Homemade hot dog in a homemade bun. (Kate Williams)
This story almost didn’t happen.
About a month ago, I decided it would be a great idea to figure out how to make hot dogs for a fun Memorial Day project. I’d read about making hot dogs and seen countless blog posts and cookbook sections on the topic. Stuffing hot dogs at home also makes it easier (and cheaper) to know exactly what ingredients are going in — just spices, salt and organic beef for me, please! And I’ve made other types of loose sausage, so I’m not a total ground meat newbie. How hard could it be to level up my skills with tasty, all-beef hot dogs?
As it turned out, it was harder than I thought.
Hot dogs are a type of emulsified sausage, which means they are made by rapidly beating cold water (or ice) into a ground meat mixture. (Think of it like meat mayonnaise.) If the mixture gets too warm, the meat won’t properly be able to absorb the water and the fat will ooze out. Gross.
Most online hot dog recipes are short on tips for managing this process. They’ll wax poetic on meat origin and instruct you to keep everything as cold as possible, but they’ll fail to mention the fact that most home kitchen-sized food processors are too small to emulsify two pounds of meat. They’ll tell you to never use a Kitchen Aid meat grinder attachment but there’s little advice on handling sausage casings or how to set up an (approved) sausage stuffer.
Still, I thought, I’m a fairly capable cook — I’ll be able to just wing it. But, two days and a gritty, oozy pile of meat paste later, I was ready to throw in the towel.
After spending a lot of time online and some more minutes wishing for access to my cookbook library (currently in storage), I found sage advice in a Google books copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book. There, he suggested multiple ways to both emulsify and stuff the sausages, as well as a better breakdown of proper temperature management.
I bought more meat and started again. This time, I was more successful, and, best of all, I had figured out how to make them with only a food processor and a piping bag — there’s no need to purchase any special equipment.
To be sure, these hot dogs weren’t totally perfect. There are air bubbles and the casings are a little tough. But I was still super proud of them, and I know that next time they’ll be even better.
Recipe: DIY Beef Hot Dogs
Makes about 12 jumbo hot dogs or 18 regular hot dogs
Note: The ideal meat-to-fat ratio for hot dogs is about 85 percent meat to 15 percent fat. Boneless chuck roast will get you there, so that’s what I’m recommending. If you’d like to be more persnickety, you can separate out beef meat from the fat and weigh them out separately. In that case, you’ll want 964 grams of meat and 170 grams of fat. If you don’t have an ice maker that produces crushed ice, you can crush it yourself in a food processor. Process more than you’ll need and then measure out the ice once it’s crushed. To make jumbo hot dogs, look for hog casings. To make thinner, traditional-sized hot dogs, you’ll need sheep’s casings. You can order both online at Sausage Maker; look for the “home pack” size.
2 ½ pounds (1134 grams) boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 ½ tablespoons (25 grams) fine sea salt
1 ½ tablespoons (10 grams) sweet paprika
1 ¾ teaspoons (4 grams) freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons (5 grams) garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons (3 grams) onion powder
2 cups (240 grams) crushed ice (see note)
20 feet hog or sheep casings
Place the beef on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan and freeze until the meat is cold and fairly hard on the outside, but not fully frozen, about 30 minutes. While the meat is chilling, place a food processor bowl, lid, and blade in the freezer. Place a second sheet pan in the freezer as well.
Meanwhile, combine the salt, paprika, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl and stir until thoroughly combined.
Set up the food processor and remove the beef from the freezer. Place about one third of the beef in the food processor and pulse until ground into pieces just smaller than a pea, 20 to 30 one-second pulses.
Remove the second sheet pan from the freezer and transfer the ground beef to the pan. Repeat with the remaining beef in two more batches.
Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the ground beef and, using your hands, work the spices into the meat. Keep squeezing and mixing the meat until it begins to turn sticky. Once the spices are fully mixed into the meat, place the sheet pan back in the freezer.
Wash the food processor and return the bowl, lid, and blade to the freezer. Wash the second sheet pan and place it in the freezer. Let everything chill for another 30 minutes.
Once everything is super cold again, set up the food processor. Remove the chilled sheet pan from the freezer and line it with parchment paper.
Remove the beef from the freezer and place about one third of it in the processor. Place the remaining meat back in the freezer.
