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Food Fights: Hot Dogs v. Hamburgers

March 23, 2017

Is there important stuff worth fighting over in the world today? You betcha. But instead of debating the serious issues of the moment, today I’m picking another stupid food fight.

Here’s the thing. As banal as these arguments are on their face, I do hope that they accomplish something meaningful. I’m concerned that we as a culture have lost our appetite for civil debate and discourse.

Winning an argument doesn’t have to be a scorched earth affair. The other side doesn’t have to be annihilated for you to win. Making concessions can actually improve your persuasive power. And sometimes it’s even okay to take a position you don’t believe in, for the purposes of advancing discourse. So let’s try this today with something that people care about, but is far from a matter of life and death.

Which is better, hot dogs or hamburgers? Today, once again, I’m going to take what I expect to be the minority opinion, and argue the case for hot dogs.

Baseball. What could be better than baseball. It’s the great American pastime. It’s as American as mom and apple pie. And if you’re not playing in the game, you are in the stands eating a hot dog. Why? I have no idea. But hot dogs and baseball are spiritually tied to one another.

Hot dogs are the great American street food. What would Manhattan be without its hot dog carts? It’s the American taco. Think about it. You’ve got a small quantity of deeply flavorful meat, wrapped in a nondescript grain-based vessel, topped with onions and other piquant sauces.

Notice I didn’t say ketchup. The absence of ketchup is just one indicator of the hot dog’s superiority over the burger. I mean, could you imagine putting ketchup on a taco? You use that stuff to cover up the taste of something unpleasant. It doesn’t complement, it masks.

To be fair, the hot dog has an unfair advantage over the burger. It’s already cooked. And not only is it cooked, but it’s smoked to boot. So you get some sweet smoke with your meat, fat, and salt. Which is important. Hot dogs are always well seasoned. There is no such thing as a bland hot dog.

Sure, hot dogs can be over cooked, just like burgers. Their juiciness can be undone by someone who is committed to cooking every ounce of life out of that perfectly constructed morsel. But it’s not easy to do.

Now, might the very best burger be better than the very best hot dog? No doubt. A great burger is a thing of beauty indeed. But a great burger is a rare treat, and incredibly hard to find. Most burgers are just a shadow of the ideal to which they strive.

It’s sad to admit, but the vast majority of burgers are thin, gray, and lifeless masses of ground beef that have been frozen and thawed to the edge of oblivion. If they weren’t cooked all the way through, the microorganisms growing inside the thing might very well bite you back. But even if that wasn’t the case, the glorious, warm, pink center of a perfectly cooked medium rare burger is a dream that most patties couldn’t ever possibly achieve.

Thanks to the miracle of meat curing, any hot dog worth its salt is an appealing shade of pink. Even the “uncured” ones get a rosy glow from the reactions caused by dehydrated celery juice.

Ask yourself this.

Let’s say someone wants you to come along as their guest to a party. And when you get there, you find these strangers grilling in the back yard. They offer you a hot dog or a hamburger. You can only get one. After all, you don’t want to look like a pig in front of your date. What do you ask for in order to make sure you’re going to have a delicious experience?

Remember, you don’t know these people. That hamburger could come from one of those frozen tubes of meat you can find in the value aisle. And it may be hard to figure out if your hosts are cooking those patties to a temperature where the E. coli O157:H7 dies. You have no idea if they are seasoning the patties properly. Maybe they are formed by hand, but perhaps they are hard packed in industrial processing plants.

The chances that the burger will be good are slim. The chances that the hot dog will be delicious are much much higher.

What makes the hot dog even better is its relative cost. Compared to burgers, the hot dog is cheap. And there’s good reason for that, sure. Hot dogs have less meat in them, and more fat. But that’s fine, fat is flavor, and that helps make these sausages a special treat. Plus, it’s better to have these less desirable parts go to human consumption than to be dumped further down the food chain.

By eating hot dogs, you are limiting waste. I suppose by that metric you could then even argue that these are a more eco-friendly backyard grilling treat as well. Man, hot dogs keep on getting better and better.

So now, who is going to stand up in defense of hamburgers?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2017 10:07 am

    I am boiling with rage at your imbecilic defense of the tube steak. Not really. But you are still wrong. Hot dogs are great, but they have one fatal flaw: their shape. A hot dog’s form factor requires a similarly long and skinny bun which reduces the square footage available for what really matters: the condiments. And stuff that you pile on top that falls off as you try to eat it doesn’t count.

