Taste Test: Hot dogs

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

We've turned the corner on Labor Day but that doesn't mean our hot-dog chomping opportunities are fading away. Au contraire, mon mustard-stained freres, our tube-steak-inhaling golden moments are only hitting their high (and boiling, and grease-smeared) water mark.

As evidence, I cite a) the upcoming baseball playoffs (OK, you can at least pretend to care - it's still our perennially hot-dog-popular national pastime, right?) and b) a very raucous stroll I made down Lane Avenue last Saturday afternoon with 105,000 of my closest - and most incoherently screaming - friends.

Yes, sports fans, it's officially tailgating season again, and for lots of us that means wobbly walks, trash talks and rollicking hot-dog-day afternoons. I was thinking of that recently while shopping at Weiland's, my friendly neighborhood boutique grocery store, when I noticed they were featuring an impressive selection of high-profile wienies.

After sinking and steaming a batch of those nationally reputable red-hots, I assembled some buns and pen-ready friends for a taste-off with comments. The pig-out session proved that any of the following delectable dogs would be welcomed with eager grins at your next sporty party.

Nathan's Famous ($4.89/8)

Nathan's does make one of the most famous franks in the USA. In fact, this is the New York Coney Island baby that wiener wranglers have been knocking back at the iconic amusement park since 1916.

And it's what those insane competitive eaters are buzz-sawing through by the dizzying dozens during that infamously hard-to-watch, ESPN-covered, psychotic Fourth of July hot-dog-swallowing contest.

Nathan's tied for second place, and tasters found its soft and supple links to offer the saltiest and greasiest meat - but in a good way. One judge wrote "with my first bite, a glorious river of hog fat dripped down my soon-to-be-licked fingers." (OK, that was me.)

Tony Packo's ($4.95/6)

I first became aware of Tony Packo's through old M*A*S*H reruns in which Toledo native Jamie Farr (aka Corporal Klinger, the 5-o'clock-shadowed transvestite) proudly touted the greatness of his hometown Hungarian-style frankfurter. Since then, I've actually visited the northern Ohio tubesteak temple, and though things there have gotten inevitably touristy, it's still a lot of fun.

This was the favorite of our group. Unanimously referred to as the smokiest, it also stood out because of its light-pink-colored meat and "hammy," "sausagey," "almost kielbasa-like" character.

Sabrett ($2.49/8)

When I first started visiting NYC regularly, many a Big Apple moon ago, my native New Yorker friend who was showing me the cosmopolitan ropes told me that when hungry and in a rush, I should only buy street-cart wieners from vendors displaying the Sabrett-brand umbrella. This is the home version of that legendary streets-of-New-York "dirty water dog" classic.

This juicy frank was cited for its "maybe too soft and uniform texture, but still decent snap." It was also celebrated for its nice paprika finish.

Niman Ranch ($6.29/4)

For over 30 years, the San Francisco-area-based Niman Ranch network of farms has been a pioneer in environmentally sustainable ranching and humanely raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free livestock.

Tied for second place, the Niman Ranch franks were praised for their "firm, meaty bite," good casing, "very clean taste" and nice flavor balance of garlic and paprika.

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