The Great Hot Dog Experiment


Post by community member:

My husband adores hot dogs. A-D-O-R-E-S. He is meticulous in how he prepares them, too. He’s not one for a soft hot dog bun, as I am. He lays a piece of bread on a plate, slices a couple of grilled hot dogs in half and lays them on the bread, then slathers it with chili, onions, sweet relish, mustard, and whatever else he deems essential for a trip to hot dog Mecca.

Unfortunately, his doctor told him that due to his health, he should avoid things with preservatives in it, and should no longer eat any processed meats. This includes all lunchmeats, sausages, and…his beloved hot dogs and hot links.


Oh man…talk about a sad Tow Man. I’ve seen him gazing longingly at the hot dog/sausage area in the grocery store, and I’ve seen the sadness on his face as he watches people carry their hot dogs away from the high school football concession stand.

It’s enough to make a grown woman cry.

After doing a little research, I decided that there was no reason why I couldn’t just make my own hot dogs. After all, people make sausages, so what would be the big deal about making a hot dog? I think I must have looked at every recipe for hot dogs that is known to man and is circulating on the internet. I read books, talked to a couple of butchers, and generally did a lot of legwork.

The big debate I ran into was whether or not to use the pink curing salt in the hot dogs. There is a study out that has linked the sodium nitrate in the pink curing salt with certain cancers. The University of Hawaii showed results that say if you eat foods that are processed with curing salts you are 67% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Food companies and purists say that there are not enough nitrates in the salt to hurt you, but I decided to err on the side of caution and not use the pink curing salt. This just means that the wieners will only last a few days in the fridge, or will need to be frozen to stay fresh. That’s fine by me. They also won’t have that pink color that the ones in the grocery store do, but again, I’m fine with that. I’d rather keep my family healthy than serve aesthetically pleasing pink hot dogs.

Since all great experiments need to be documented, I asked my oldest daughter, Kerrie, to come over and be the photographer. She was pretty skeptical about whether these hot dogs would taste good, but she agreed anyway. She’s a sucker for guilt and let me tell you, I laid it on thick.

When I went to buy the casings at our local Farm/Ranch store, I bought the package that had the most for the least amount of money. I paid $12.49 for enough casings to do 20 pounds of meat. I figured that if I really liked this, it would be good to have the extra.

I got the fake casings instead of the natural, and there turned out to be no instructions on the package, so I had to use my old friend, Google, to find out what to do with them. Google found the manufacturer’s site, which said to place a section in warm water for at least an hour before you’re ready to start.

While the casings were soaking, I mixed all my spices, egg whites, and milk with the minced garlic and onion in my small food processor. My three youngest kids (23, 19, and 17) were all in the kitchen by now and pretty equally fascinated and grossed out by what they were seeing.

I ground the meat and fat as per the instructions on the recipe (thoroughly splattering my white shirt in the process),

then poured the spice/garlic/onion mixture on top and began mixing it with my hands.

As the smell began wafting up, Kerrie and I both looked at each other in amazement, because it smelled just like a hot dog. We instantly began the high fives and happy dance, because we knew we were good! Success was smelling pretty doggone sweet.

After it chilled for 30 minutes, we began putting it through the sausage attachment of my KA. Getting the casings on was a chore, as this was my first time. As the sausage began forming we realized that we were a in a little (biggest understatement of the year) bit over our heads with this operation. It took 3 of us to corral the sausage and twist it into links, laughing hysterically the entire time.

The casings I bought were junk. They failed in every way possible. I ended up making wieners with half the meat mixture, then put the rest in the freezer to save for another day when I can go back and get some hog or sheep casings.

It took us over an hour to successfully make one hot dog. Kerrie proudly put it in to parboil by itself.

We did eventually get a few links made.

Parboiling them was another issue altogether, though. Evidently I am not capable of twisting the links so that they will stay in link fashion. Immediately after placing them in the water they began to untwist and made one long weird looking, um…thing, for lack of a better word. At this point in time our confidence totally deflated. We were ready to chalk the whole thing up as a failure.

After parboiling them, we decided to try one. They definitely were not very pretty.

The flavor was great, although it tasted more like a breakfast sausage than a hot dog. The texture reminded me of meat loaf, also, which I’m not sure would be that great on a bun. If I ever get the nerve up to do this again, I will definitely use both beef and pork. I think it would really help the texture issue. Eric, who is one of our drivers, pulled up to the house about the time we were finishing up, so we made him our guinea pig and forced some down his throat. His consensus was that with a little bit of ketchup they’d be pretty awesome. Our bruised egos inflated back up a little.

All in all I’d say it was a pretty interesting, albeit extremely messy experiment. We worked on them for three hours, and it cost me about $35 for the batch, along with the catastrophic damage done to my clean kitchen. Would I do it again? Probably not. Once is enough for this chick. I think that from now on I’ll buy my preservative-free hot dogs at the health food store. It might have been just a wee bit too much of an adventure for me, although, the fun we had together as a family sure does count for a lot.

