Life

We Tasted Hot Dogs With 15 Different Toppings To Find The Best Combo For Your 4th Of July Cook Out

With the 4th of July falling on a Monday this year, we’ve got a long weekend ahead — meaning you might have a hot dog or five in the next few days. That’s a handful of opportunities for experimentation with toppings. That’s where I come in. I’m tasting 15 different toppings and combos therein to find the ultimate toppings for the humble hot dog.

(Though it should be noted that at UPROXX, we are squarely in the “put whatever you want on your hot dog” camp.)

When my boss assigned me this tasting, he was very clear on two things. First, I had to use his favorite hot dog from last year’s blind taste test of a gazillion hot dogs. Of course, those dogs are a bespoke brand from Portland, Oregon — his hometown. You can get them here, if you’re into it. Just be warned, they’re $19 for a four-pack of foot longs. I know, I did a spit take too. That said, I cooked these dogs in a cup of water and a cup of Coors Banquet for that ultimate dirty water dog experience and they’re pretty wonderful.

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

Second, I had to keep the toppings simple. All of the toppings I’m using for this tasting had to be available at the grocery store. My editor didn’t want me (and then you) making anything on a stovetop — that removes chili from the equation. To that end, I bought every one of these toppings at my local Kroger.

Lastly, I’m using Kroger Private Selection brand Sweet Hawaiian hot dog buns. I like the layer of sweet to the soft bread in my hot dog equation, but that’s just me.

Beyond the bun and the dog, the rest is pretty straightforward. I lined up 15 bites, topped them, and started tasting and rating. I threw in a few combos throughout. I didn’t go too crazy though. There are no overloaded hot dogs — again, no chili dogs in play.

I ended up grabbing, using, and topping with some combo of the following:

  • Hellmann’s Mayonaisse
  • French’s Classic Yellow Mustard
  • Valentina Salsa Picante Mexican Sauce, Extra Hot
  • Herdez Queso con Salsa
  • Heinz Ketchup
  • Kraft Chipotle Aioli
  • Kroger Private Selection Caramelized Onion
  • Vlasic Dill Relish
  • Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard
  • Kroger Deluxe American Cheese Slices
  • Nando’s Perinaise Peri-Peri Mayonnaise
  • Boar’s Head Sauerkraut
  • Yucatan Guacamole
  • White Onion (I diced mine but you can buy pre-diced in the salad aisle)

Let’s dive in!

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

15. Hellmann’s Mayonaisse — Taste 3

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This is one of the most basic plays in the topping game. A line of mayo on the dog and nothing else. Hey, mayo works with bologna. It tracks that it’d vibe here.

The Taste:

The fattiness of the mayo is… a lot. The spices of the sausage kind of get washed out. There’s an off flavor to this I can’t quite put my finger on. I think it just doesn’t vibe with the actual sausage and that faint hint of lamb from the casing.

Bottom Line:

This was not good, which is weird since mayo as a component is great on a hot dog. In this combination, it’s to be avoided.

14. French’s Classic Yellow Mustard — Taste 2

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This is probably the most iconic/classic topping. A line of old-school yellow mustard is the “purist’s” version of what a hot dog is supposed to be.

The Taste:

This had a nice bite to it. But the yellow mustard didn’t really add anything to the plain dog besides a slightly watery mustard spice.

Bottom Line:

Meh. This was fine but not really anything to write home about. It sort of feels like yellow mustard on your dog is the butter on your pasta of hot dog toppings.

13. Valentina Salsa Picante Mexican Sauce, Extra Hot — Taste 7

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

Hot sauce. Hot Dog. This has to be a winning combination. Plus, I’m always putting hot sauce on my dog, so this felt like an easy win.

The Taste:

The hot sauce did add a nice layer of heat to the mild spices of the sausage. It also added a nice counter to the sweetness of the bun. There were layers that played well together in this bite.

Bottom Line:

Overall, this is the first topping on this list that I’d finish the whole dog with. I would immediately want another dog with more toppings next, but I wouldn’t be offended by this single topping either.

12. Herdez Queso con Salsa — Taste 8

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

Cheese on hot dogs is severely underrated. I’ve had this version before but it was presented as a dipping situation where you dipped a dog in an oven-hot bowl of queso. It was delightful and kind of sinful.

The Taste:

The light spice of the cheese really added a nice layer to the sausage. It also was a nice counter to the sweet bun. The cheese was a little soft and didn’t quite have the brightness of homemade queso (obviously).

Bottom Line:

Cold queso from the jar is fine for dipping tortilla chips in (just). On a hot dog, it has its place but it wasn’t the “wow” I wanted from cheese on a hot dog. It was kind of limp and listless.

