Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to a Fourth of July picnic, neighborhood cook-out, baseball game, state fair, street market, or boardwalk.
Now, chances are that if you raised your hand, you've probably eaten a hot dog at some point in your life. I know I have. In fact, where I grew up, there was a restaurant dedicated to serving hot dogs in creative ways, (ever had pigs in a blanket topped with mac and cheese)?
However, the hot dog craze is far more colossal than one might think. In 2021, Americans spent over $7.5 billion on hot dogs and sausages in supermarkets alone. Alone! That doesn’t count all the stadium hot dogs, restaurant dogs, or any purchased outside of the grocery store!
All this to say, the love for hot dogs is real.
Of all the hot dogs in this world, there are usually two categories they fall into: cured and uncured. So, before you purchase your next pack of wieners, you’ve got to know what the differences actually are.
In this article, we’ll go over all the ins and outs of uncured hot dogs, their safety score, and the difference in taste.
What is Cured Beef?
Cured beef is just like cured ham or any other cured meat.
Before I get too hasty, let’s start at the beginning. The curing process preserves the meat, so it won’t spoil. Other forms of preservation include drying, soaking in brine, salting, smoking, etc.
Some of your favorite foods might be cured beef! Sausages like salami or pepperoni are often made of cured beef (or pork). Pastrami is cured in a brine, and, of course, how could I forget the tried-and-true corned beef?
Cured beef can mean a lot of different things, flavor-wise, texturally, and also in its presentation. But, at the end of the day, the main point of curing beef is to prevent it from spoiling and to slow down bacterial growth. The delicious flavor and textural properties are added benefits!
Cured vs Uncured Hot Dogs
The first thing you need to know about cured and uncured hot dogs is that uncured wieners are actually cured.
Say what now?
Yep, uncured hot dogs are still cured, but they aren’t preserved with artificial nitrates and nitrites. They are cured with naturally occurring nitrates, most often found in celery products and salt.
Why does that matter? Well, the preservatives found in cured hot dogs are not all that good for you. The artificial nitrates and nitrites they use to preserve them can actually cause cancer. When we metabolize artificial nitrates and nitrites, they become nitrosamines, which are carcinogens.
Hence the dilemma: to cure or not to cure.
Now, aside from the actual curing process and health effects, there are a few other differences to address. Cured hot dogs generally have a stronger flavor than uncured hot dogs, and the coloring is different. Cured hot dogs are also pinker due to all the preservatives.
Sadly, uncured hot dogs have a shorter shelf life, since they’re cured with naturally-occurring preservatives.
However, I know that if you placed a cured and uncured hot dog in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They’re both hot dogs to me!
Are Uncured Hot Dogs Safe to Eat?
Yes! They are fully cooked when processed, just like cured hot dogs. However, you should always reheat them before eating.
Also, please refrigerate or freeze them after purchasing. Leaving them out on the counter is like giving all that bacteria the “go-ahead” to infect your newly purchased hot dogs.
Are Uncured Hot Dogs Raw (uncooked)?
Nope! All hot dogs are packaged cooked, unless otherwise specified. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cook them again before eating.
How to Cook Uncured Hot Dogs (Safely***)
The FDA recommends that everyone reheat their hot dogs until they’re steaming hot. If you’re not sure, check and make sure the internal temperature reaches 165°F. If you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, you should always reheat your hot dogs or any other cooked meat you plan on consuming. Food poisoning is no joke!
If you want more information about hot dogs or other processed meats, the USDA has the answers to your many questions.
Is it Safe to Eat Uncooked, Uncured Hot Dogs?
No! So, please don’t do so!
Like most pre-cooked, packaged food, uncured hot dogs are at risk for Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Such an infection could lead to some serious consequences, especially if you’re pregnant or have a weakened immune system.
Reheating hot dogs not only makes them more palatable, but it could also save your life.
Are Uncured Hot Dogs Healthier?
I am in no way, shape, or form a licensed health professional, nor are the rest of the staff here at Robust Kitchen. So, take everything you read with a grain of salt.
Technically, uncured hot dogs are healthier. But are hot dogs really healthy to begin with?
In this situation, the term ‘healthy’ is relative. Although uncured hot dogs are healthier thanks to the lack of carcinogens, they’re still loaded with sodium and fat. By the way – those carcinogens in processed meat are a serious issue; one hot dog a day could increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
That being said, I would always choose the less-cancer-causing route if I got the chance, but it’s ultimately up to you!
Best Uncured Hot Dogs
Getting overwhelmed with the hundreds of hot dog options and brands? Here are some of our favorites:
Niman Ranch’s dogs are smoked in wood pits, so you know they’re gonna be flavorful! Oscar Mayer is a classic, as are Nathan’s Famous All Natural Uncured Beef Franks. As for Ball Park’s dogs, they’ve got a big, snap-tastic flavor that truly embodies the adjective “robust.”
And, last but not least, we have the 365 Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dog which is one of the healthier (again, relative) options on this list. These dogs are more sausage-like than the others, but still delicious!
Here’s the deal: hot dogs are an integral part of the American diet. So, you might as well be properly educated about them before you start stuffing your face at the next family picnic.
Uncured hot dogs are preserved without any artificial nitrates or nitrites, so they are technically the healthier option of the two. Plus, they’re still completely safe to eat, so long as you reheat them till they’re steaming!
So, organize the cookout, barbecue, or picnic of your dreams. Go to the grocery store armed with knowledge and a deep, unabiding love for hot dogs. But, most of all, please remember to reheat them!