Pro tip: if you’re not grilling up a hot dog on Memorial Day weekend, you’re doing summer wrong. This weekend marks the start of grilling season, so you’ll need to learn all of the grilling hacks the pros use to make those juicy, perfectly charred meats.
Chef Joseph Rizza, the executive chef of one of Chicago’s top steakhouses, Prime & Provisions, knows a thing or two about grilling meats — including hot dogs. Here’s a quick guide to flawlessly grilling a hot dog, so you can be the ultimate grill master this summer. (And if you’re still boiling hot dogs, stop doing that immediately.)
1) Thoroughly thaw out your hot dog.
Make sure your proteins are at room temperature before cooking. “You should never cook anything frozen. You should always thaw your food in the fridge overnight and then allow it to come to room temperature before putting it on the grill,” he says. That way, they’ll cook evenly throughout.
2) Use a charcoal grill.
Are you using a gas or charcoal grill? Rizza’s preference is the latter. “The charcoal method is definitely much harder and much more time consuming, but it is my preferred method for grilling at home strictly because in my opinion, it gives grilled food so much more flavor,” he says.
If you are using charcoal, stack your briquettes into a pyramid and light them, allowing the charcoals to completely ash over and turn grey. (You can also buy hardwood charcoal, but briquettes provide nice, even cooking for an extended period of time, whereas hardwood burns hot and fast.)
It should take about 20 minutes, minimum. “Once they are all ashed over, spread the charcoals flat using long tongs and replace the top grate. Let that heat up for a few minutes and then begin to grill,” Rizza says.
Using a gas grill? Preheat it to the highest possible temperature and then, just before putting the dogs on the grill, turn it down to medium heat, he says.
3) Make a few slits in your dogs before tossing them onto the grill.
“Make sure you make about four to five small slits on your hot dogs with a paring knife before putting them on the grill. This will prevent them from shriveling up,” Rizza says.
Don’t split the hot dog in two. “A lot of places do this to cook faster. I do not recommend this because all it does is dry the hot dogs out,” he says. Instead, pick any side and make a few slits down the length of the entire hot dog.
4) Make sure it’s evenly charred.
It will take about 2-3 minutes to develop char on one side of a hot dog. Once that’s achieved, turn it over.
“The amount of char is a matter of preference, but I would suggest not going overboard. Make sure there is an even amount all the way around,” he says. “A good way to tell if a hot dog is hot, is when they plump up and you can see the natural juices coming out of them. At this point, they are done.”
The total estimated grilling time from start to finish should be about 6-7 minutes, including the toasting of the buns (and yes, you should be toasting your buns). That’ll give you that nice char you crave.
5) Add some butter to your buns (but just a tiny bit).
Rizza recommends spreading just a dab of butter (he prefers garlic butter) on your hot dogs just before removing them from the grill. “After brushing the dogs with butter, do the same to your buns and set them on the high rack of your grill for about 20 seconds to warm them up,” he says.
6) Go big or go home.
Rizza was born and raised in Chicago, so he has an allegiance to the traditional Chicago-style hot dog: “mustard, white onion, sweet pickle relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, pickle spear and celery salt. It may seem like a lot, but if you have never had a Chicago-style hot dog, then you are missing out,” he say.
I that’s not your thing, or it’s just way too many ingredients stacked on your dog, “just add mustard. The smokiness of the dog gives off enough flavor and the mustard balances it out perfectly,” he says. You should also try these awesome hot dog recipes to really whet your appetite.