How Hot Dogs are Made: The Real Story
First, specially selected meat trimmings of beef and/or pork -- just like the meat you buy in your grocer's case -- are cut or ground into small pieces and placed in a mixer. When poultry hot dogs are made, poultry trimmings are used.
High speed, stainless steel choppers blend the meat, spices, ice chips and curing ingredients into an emulsion or batter. The mixture is continuously weighed to assure a proper balance of all ingredients.
The mixture is then pumped into an automatic stuffer/linker machine, where it flows into casings. The most popular brands of hot dogs use cellulose casings, which are later removed. Some wieners use natural casings, which remain on the wiener when it is eaten. These wieners are considered more "traditional," are frequently made by smaller manufacturers and tend to cost a little more.
Once the casings are filled, they are linked into long strands of hot dogs and moved to the smokehouse, there they are fully cooked under controlled temperature and humidity conditions. They may be hardwood smoked for added color and flavor.
After passing through the smoke and cook cycle, the hot dogs are showered in cool water. If the hot dogs were made with cellulose casings, they are sent to an automatic peeler, where the cellulose "skin" is stripped away.
The individual links are then conveyed to the packaging equipment. When cellulose casings are used, the hot dogs are of exact size and weight. They are vacuum sealed in plastic films to protect the freshness and flavor of the hot dog. Because the casings on natural casings wieners are made from cleaned and processed animal intestines, they are of similar, but not exact, size.
Each package of hot dogs contains an ingredient statement, which lists everything that goes into the product. These days, it is less common to use variety meats such as hearts in hot dogs. When they are added, the package will clearly state "with variety meats." The particular variety meat used also will be listed in the ingredient statement. Nutrition labels also are included on hot dog packages, showing calories and nutrients per serving.
The entire process, from meat and poultry trimmings to being boxed and placed on the truck for delivery to retailers, can be measured in a matter of hours. The process also is carefully regulated and inspected for wholesomeness by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.