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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

The incredible, edible hot dog

STILLWATER, Okla. – No respectable Fourth of July celebration is complete without hot dogs. You can have burgers and beer and chips and dip, watermelon, pop, vegetables trays and rice crispy treats. But without hot dogs, you’re simply not doing it right.

While there are estimates that around 150 million of the tubed meats will be consumed over the holiday weekend, the hot dog is still a bit of a mystery.

Does anyone know what actually goes into a hot dog? Are they good for you; at least in moderation? What happens if you eat 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes? Well, maybe that last question is geared more toward Matt “Megatoad” Stonie, who did just that to win the 2015 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island.

The answer to the first question about what is actually in a hot dog is fairly simple to find out, according to Jacob Nelson, meat processing specialist at Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center. Just look at the package.

“The USDA and the FDA have laws established that ingredients must be stated on a label,” Nelson said, in a SUNUP video. “So if you are curious about what’s in a hot dog, or even a sandwich deli meat like bologna, the first step is to look at the ingredients statement.”

There are plenty of horror stories and misconceptions that people have about the contents of a hot dog. It is actually pretty simple, really. There is going to be meat trimmings from beef, pork or poultry, chicken and turkey, and then a host of nonmeat ingredients for adding flavor, texture, juiciness and color.

Many of these nonmeat ingredients are common to what’s in your everyday kitchen like salt, spices, corn syrup and sodium lactate or potassium lactate, which serves as an antimicrobial agent.

“The most unknown and most questioned ingredient would be sodium nitrate and sodium erythorbate. These are curing ingredients,” Nelson said. “These give hot dogs and bologna and other cured meats their distinctive pink color. They contribute to food safety in the control botulism.”

It’s common in today’s commercial manufacturing to combine there ingredients all the way down to a consistency similar to that of pancake batter and then stuffed into a casing. The casing is stuffed and twisted and stuffed and twisted to make links. Then, they’re cooked, packaged and delivered to the local retail shop and end up on your grill.

Hot dogs are considered "ready-to-eat" foods but because of food safety concerns, especially for people at high risk, they should be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F or until steaming hot.

“Reaching that temperature does not eliminate the need for or decrease the importance of proper food handling,” said Barbara Brown, OSU Cooperative Extension food specialist. “This includes keeping food clean, keeping it cool, separating ready-to-eat foods from those that need further cooking and cooking to needed endpoint temperatures.”

Because of the high incidence of Listeria monocytogenes associated with RTE meats, especially hotdogs, manufacturers (of most brands) have put on the label that people should cook hotdogs before heating.

“Listeria monocytogenes is associated with raw meats (or raw food ingredients) and can get into processing plants that manufacture RTE foods and find their way to the finished product, and RTE foods do not require cooking before consumption so people may be consuming Listeria if the RTE food is contaminated,” said Peter Muriana, professor and food microbiologist in FAPC and OSU’s Department of Animal Science. “I always have eaten hot dogs by cooking them.”

It’s tough to beat a hot dog fresh off the grill. The markings left from the grates are a true sign of summer. However, keeping your poolside beach body can be a bit of a challenge if too many dogs are devoured.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a cooked hot dog contains 155 calories and just over 14 grams of fat. Also, there are 409 milligrams of sodium per wiener.

“The Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, seeds and soy,” said Janice Hermann, OSU Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist. “They also indicate a healthy eating pattern limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars and sodium. Americans should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats and less than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium.”

The USDA-provided numbers are significantly different from that of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. A standard Nathan’s hot dog has 280 calories and 18 grams of fat. A quick math calculation reveals the 2015 champion, Stonie, took in a total of 17,360 calories and 1,116 grams of fat.

All of that doesn’t even take into account the buns.

“Consumers must make a choice for themselves as to whether or not hot dogs will be on their plate,” Brown said. “For me, they are part of a varied diet. There are lots of protein choices out there that can be mixed and matched to make a healthy diet and once in a while the hot dog will make an appearance on the menu.”

It is a safe bet that many hot dogs will make a menu appearance for the Fourth of July. They are not as mysterious as many have lead on, so feel free to eat one or two, but maybe limit yourself to less than 62.



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Sean Hubbard
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
157 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4490
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078