Factory Tour: How Hot Dogs Are Really Made

How Hot Dogs are Made: The Real Story

See a video showing how hot dogs are made.

There are many tall tales about the way in which hot dogs are made, but the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council is eager to tell 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

  1. Special selected trimmings are cut and ground into small pieces and put into the mixer. Formulas are continuously weighed to assure proper balance of all ingredients.
  2. A high-speed, stainless steel chopper blends meat, spices and curing ingredients into an emulsion or batter.
  3. The emulsion is pumped and fed into a stuffer. Shirred strands of cellulose casings are mechanically positioned on the stuffing horn. As the emulsion flows through the horn into the casing, the filled strands are linked into hot dogs of exact size. The strand is then put on the smokehouse conveyor system.
  4. In smokehouses, under controlled temperature and humidity, the hot dog is fully cooked and hard-wood smoked for texture, color and a delicious flavor.
  5. After passing through the smoke and cook cycle, and being showered in cool water, the hot dog goes into the peeler. Here the protective, air and smoke-permeable cellulose casing "skin" is stripped away and individual links are conveyed to the packaging line.
  6. Finally, the hot dog is conveyed to scales which divert off-weight franks, and is then fed into the vacuum packaging equipment. Here, individual packages of exact number and precise weight are wrapped and vacuum sealed in plastic film to protect the freshness and flavor of the hot dog.
  7. Once packaged and boxed, hot dogs are moved to storage coolers and loaded on refrigerated trucks for delivery. The entire process, from cut trimmings to the consumer's table is often measured in a matter of hours. From beginning to end, the hot dog is carefully inspected by federal officials according to strict federal standards of quality and sanitation.