We’ve all either been the kid or known the kid that will only eat hot dogs. Fussy young eaters tend to shy away from hamburgers and other backyard fare, so we eagerly hand over the tubular meat conglomeration because it is simple and safe. It is truly a beginner’s food; after we graduate from mushy baby food and mother’s milk, hot dogs are generally one of the first “meat” products we eat.
And we never really stop eating them. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans consume about 20 billion hot dogs ever year. I’m sure if you stacked 20 billion hot dogs from end to end, it would reach to the moon—or perhaps to Jupiter or even Uranus—I’ve never been good with measurements.
Whether we’re eating mass-produced franks or fancy artisanal sausages, what we fail to realize is the humble hot dog is our first foray into adventurous eating. If the gory details of a hot dog ingredient list were revealed to innocent, young eaters, do you really think it would remain a childhood favorite? Kids are rarely clamoring to eat nasty bits like snout, lips, tongue, heart, windpipe, stomach and spleen. And massed-produced franks, with their mechanically-separated pork, chicken and turkey, are no tamer. Throw in a scary-sounding chemical trail that includes sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, maltodextrin and the ever-popular (in fertilizers and fireworks) sodium nitrate, and what you’re left with is one beast of a bizarre food.
Yes, generations of Americans have grown up with far more food bravery than they give themselves credit for possessing. In the spirit of that bravery, I think it’s time we as a nation took the next step in backyard tube meat culinary greatness: It is time we replace the pink-shaded banality of hot dogs and aim to slide more flair into our buns.
On a recent trip to Fairway Market in Westbury, 1258 Corporate Drive, I came across a line of game sausages produced by denizens of gourmet and organic meats, D’Artagnan. I procured three varieties of sausage—Duck & Armagnac, Venison & Pork and Wild Boar. Sadly, the store was fresh out of Rabbit & Ginger sausage. Undaunted by a missed opportunity to eat Peter Cottontail, I made way to my home grill and carefully lined up the menagerie over high heat.
Almost immediately, a small puncture wound in one of the duck sausages caused a flair up. This was no surprise, as besides duck meat, these sausages contain pork, duck liver and Armagnac—a powerful brandy. The Venison & Pork sausages grew darker as the heat intensified, while the Wild Boar plumped to mouth-watering proportions.
Like the greatest breakfast sausage ever conceived, the boar is aromatic with sage and full-flavored with a mellow sweetness from a hint of sherry. The boar is a sausage’s sausage—perfect on those soft potato buns usually reserved for sad-by-comparison franks. The venison sausage is mixed with pork and accented with dried cherries and ground chili peppers for the sweet-spicy kick human mouths crave. The juicy pork adds lushness to the lean venison, coming together with just enough gaminess and an unexpected sweet-sour note from the dried cherries.
The duck sausages are another level. Filled with duck meat, duck liver, pork and Armagnac, it will have you singing “these are a few of my favorite things.” The ingredients come together and burst with hearty flavor and an intense richness from the liver, which begs to be described as “meat butter.”
I don’t mean to completely disparage hot dogs, as I will gladly eat both the shameful mass-produced varieties along with the fancier brands. But the grit and gallantry needed to eat a food with the ingredient history of a hot dog, is much more wisely spent consuming foods with more alluring imagination.