costco Connection, the company's in-house magazine, Hebrew National (along with another kosher hot dog brand) was the go-to choice for Costco's food court hot dogs from the time the company opened in 1984 until 2008. However, as Costco grew, kosher meat suppliers decreased in number, and the price of Hebrew National's products went up accordingly. As a solution, the company then made the executive decision to make its own dogs in order to keep costs down. In order to do this in a cost-effective manner, Costco bought a meat processing factory in California — and the rest, as they say, is history. 

In short, the gamble paid off.  Costco now operates multiple meat processing facilities in the U.S., where in addition to hot dogs they make a number of other products, including raw and cooked hamburger patties, meatballs, and other meat department favorites. As this meat-related production and expansion would suggest, Costco's hot dogs have only grown in popularity since the switch, along with a cadre of loyal diehard fans. As one fan on Reddit claimed, "I'm now a hot dog snob because of them. No Ball Park or Oscar Myer for me. I want those Kirkland hot dogs."

Now that you know all about what goes into the famous franks, grab a jumbo pack for your next backyard party and be a BBQ hero, or stop by the food court on your next trip to the warehouse retailer for a taste — after all, they'll always be $1.50.