Hot dogs are one of those quintessentially American foods, one without which no summer cookout is complete. But when it comes time to actually choose the perfect pack of hot dogs, it can sometimes be daunting to find the right one — especially if you’re looking for healthier options. We’ve done the work for you and tracked down the healthiest and unhealthiest hot dogs at the supermarket.
Hot dogs are a grilling mainstay, and when compared with a cheese-covered burger or a juicy bratwurst, a standard-sized hot dog can actually contain fewer calories than anything else on the grill. But not all hot dogs are created equal, and some pack far more fat, calories, sodium, and questionable ingredients into the casing than others.
If you’re looking for a healthy (or, let’s face it, less unhealthy) hot dog, there are a few things to keep in mind. One, use your eyes: The bigger a hot dog is, the unhealthier it will be. The words jumbo, stadium, and bun-length connote a larger-than-normal dog, and sometimes these can be nearly double the size of a standard dog. Also look out for sodium content; sometimes the lower-calorie turkey and chicken dogs are pumped full of extra salt in order to make them taste better, neutralizing any nutritional advantage.
So what to look for? Brands like Applegate Farms sell uncured hot dogs (also sometimes with “no added nitrates”), which are healthier than nitrate-filled dogs, which some experts have linked to an increased risk of cancer. Also be on the lookout for hot dogs that contain more than around 400 milligrams of sodium, which is more than enough, and opt for organic hot dogs (which are made from organic meat, don’t contain antibiotics or hormones, and are nitrate-free) if you can, but keep in mind that these are usually more expensive.
Click here to learn what the healthiest and unhealthiest standard-size hot dog options at the supermarket are, categorized by composition into all-beef, turkey, low-fat, and mixed meat varieties. And if you're wondering what all these ingredients are, we suggest you check out this handy guide from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, which breaks them all down one by one, and is even searchable.