Add ⅓ cup (40 grams) of the crushed ice and process until the ice has dissolved into the meat, 1 to 2 minutes. Add another ⅓ cup (40 grams) of the ice and continue to process until the ice is dissolved and the beef mixture has become very smooth and lightened in color, about 2 more minutes.
While you’re processing the beef, you’ll likely need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Use this time to also take the beef mixture’s temperature. Ideally, it will be between 28°F and 35°F. If it begins to rise much higher, remove the beef from the food processor and place it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before continuing to mix. The beef cannot rise above 40°F; if it gets this warm, the emulsification will break and you’ll need to start over — completely.
Transfer the smooth beef mixture to the chilled parchment-lined sheet pan and place in the freezer. Repeat the processing step with the remaining ground beef and ice, in two more batches.
Transfer the beef mixture to a large bowl.
Remove about a tablespoon of the beef mixture from the bowl and place in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook gently until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Squeeze the cooked sausage; it shouldn’t exude much juice or liquid. If it does exude a lot of liquid, this means that the emulsification is broken and you’ll need to start over.
Taste the cooked sausage and see if you like the seasonings. Add more salt or spices to the mixture, if desired, and stir to thoroughly combine.
Cover the beef mixture with plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly on the surface of the meat. Cover the bowl with a second layer of plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
If you’ve purchased casings packed in salt, now is a good time to soak them. Place the casings in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate overnight next to the beef mixture.
The next day, transfer the beef mixture to a rimmed sheet pan and place in the freezer while you prepare your casings.
Remove the casings from the fridge, pour off their soaking water, and then look for one of the ends. Lay the end over the edge of the bowl so you can keep track of it. Place the bowl in the sink and use your fingers to open the end of the casing.
Turn the faucet on so it is running with a low but steady stream of cold water. Place the open end of the casing into the stream of water and let the casings begin to fill. Once you’ve got about 8 to 10 inches of water in the casing, turn off the faucet and then gently work the water through the casing. Keep the open end outside of the bowl so you can keep track of it.
Repeat this rinsing process four more times. Cover the rinsed casings with more cold water and let them sit while you prepare your stuffing device.
If you have a sausage stuffer and know how to use it, chill the parts for at least 30 minutes before setting it up to stuff. If not, you’ll want to use a piping bag: Place a ½ inch round piping tip in the base of a large piping bag. Pour a thin layer of cold water into a rimmed sheet pan and place it on your work surface.
Place the open end of the casing on the piping bag tip. Gently work the casings onto the tip — you’ll likely only be able to fit about 18 inches to 2 feet of casing on the tip, but this is fine. Leave 2 to 3 inches of casings laying off the end of the piping tip, and then snip off the rest of the casings. Drape the end of the remaining casings over their bowl so you can keep track of it.
Remove the beef mixture from the freezer and add about a quarter of it to the piping bag. (Return the remaining meat to the freezer.) While holding the casings on the piping tip in place, gently twist and squeeze the meat into the bag. Continue to twist and squeeze the bag until you can just see the beef mixture peaking out of the piping tip.
Tie a knot in the casing just at the base of this beef mixture.
With one hand right at the base of the piping tip, continue to squeeze the beef through the piping bag. Control the pressure as much as possible to stuff the casings compactly and evenly. If (and when) air bubbles start to form, use a needle to pop them. Continue to stuff the casing until you’ve got a link 6 to 8 inches long. Twist the casing, right at the base of the tip, to form the hot dog.
Continue to squeeze the beef into the casing to form a second hot dog. At this point, you’ll likely need to replace the casing: Remove any remaining casing on the piping tip and tie a knot right at the end of the hot dog.
Repeat the casing and stuffing steps until you’ve used up all of beef mixture.
Place all of the hot dogs on a clean plate and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Bring a large pot of water to 160°F over medium heat. Set up a large ice bath next to the stove.
Place the sausages in the water and poach until they reach 145°F to 150°F, 20 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water temperature and adjust the burner as needed to keep the water between 155°F and 160°F.
Transfer the sausages to the ice bath and chill to room temperature.
Once chilled, snip the hot dogs into individual links. Grill, saute, or steam as desired. Serve in homemade buns with your favorite toppings.