Hot dogs are an essential food to have a good time. Of summer barbecues and cold baseball games tailgating meetingsthese little tubes of processed meat inside warm buns signal a party. And while a fast food joint may not be the first thing you think of when you think of a hot dog, you may be missing out. Some famous chains serve up killer hot dogs, and it’s no surprise since some started out as hot dog carts. I set out to try a handful of some of the most famous brands to see which one tasted the best.
There are several chains that specialize in making a great dog. Nathan’s famousfor example, it started in 1916 at Coney Island as a hot dog cart and is still widely regarded as one of the greatest hot dogs of all time. shake shack It started as a simple hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in New York City in 2001, where the original restaurant still stands today. More people know about the chain’s iconic burgers, but they also sell a few hot dogs.
If you think about it, while we don’t necessarily head to Burger King for a hot dog, we don’t hesitate to get one of the street carts in our favorite cities. In many ways, hot dogs were one of the first fast foods, served on the side of the road and eaten while walking somewhere fun.
So whether you’re just feeling the sting of nostalgia or just a little peckish, these are the places to try.
I asked for a nude sonic dog to keep in line with the others, but Sonic was the only one of the group to include an add-on for his base dog. Though of course he can customize it from there or keep it simple.
The look: Sonic, we have a problem. Without the toppings that come with this hot dog (ketchup, yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions), the dog itself looks unappetizing gray. I ordered the fully clothed dog to try and compare and it looked good with his multi colored toppings. While the sausage looked sad, the bun was soft and came in a nice cardboard sleeve that kept everything in place and not squashed.
Flavor: Overall this was the worst tasting hot dog out of the five I’ve tried. It wasn’t bad, just not as tasty as the other options. The texture was also very smooth with no popping or caramelization on the outside. This hot dog might be good for a kid who doesn’t want much garlic flavor, or one who just drizzles a hot dog with ketchup.
The fully clothed dog, on the other hand, was a delicious combination with the dog really just serving as a vehicle for the spicy, crunchy, and cold ingredients. The bun held up admirably on all the vegetables and seasonings. Only wear this hot dog if you’re in the mood for one and Sonic is the only option.
A&W, named for its founders, Roy Allen and Frank Wright, is one of the America’s oldest fast food restaurants. It started as a roadside stand in 1919 selling root beer to soldiers returning from World War I. Now he sells burgers, fries, chicken, and unique sides like fried cheese curds. Also has beef hot dogs without or without chili, onion and cheese.
The look: The A&W hot dog was simple but looked delicious. The shimmering reddish sausage was juicy and the bread was soft.
Flavor: If you’re looking for the perfect beach hot dog, this one won’t disappoint. Even without seasoning, it was smooth and juicy. While the bun was a bit dry, that didn’t affect the flavor of the meat. It even had a slightly sweet aftertaste. Bonus points for the price: Two of these dogs are just over $4. Let’s face it, hot dogs shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
In 1916, Nathan Handwerker opened a hot dog stand at Coney Island which would become the world famous company it is today. While the restaurant isn’t as heavily visited as it used to be, there are still places that offer beef hot dogs, unique burgers, and those iconic crinkle cut fries.
The look: The hot dog was substantial and stuck out of the bun on both sides. Unfortunately the bun looked very dry and was flaking in places.
Flavor: If you love Nathan’s hot dogs, you must go to the restaurant because they are very different from those sold in supermarkets. The dog had an irresistible, snappy crunch that gave way to a soft, meaty interior that was full of juice and tasted like real beef. The spices, while substantial, played second fiddle to the meatiness of the dog.
Nathan’s shop dogs won our hot dog taste test, but they did not have the crunch of this sausage. The sad part was the dry flaky bun which should have been thrown away. If the scone hadn’t been a total flop, it would have won the taste test. Maybe it was just a bad day at the restaurant I visited.
Five Guys, while known for its burgers, also makes delicious hot dogs, which you can garnish with a host of free toppings, just like burgers. Five Guys splits the meat dogs and grills them flat-top for a caramelized exterior.
The look: Five Guys and Shake Shacks dogs looked very similar, both were split and grilled with a dark color. The Five Guys dog bun was a bit squashed and seemed a little drier.
Flavor: If you don’t mind if your hot dog splits cleanly in two, you’ll love the way Five Guys makes a dog. This sausage checked all the boxes when it came to flavor and texture. It was juicy and sweet with a firm bite and tasted like real beef. If anything, it was a little lacking in spice and instead focused on the quality of the meat.
Five Guys is said to source its hot dogs from Hebrew National, a brand that scored very highly in our taste test. But keep in mind that the complaints about prices at Five Guys big loom. TO single The hot dog at Five Guys is upwards of $6, depending on the location. For a couple extra bucks you can get a fully loaded cheeseburger.
shake shack It started out as a hot dog stand in Madison Square Park, so sausages on a bun is in its DNA. In 2004, celebrity chef Danny Meyer won the bid to turn the place into a kiosk-style restaurant with gourmet burgers, shakes and fries on the menu.
The look: Like the Five Guys dog, the Shake Shack dog was divided, but it held together better. He also showed a lot of strong caramelization. The bun was golden and familiar because Shake Shack uses Martin’s Potato Rolls.
Flavor: If you want a full flavor that doesn’t stop after you take a bite, Shake Shack is the dog for you. This robust hot dog was juicy and meaty with a bit of crunch and a hint of sweetness from the caramelization. The potato roll offered its own sweetness that was melded with the meaty dog.
Also, if you’re looking for a Chicago canine experience in other areas of the country, Shake Shack is the place to go because their dogs hail from Vienna Beef in Chicago, which explains the pleasant snap, a hallmark of the company’s hot dogs. Shack’s dogs were slightly more affordable than Five Guys at $4.39 each.