It tasted fine, it just didn’t grab my attention.

11. Kraft Chipotle Aioli — Taste 4

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This was an impulse grab in the sauce aisle. I like chipotle. I like aioli. I figured there’s no way this would be bad on a hot dog.

The Taste:

The hot dog was the nicest part of this pairing. The Chipotle Aioli was just okay. There was a hint of garlic but it felt more like dehydrated garlic powder that the real stuff. The “chipotle” was kind of there but more as an echo than a nice layer of smoked spice.

Bottom Line:

Overall, this was miles ahead of plain mayo. There was a decent spice element but it wasn’t really adding all that much.

10. Heinz Ketchup — Taste 1

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This is the biggest controversy on this list. Yes, ketchup is fine on a hot dog. The sweet and umami sauce is made for savory and slightly spiced meat, like a hot dog sausage. Still, every single hot dog cart on earth goes through massive amounts of ketchup daily. So it’s a classic topping that people, you know, actually eat (whether the internet trolls like it or not).

The Taste:

The sweet/savory aspects of the ketchup go well with the snap and spice of the dog. The sweetness of the bun and the sweetness of the ketchup is a little too much though. So I took the second bite out of the bun and it was far better balanced between sweet/spicy/savory without that bun.

Bottom Line:

This might have ranked higher without the sweet bun. Still, with that bun, this was pretty good. Simple? Yes. But there’s something about that sweet/savory vibe that just works on a slightly spiced sausage.

9. Kroger Private Selection Caramelized Onion, Ketchup — Taste 11

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

Since I couldn’t make any sauces and I wasn’t in the New York area, I had to improvise one of my favorite toppings — New York Onion Sauce. The sauce is on every cart in the metro area (and beyond) and is the only play for topping your dog when in town. Anyway, it’s basically caramelized onions (sometimes just sweated onions) in a mildly spicy tomato sauce that’s 100 percent never ketchup but always sort of tastes exactly like ketchup with caramelized onions would.

The Taste:

The onions add a nice layer of sweetness to the whole affair. When combined with the ketchup, that sweetness goes a little far. But the mild spice of the onions pulls it back just enough to make a nicely balanced bite.

Bottom Line:

Overall, this was nice but a pale imitation of the NY Onion Sauce I wanted. Still, it was fine. I’d eat this again in a pinch and be perfectly satisfied.

If you’re in the right region, you should be able to find this jar.

8. Deluxe American Cheese, Yellow Mustard, Ketchup — Taste 13

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

I used to eat these dogs while waiting for the ferry in British Columbia multiple times every summer. Shout out to Gibson, BC! It flummoxed me at the time that everyone didn’t put a slice of deluxe American cheese on their hot dog (until Five Guys came along that is). To this day, I still add some every now and then because it’s goddamn good.

The Taste:

The cheese slice added a whole new dimension of savory to the dog with a light creamy edge. The mustard and ketchup acted like a mildly sweet/spicy accent to the cheese as it slightly melted under the heat of the dog but the edges of the cheese slice stayed unmelted (crucial). The whole thing takes on a level of deepness that just isn’t there without the cheese.

Bottom Line:

This is where we get into the Thunderdome of it all. I like all the toppings a lot from here on. This one is nostalgic for sure but also popular enough that a massive international fast-food chain adopted it.

Add that slice to your next dog, you will not be disappointed.

7. Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard — Taste 6

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This is the epitome of “keep it simple, stupid.” Spicy brown mustard is the luxury car of America mustards and adds more spicy and more mustard-iness to everything.

The Taste:

This really stood out. The spicy brown mustard added more than just extra spice, the vinegar aspect was heightened. That provided a great balance to the whole dog with the savoriness of the sausage needing that sharp counterpoint like this.

Bottom Line:

Overall, this was simple but delightful. I can see just having this on every dog in a single sitting and being pretty happy about it.

6. Ketchup, Yellow Mustard, Vlasic Dill Relish — Taste 9

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This is the quintessential trio of toppings. Enough said.

The Taste:

Ah, relish! The dill relish really makes this dog pop. The mild pickle spices, vinegar, and savoriness run deep and really meld with the sausage below. The ketchup adds a nice line of sweetness with a hint more spice and the yellow mustard counters that with its yellow-ness and mild mustard vibes. But it all comes back to that relish adding a flavor and textural bomb to the otherwise plain dog with some sauce on it.

There’s a bite and a crunch that wasn’t there before.

Bottom Line:

This was simple and nostalgic, sure. But it also had more going on and it all really made sense together as both a flavor combo and a textural one. Again, the amping up of the vinegar really helped this stand out.

