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Hot (Diggity) Dog

The hot dog is one of America’s most popular foods. Hot dogs are everywhere – in food establishments and at picnics and in ballparks, and backyard barbeques!

Choosing Your Dogs

Who makes the very best hot dog that you can buy in any supermarket? With lots of hot dogs out there, it should be easy to choose a relatively healthy one, right? Not necessarily. It comes down to the quality of the meat, the processing, and the other added ingredients.

If you’re buying classic hot dogs, the primary ingredient is likely going to be chicken or turkey However, if the hot dog package says “beef hot dogs” or “pork hot dogs” it is required by law to contain only meat from that single species of animal.


Standard hot dogs are in fact made of trimmings – leftover poultry and meat parts after the rest of it has been turned into more premium cuts. People’s main complaint with hot dogs is which parts of an animal or poultry are being used? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), hot dogs can be made of beef, chicken, pork, turkey or a combo thereof, all of which must be explicitly listed on the label. Only mechanically separated chicken, turkey, or pork (meaning meat extracted from the bone by a machine) are permitted; the FDA no longer allows mechanically separated beef. Additionally, any byproducts like heart, kidney, or liver must be named, along with the animals they came from, in the ingredients.


If the idea of a chicken/turkey/pork/beef combo is troubling you, kosher hot dogs are made with 100 percent beef. Kosher means that a food has been sourced and prepared according to Jewish religious traditions. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, kosher dogs differ from traditional ones only in that they never contain pork and the beef or poultry they’re made from came from animals that were slaughtered according to Jewish law. There are also various organic options that use only specific parts of an animal, and even vegetarian ones if you want to avoid the meat issue altogether.


While all dogs are cooked in casings, many are actually de-cased before packaging. But for those that are eaten with casings, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  requires that the label note the species of animal the casing comes from if different than that of the meat in the actual dog.

Nutrition Facts

Not all hot dogs are made equal! A standard beef hot dog has 150 calories, while a chicken or turkey hot dog each contain 100 calories, and a pork one has 204 calories. A beef hot dog contains 5 g of protein, a chicken or turkey hot dog has 5.5 g of protein, and a pork hot dog has 9 g of protein. The beef hot dog contains 13 g of fat, while the pork hot dog has 18 g of fat, and the chicken or turkey hot dog has 7 g of fat.

Some dogs are slightly healthier than others. Look for healthier hot dogs based on these nutrition parameters: 150 calories or less, 3 grams of saturated fat or less, and 370 mg or less of sodium.

If you like the idea of a low-calorie, low-fat hot dog with ample protein, chicken dogs can be a great choice. Reduced-fat hot dogs are not always the best idea if unusual ingredients are being added to make up for it; after all, fat provides a lot of the flavor and texture. Ingredients that might be upped are sodium, chemical flavorings that give the mouth the feel of fat, and other bulking ingredients like modified food starch or cornstarch.


Also know that “unsalted” or “no salt added” does not mean a food is sodium free. However, hot dogs labeled “sodium free” or “salt free” can have no more than 5 mg of sodium per serving and “low sodium” ones can have 140 mg or less.

Nitrates and Other Additives

Most hot dogs contain nitrates or nitrites, along with other chemical additives. Nitrates are chemical compounds used to preserve flavor and prevent spoilage, commonly found in processed meat like hot dogs (plus lunch meats, bacon, pepperoni, jerky, smoked fish, etc.). There are hot dog options on the shelves labeled as “nitrate free” or “uncured” however, these products do contain preservatives, so read the ingredient list. Nitrates are also found naturally in vegetables like celery, causing some companies to include celery juice or celery powder in their recipes as a natural preservative.

Food Safety

After purchasing hot dogs, head straight home and refrigerate or freeze them immediately. If there is no product date, hot dogs can be safely stored in the unopened package for 2 weeks in the refrigerator; once opened, only 1 week. And, of course, never leave hot dogs at room temperature for more than 2 hours and no more than 1 hour when the temperature goes above 90°F.

Don’t let a hot dog make you sick! Hot dogs are fully cooked, but the USDA warns they can develop Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that cause listeriosis. Hot dogs should be cooked until steaming before eating, the USDA advises.

All hot dogs are definitely not created equal! This year consider buying hot dogs that may be a little healthier or should I say a little bit less unhealthy. As with any food, you have to read labels – both the nutrient panel and ingredients list – to decide whether you want to feed it to your family or not.


Hot Dog on fork

Contact Our Expert!


Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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