  2. EPT permalink
    March 23, 2017 10:28 am

    I had a post ready to go when my laptop when to lunch but Malwarebytes caught it. I agree with you on the hot dog. The only exception I can think of are the burgers served at the MUG in Brookville during my college days. Cooked perfectly medium with shredded cabbage, tomato, cheese and their homemade sauce. Ran by two brothers and mom manning the stove, it was all perfect. Burgers served with a bowl of half sours, add a cold beer and you’re in heaven. But yes now the hot dog rules. I prefer Hoffman’s out of Syracuse or Helmbolt’s if they made the a big larger. Burger’s you just can’t trust. Both my wife and I had stomach issues after having a burger at the Spotted Pig in NYC, a spot known for it’s burgers. Rolf’s also makes a great hot dog. So see, FLB, I can be a PITA but you hit the nail on the head here.

  3. -R. permalink
    March 23, 2017 10:38 am

    I’m siding with burgers on this one. Hot dogs are what they are, and ALL of them have the same flavor profile (easily verifiable in the after-burp). Despite whatever stuff you pile on top of them, the underlying taste is always the same regardless of purveyor. The burger on the other hand, can be morphed into a wide variety of flavor profiles – one need only to think of your beloved Swifty’s buffalo burger to get an idea of what I’m driving at. I also think the burger is a better conduit for condiments – you can go with mustard, relish, ketchup, mayo – almost anything can be applied to a burger with aplomb (vegetables, other meats, cheeses, etc). Mayo on a dog? How about a fried egg? Makes me want to gag – fat overload. Also, the variety of breads that can be used with burger offers greater latitude than the lowly hot dog bun – a nice cheeseburger on an onion roll is slice of heaven in your hand.

    • EPT permalink
      March 23, 2017 11:47 am

      I suspect you haven’t tried many hot dogs as the flavor varies widely depending on the producer… all beef, then pork, veal, beef,or chicken, natural casing vs. non. A burger is chopped beef, yes some variation based on origin but beef none the less. Hot dogs, not so, you can get dozens of different tastes WITHOUT toppings.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      March 24, 2017 11:36 am

      I think the condiment argument works against the burger. If it’s purpose is to bear condiments then that calls into question its greatness. I think for this smackdown the Dog / burger needs to be considered in a fairly basic form.

      • -R. permalink
        March 24, 2017 12:41 pm

        Yeah, but who has either a burger or a dog plain? Nobody, that’s who.

        And, while I can agree that there are significant differences in the taste from dog to dog, they all basically come back to a form of meat waste by-products, ground up, seasoned, high in salt content and then adulterated in other ways such as smoking, etc. No one would want to eat the raw ingredients used the preparation of most hot dogs – elbows and assholes as my uncle used to say.

  4. Michelle permalink
    March 23, 2017 12:43 pm

    I will never sing the praises of the burger. I’ve yet to find one that I love. But on the hot dog side? Lots of choices! You could go old school with Hebrew National or hit up Primal for their very tasty nitrate-free uncured dogs.

  5. March 23, 2017 1:44 pm

    If I’m picking only one, it’s the burger.

    It is true nasty burgers exist.There are plenty of crappy hotdogs out there too. And even if the hotdog had the potential of being good, the cook can screw it up just like a a cook can mess up a burger.

    So yes, a frozen Bubba burger will always be bad. But but a good burger doesn’t need to be half a pound of ground beef cooked medium rare. A cheap, fatty ground beef cooked well done on a hot flat top with a slice of American can be beautiful.

    Last week I stood outside in the snow to cook 4 burgers on the grill. I like hotdogs, probably more than most people, but I wouldn’t do that for a handful of hotdogs.

  6. albanylandlord permalink
    March 24, 2017 11:34 am

    Your argument in favor of the hot dog were commendable. I didn’t think it had a chance – but you had me agreeing that in a questionable back yard barbecue a hot dog is a better choice. The same goes for an average restaurant or fast food place I guess.

    But I don’t usually eat at those places, I try to eat great food. And a burger at The Gastropub, City Beer Hall, New World Bistro, or Crave will have me grunting and moaning in public like no hot dog ever could.

    Burger wins.

  7. enough already! permalink
    March 26, 2017 5:48 am

    No need to choose – just have one of each! Yum to both.

  8. Lisa Ann A Homic permalink
    March 26, 2017 1:12 pm

    We grind our beef ourselves. What a world of difference and better on the budget. You’re right about the pink sludge now called ground beef. If you’re close enough to your host, you can ask without the host feeling offended.

  9. Benjamin permalink
    September 12, 2017 5:59 pm

    Your arguments about proper cooking are valid, as is your point about the “gray” hamburger that may have been frozen. However, MOST people when debating the quality of the meat would rather take a hamburger (that likely only contains ground beef) over a hot dog (that likely contains _____).

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