Parts is Parts: Embracing the Hot Dog

This holiday weekend, let’s celebrate with that perennial favorite: marinated and cross-hatched hot dogs.

“Parts is parts!”

Out of the many classic Barber family phrases that my dad unwittingly drilled into my head—along with “there’s always room for Jell-O,” “rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub,” and “good chowdah, Bobby!”—this triumphant pronouncement might have been the most gleefully repeated in restaurants and grocery store aisles since childhood. Whether it was an excuse to avoid suspiciously breaded chicken dinners in the college caf or a rallying cry for the sweetbreads, marrow, and hearts I started scarfing down fearlessly in recent years, “parts is parts” found itself a context for many a situation.

grilled hot dogs
But knowing that parts was, in fact, parts, never truly offered much reassurance to the idea that one should be eating a hot dog. And lord knows we Americans have tried to gussy our dogs up as much as possible, loading them up with everything from chili to cheese to a veritable garden of vegetables in an effort to mask the inferiority complex we feel about eating the parts in a tube.

Poor hot dogs! They seem so underloved, especially when they’re tossed into water to boil away pathetically, without even getting the crisp exterior offered to their big brother, Mr. Sausage and Peppers, who luxuriates in the grill treatment further down the ballpark.

Yeah, you can bake it, broil it, boil it, sauté it. You can even stab one with a stick and hang it over a campfire, maybe the easiest way to eat well in the wilderness. Short of burning it to a dessicated husk, there’s really no way to kill a hot dog. (And yet there are some people in New Jersey who eat those burnt hot dogs anyway.) But there is a way to make the dog shine on its own, without too much extraneous frou-frah.

According to Marcia Kiesel at Food & Wine, who got the idea from a restaurant in Chinatown, the secret to a crazy good grilled dog is to score it with a series of small cuts: the crosshatch hot dogs in the following recipe open up like pine cones when they’re thrown onto the grill.

The crosshatch effect, combined with a ketchup-based marinade that seeps into the crevices and glazes the hot dog with sugary-spicy flavor, gives greater opportunity for the surface to come in contact with a searing-hot grill grate and leaves the hot dog with lots of little charred and crispy bits for the best blistered effect.

Frankly, I’m not entirely sure that the marinade really has the potential to soak through that well-sealed casing and make its way into the meat—it could be psychosomatic, but I give them a good overnight bath anyway. All I know is that people get more worked up about eating these hot dogs than anything I’ve seen before. My besties request them now at cookouts, for pete’s sake.

This doesn’t solve the age-old problem of why there are a different number of hot dog buns than there are hot dogs in their respective packages; the only solution to that is to make your own buns, I suppose. But that’s for another post.

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  1. says

    You know, just yesterday James and I were talking about making our own buns (he was intrigued that Allison does)and I noticed that the KAF hot dog bun pan makes *10* buns, not 8.

    An argument for making your own buns.

    I think the marinade looks great, I’d definitely give it a whirl. But for me, a good hot dog starts and ends with French’s Mustard. Gauche? Maybe. But that’s how my taste buds like it.

  2. Gburg says

    We buy every kind of hot dog available [when on sale] at the Giant Eagle [chicken, turkey, all beef, angus, etc] and I bet the scoring any of them will make them taste better. Great idea!!! Not sure about the marinade, but I will give it a try.

  3. Joan says

    Funny, I always thought you HAD to score them before grilling…that’s what was always done in my family, and what we’ve always done now that we’re “grown up”! Maybe it’s a NJ thing!
    Boo to any packages of dogs you find in the store that come 8 to a pack. We only go for the foot long Schickhaus or other brand that comes long and individually packaged in random groups. Egad, now we’re “hot dog snobs” … is such a thing possible? Or it’s just a good oxymoron!

  4. says

    I’m usually not a huge hot dog purveyor on an everyday basis, but I am excited to try this method. Right now I’ve been loving a classic New York combination of sauerkraut and fried onions with a spicy mustard.

  5. says

    I’ve never been a huge hot dog fan, but the idea of scoring and marinating them sounds cool to me too. I have to confess tho I’m a sucker for IKEA dogs.

  6. wino says

    You forgot one great family phrase [although borrowed from D. Paul McGarvie] – TASTY INDEED!!!!!

  7. says

    I know it’s un-American, but I haven’t eaten a hot dog in 30 years. But…hubby and sons love them, so I’m going to surprise them and not only make them some but make them special with this recipe!

  8. says

    Another reader who does not eat hot dogs much. Last month my son bought them for his daughter during their annual visit. I hate letting things go to waste, so I finished up the package after they left. Wish I had had this recipe then! I’ll know what ingredients to have on hand next June.

  9. NoPotCoooking says

    Wow! I never would have thought of doing this but you can bet I’ll try it!

  10. says

    We don’t eat hot dogs a lot, but sometimes I do like a grilled hot dog. Or, at the ball park. This looks like a good marinade, though!

  11. says

    Regular hot dogs kind of skeeve me, but the buffalo meat ones we buy at Costco are AWESOME. I highly recommend them for flavor, texture, etc. I might have to try this over the holiday weekend. Thx for the idea.

  12. Jane Boursaw says

    I must confess, I haven’t had a “real” hotdog in decades. That whole thing of not knowing what’s in them has stuck with me – even though that probably hasn’t been an issue since 1980 or so.

    Anyway, we do have veggie dogs at least once a week – I think SmartDogs is the brand my hubby buys. I wonder if we could do those on the grill…

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Buffalo dogs, veggie dogs – I really don’t think there’s a dog out there that wouldn’t be improved by the marinade/scoring method. In fact, I might even be able to sneak a veggie dog or two past some unrepentant carnivores this way… good idea!

  13. says

    it absolutely works to grill vegetarian dogs, and I imagine this marinade would taste good with them as well. speaking up for the south, slaw, onions, and a bit of mustard are usually on our dogs.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Oh boy, scrapple. I don’t have too much love in my heart for it, but it weirdly wasn’t a big family dish despite my geographic origins. Can you do an appetizingly classic version?

  14. says

    I didn’t think I could love hot dogs more than I already do. This recipe may change that! What an awesome idea!

  15. says

    I’m all in! Always looking for something new to do to those beef franks, this looks amazing.

    I’ve always sliced into the sides of the dogs, but only one slice, one direction. Must try the cross-hatch, as I love the charred bits too.

  16. Peter says

    Love this article and great ideas — but I have a huge issue with how this guy is cutting toward himself. Can we get a little safety, please? 😀

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Yeah, it’s totally unsafe to cut that way but it makes for a better photo. Do as I say, not as I do! :)

  17. Amy Samida says

    Delicious!! I tried them last night. Going to change the marinade, get the hot/sweet thing kicked up a little, but this was an excellent recipe.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Amy, I bet a little sriracha thrown into the marinade wouldn’t be half bad either. :)

  18. says

    Saw the idea of marinating dogs and have come up with a marinated Zipper Dog for our Grand Opening of our Thrift store in Chehalis, Washington. I hope that 300 dogs are enough.. Am marinating with a ketchup/honey maple BBQ sauce and worcestershire marinated over night… We will see how it goes for the grand opening of New Life Thrift Stores…… Bob Gilbert