5. Nando’s Perinaise Peri-Peri Mayonnaise — Taste 5

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This was another impulse grab at the grocery store. It was just sitting there next to all the other sauces. But I already knew I like this one. It’s essentially a spicy mayo with peri-peri spices (piri-piri peppers, cardamom, oregano, ginger, to name only a few of the spices in the mix).

There’s a good mild heat involved that works well with the fattiness of the mayo.

The Taste:

That mild yet distinct spice (think a halfway point between a jalapeno and a chipotle) that really works wonders on a hot dog. The spice and fat of the sauce elevated the snap and the savory of the sausage while the sweet bun balances everything out.

Bottom Line:

We’re into the good stuff here. I could just use this for the rest of the summer and probably be pretty happy about it too.

4. American Cheese, White Onion, Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard, Valentina’s Extra Hot — Taste 15 (Wild Card)

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

For the last taste, I kind of just threw some random toppings on the hot dog to see how it’d go if I was doing the same at a serving table at a party. There’s no real rhyme or reason, it’s just a mix of this and that, you know, kind of like if you were one too many beers in at the bbq.

The Taste:

Diced white onion really helps out a dog. The sharpness of the raw onion adds both spice and sweetness with a clear feel to it. The American cheese slice worked wonders with that raw onion (a classic duo). The spicy mustard probably would have been enough but the hot sauce did add an extra kick with a twinge of vinegar to really tie it all together in a layered experience with a nice bite to it both in spice and texture.

Bottom Line:

This was a nice change of pace. It’s also something I plan to go back to in real life. The layers made sense and there was a good balance between the flavors with a good dose of real heat at the end thanks to that hot sauce.

3. Classic Costco Style: Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard, Ketchup, Relish, White Onion — Taste 14

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

Oh, gather round, young ones. I remember the days when you could spoon your own relish and white onions on your $1.50 hot dogs at a Costco. They were the halcyon days of yore before we were relegated to two pumps for “ketchup” and “mustard” and that weird crank machine for relish that never works.

Anyway, a Costco dog with spicy brown mustard, ketchup, white onion, and relish was a go-to after a Costco run back in the day. It’s a distinct mix and worthy of this competition.

The Taste:

This combo really worked well with the sausage. The meat works well with the raw white onion (applied liberally) next to the vinegar-rich relish with a hint of extra spice. The spicy brown mustard and ketchup combo added the classic sweet/spicy mix to the toppings that rounded things out nicely. This was just good.

Bottom Line:

This was close to the number two or one. I think the only thing holding it back was a slight lack of focus. But that’s sort of the point of putting everything on your $1.50 dog at Costco. That said, I’d eat two of these without hesitation.

2. Guacamole, Mayonaisse — Taste 12

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

If you’ve ever had a hot dog in Uruguay, you’ll know the track I’m on here. While Pancho dogs have corn salsa, spicy mayo, and sometimes fries jammed into them, you can also get dogs with just mayo and guacamole and they’re delightful. It’s simple but somehow just works.

The Taste:

The guac adds a bright freshness to the whole bite. It’s a welcome change from everything else (and likely helped this rise in the rankings). The mild citrus and herbal vibe add a nice dimension to the savory sausage below while the fat from the avocado and mayo blend into a creamy and vibrant sauce on the dog. There’s a hint of sweetness from the bun that really rounds out the flavor profile from sweet to spicy to fatty to citrus to bright.

Bottom Line:

This is a super simplified version of a guacamole dog. You can make your own guac to amp this up for sure. Still, this was a seemingly simple topping duo that had really depth and worked wonders together as a hot dog topping.

1. Sauerkraut, Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard — Taste 10

Hot Dog Tasting
Zach Johnston

The Dog:

This is another quintessential topping duo. Kraut and spicy mustard is the pairing hot dog dreams are made of.

The Taste:

The sauerkraut adds so many new dimensions to the hot dog experience. There’s a slight bitterness that leads to a whole new layer of spice (think allspice and cloves) with a serious crunch and plenty of vinegar bite. The spicy brown mustard amps that up with bright mustard spice, a twinge more vinegar bite, and a hint of savoriness over the already savory sausage.

The sweetness of that bun really shines brightest here as the sweet-sour aspects of the bun and kraut meld damn near perfectly.

Bottom Line:

This was the best. I’m not going to say “by far” because the top three are all very close. I do think this is the most complex and most complimentary overall. That sweet/sour/spicy/bitter/savory bite is a pretty much “perfect bite” in the culinary world. That’s hard to deny.

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