If you’re up for a good adventure, try the recipe I’ve submitted. I can guarantee it will be an experience you will never forget! Get the handy print page and save this to your recipe box here:
Homemade Hot Dogs.

Tow Lady blogs at The Tow Lady.

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Editor’s Note: As well as today being Tow Lady’s first contribution to Farm Bell Recipes, it’s her birthday! Happy Birthday, Tow Lady!


  1. jan~n~tn says:

    WOW! This story has it all. Sadness=no more hotdogs. Informative=legwork. Thrifty=to begin with anyway. Family involvement=always a good thing (you can claim that someone else did it). Optimism=it smells good. Hysterical=I’m still laughing at the mental pictures of ya’ll trying to get the sausage monster under control. Success/Failure/Success. Oh and Eric, a true diplomat (with a little bit of ketchup…) the man is standing in a kitchen with women who know where all the sharp or heavy items are located. Please don’t get me wrong..yours is a funny / tragic story. But I thought this stuff only happened to me. And there is no way that I could have put it into words. You did an excellent job. Thank you for the ROTF LMAO.

  2. Patrice says:

    This was really interesting to me! Hubby and I raise grass-fed beef cattle. We also do pork and chicken, veggies etc,etc- We asked our butcher if he could do hot dogs. He said there was no way. They were a pain in the “you know what” to do. We dropped the topic, because we could never try it ourselves. The health department is ferocious here! Still, I wanted to do them for our family. I was told to puree the meat and use a binder such as xanthan gum, guar gum, or cornstarch to give them some body in the casings. I love the idea of using our own meat. We have been buying Applegate Farms Organic/uncured. They’re good. I may have to try this. Three bushels of apples and pears in my kitchen mean that I won’t be trying it for a while though! Thanks for the information.
    Happy Birthday!

  3. CindyP says:

    OMGosh, Tow Lady, hilarious!!! I’m so glad you tried this though! But I’m sure practice will make perfect….and maybe Tow Man will do the cleaning up if only he could have some hotdogs 😉 I will be trying it.

    Love your site…left me ROFL!

    Happy Happy Birthday! Hope the family remembers how to spoil momma!

  4. Suzanne McMinn says:

    I loved reading that! That was wonderful. Thank you, Tow Lady! And happy birthday!

  5. Vicki in So. CA says:

    What a fun adventure! Your family will remember, and laugh about that for years to come, I’m sure. And it made an interesting and VERY funny read. Happy Birthday, Tow Lady!

  6. judydee says:

    Really enjoyed this post. Reminded me of the ONE time my brother, SIL, and I butchered and froze venison. I well remember the splatters from grinding! There may still be some in my mother’s kitchen (and it’s been at least 25 years). Now the Quick Freeze plant does it. But don’t give up, practise makes perfect. Perhaps in the dead of winter this year (will it ever get here??) we may give this a try at our house, don’t think my mother will let us try it at hers!

  7. Miss Judy says:

    Tow Lady, I can hear your kids 25 years from now …”remember that time mom got that wild idea to make her own hotdogs…it looked like a Lucy and Ethel episode!”
    Would it have been better if you had steamed the hotdogs? I guess we will never know. lol

  8. drucillajoy says:

    I might do this, it sounds simple…messy, but simple. I guess I always thought hot-dogs were more ‘mysterious’ than that. I won’t eat anything as processed as a hot-dog or sausage anymore & very little hamburg either. I saved a sausage recipe from the paper last winter & wanted to try that…now I know I need to find a sausage stuffer…ebay, here I come!
    Happy Birthday to you…enjoy your day!

  9. NorthCountryGirl says:

    Tow Lady, you are too cool! That sounds like something that would happen to me! I laughed myself to tears. I’m sure you will appreciate every hotdog you eat from this point on. Who knew what was involved in making the lowly hot dog! Hey, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! Lots of cake, ice cream, and (dare I say it?) hot dogs!!!! LOL Have a great day!!!

  10. Sheryl - Runningtrails says:

    What a great idea! You could put anything in those. I have wanted to try that for a long time. YOu could make breakfast ones with scrambled egg or fill them with a creamy chicken and mushroom mix or veggies or anything at all.

    Your homemade hotdogs look good!

  11. Toto's Mom says:

    Looks like you found a good solution to your problem. Hormel now has NATURALS lunchmeat & bacon without all the preservatives. They’re delicious.

  12. Pete says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! We all learn so much, even from our mistakes. Good to know that this is not one I will need to make myself!!

    Hope your birthday was just glorious. We had a very nice day here, so hope yours was just as good.

  13. LK says:

    I posted two other recipes that someone might want to try. If you search hot dogs or frankfurters on Farm Bell Recipes, you should find them.
    We will be making them this year. Our favorite is the frankfurter recipe.

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