The Fourth of July weekend is almost here, and planning for three days of family, fun and feasts are in full swing. As part of the festivities, roughly 74 million Americans are expected to break out their home barbecue. That’s one in every four people — and a lot of Sahlen’s Hot Dogs waiting to be grilled to perfection.
Grilling may seem simple, but a memorable Sahlen’s Hot Dog must be properly crafted through preparation, precise technique, and attention to detail.
We spoke with friends, connoisseurs and amateur grillmasters and collected some helpful hints and tips to perfect your hot dog experience this weekend — and all year round.
1. Prep and Preheat. Take the time to warm up your grill! A properly heated grill keeps the inside of your Sahlen’s Hot Dog moist, prevents the meat from sticking and sears the casing on contact.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t just fire up the grill to 11 — they make dials on grills for a reason,” said Jon Luther, owner of JJ’s Red Hots. “Be patient. I like to use the downtime to prick the casing so it takes on the flavor of the fire.”
The prep stage will also allow you to oil your grill rack. Who wants to eat a half-torn hot dog?
According to Sam Talbot, a Season Two semi-finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef, a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel will do the trick. Hold the towel with tongs, rub over the rack and reduce any potential sticking.
2. Keep a Clean Grill. It’s easiest to remove debris when the grill is hot — so use a wire grill brush to clean off any charred areas. In order to prep for next time, scrape immediately again after use.
Talbot also suggests you regularly tackle the area below the grate, but only when the grill has cooled off — and after you’ve enjoyed your feast, of course.
3. Safety First. Although your fired-up grill serves as a warm welcome to friends and family, make sure your holiday barbecue is memorable for the right reasons.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, a few simple steps will assure safety:
- Remove grease and fat build-up after each grill
- Never leave your grill unattended
- Make sure the grill is placed at least 20 feet from your home, railings or hanging branches
“If you happen to spot a flame, don’t ever use a water bottle to extinguish it,” says Elizabeth Karmel, grilling pro and author of Taming the Flame. ”When water hits hot-cooking grates and flames, it can splatter, causing burns or cracking the porcelain-enamel finish of the grill. The simplest and quickest solution is to put the lid on the grill. It will reduce the amount of oxygen that feeds the fire, thus limiting or snuffing out the flare-ups.”
4. Man Your Station. Flames and burnt dogs can be solved in this one simple step. According to the grilling experts at Ted’s Hot Dogs, temperature is the key.
“We absolutely have to watch and spin our hot dogs throughout the entire process,” says Teddy Liaros, owner of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based restaurant chain. “And keep a close eye on the thermometer or gauge. If you don’t have access to one, the rule of thumb is to place your hand above the grill – the temperature is high if you have to move your hand in two seconds, medium if you have to move your hand in five seconds and low if you have to move your hand in ten seconds.”
5. Customize Your Masterpiece. Hot dog pro or not, find a way to make your dog your own.
“Everybody has a different version of an ideally finished hot dog,” says Chris Cauley of Sahlen’s Hot Dogs. “That even begins with which type of grill. From a taste perspective, many prefer the rich and smoky taste of food on a charcoal grill. But for others, propane burns cleaner and is easier to maintain. It’s really a matter of preference.”
And so is the finish and topping selection. Cauley — who enjoys mustard, hot sauce and a pickle on a Sahlen’s Hot Dog — is proud of the variety that the company’s partners bring to the table.
“All of our customers put their own unique twist on our Sahlen’s Hot Dogs, and they all do that very well.”
If you’re someone who prefers a well-done, smoky dog–and want that flavor all the way through–check out this spiraling technique:
Regardless whether you’ve mastered the grill or struggle to keep your favorite foods from going up in flames, the Fourth of July weekend is really about the bigger picture.
“The Fourth is such a communal thing,” says Luther. “The food brings people together around one big table, but it’s all about gathering with family and friends to enjoy your time together.”