It’s hard to imagine any summer party without a full cookout. Any backyard or outdoor gathering, as per tradition, simply can’t exist without a barbecue. Hot dogs have been a signature home BBQ snack for decades now, making every Independence Day celebration and a summer birthday party that much more enjoyable.
Now the menu for such occasions may, of course, vary, but grilled hot dogs are something so seminal and inescapable, their absence could be seen as a form of cultural transgression. And sure, you can stack up on street food or order take out instead, but it simply doesn’t taste as good as a batch of greasy, juicy home-cooked frankfurters.
Cooking your own hot dogs means that everyone in attendance can help prepare the food and taste the fruits of the collective effort. Not to mention the enjoyability factor of the entire venture—after all, freshly charcoal-grilled sausages are inherently richer in flavor, bringing a lovely smokey sharpness to the familiar snack.
As simple as hot dogs may seem, it takes a bit of practice to master a good balance of flavors. It also takes some trial and error to learn not to straight-up burn your sausages. Even if you are partial to a slightly more charred flavor, nobody likes their food overcooked and ashy. On the other hand, undercooked or too bland hot dogs don’t sound like an exciting meal either.
So what is the key to a good hot dog and how long does it take to make it on a charcoal grill? Quite predictably, it’s all in the timing. In this case, the timing mainly means being attentive during grilling.
How do you cook hot dogs on a charcoal grill?
Of course, every griller has a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to preparing staple party food like hot dogs and burgers, but every cooking technique starts with the proper grill prep.
Grilling hot dog sausages on charcoal grills is generally something most people enjoy not only for the communal feeling of it, but also for the slightly edgy, a little bit earthy, and deeply rich flavor that charcoal-cooked meat is imbued with.
The first thing that must be mastered ahead of grilling the hot dogs is arranging your charcoal grill for the two-zone fire setting. This technique is the best possible way to achieve golden-roasted poultry and chicken tenders as well as seared steaks, sausages, and vegetables.
Setting up a two-zone fire
It might sound rather intimidating at first, but two-zone cooking is a simple concept when you get down to it. It essentially entails separating your grill into two parts: one with coals for direct grilling on high heat, and one without coals as a sort of safe zone. The safe zone is used to avoid scorching your food whenever a flare-up occurs, but it’s also good for letting the meat or veggies slowly cook through on a lower heat.
- Prepare the charcoal before putting it on the grill. You can achieve higher heat with your fuel if you use as many as a hundred briquettes. It’s more effective to use a chimney starter to get the charcoals to the right condition. The optimal cooking temperature for charcoal is indicated by the formation of white ash over the coals.
- Move the now hot charcoal from the starter and into the grill’s charcoal tray or grate located beneath the main cook top grate.
- Arrange the coals so that they are kept to one side and the other half of the grill remains free of coals. Be sure to use appropriate utensils like BBQ tongs to handle the coals.
- Now you have two workable areas: one for direct high-heat cooking, the other for a form of indirect cooking. While the direct zone is used for roasting, searing, creating grill marks, and other intense high heat techniques, the indirect zone is meant to add finishing touches to already mostly cooked food. Since there are no direct flames into the coal-free section, it is also used for saving the meat from burning if the fire gets too high.
Grilling the hot dogs
Once the coals and the cooking surface are ready for cooking and the top grate has been properly cleaned and sprayed with non-stick spray, it is time to grill your hot dogs. You can use any hot dog sausages you prefer, franks, wieners, low-fat franks, etc.
You might also want to make your toppings before you start grilling, otherwise, your hotdogs will be too bland. You can go with any topping you like: ketchup, mustard, salsa, BBQ sauce, and much more.
- Arrange the sausages on the high heat side of the grate. If you want your hot dogs to look good, set the sausages perpendicular to the grate so that they come out with juicy grill marks. They also make it easier for you to turn each individual hot dog.
- The key to a good hot dog is not letting your franks out of your sight while they cook. Don’t give in to the temptation of taking a break or going off for a chat with your guests—it’s important to keep your eye on the grilling process at all times. This is because sausages tend to burn quickly and often unexpectedly when neglected even for a second. So keep watching them and carefully tuning to get each side to grill evenly.
- There is no fixed duration for cooking hot dogs since it depends on their size and the heat of your coals, but generally speaking, it takes from five to seven minutes of turning the hot dogs on your grill until they are darkened and juicy. The readiness is often indicated by the split lines forming at the ends of sausages. This means it’s time to move them to the coal-free section of the grill.
- After you’ve finished with direct cooking, use your tongs to move the hot dogs to the cooler side of the grill for indirect cooking. This will bring the sausages to completion without the risk of burning.
- While the hot dogs are heating on the cool side, prepare your hot dog buns. Take out the pre-packaged buns and coat the insides with melted butter. It’s better and less messy to use a silicone basting brush.
- Arrange the buns on the now vacant high heat section of the grill and toast them for approximately one minute. Again, keep an eye on them—you don’t want your bread to burn or become too dry. It should be soft inside but come out with a delicious crust on the outside.
- Using the tongs, slot the sausages inside the buns and top it with the sauce of your choosing.
How long do you BBQ wieners?
Wieners, or weinerwurst, are often used as synonyms for franks or hot dogs in general. Named after the city of Vienna, wiener sausages differ from franks only in meat composition as they can contain pork in larger amounts on top of traditional beef.
If you are cooking your wieners on a BBQ, the general rule of 5-7 minutes remains, though it depends on the size and brand of the sausage. Always watch how well and fast they are browning while you turn them so that you can prevent unfortunate charring. A little charring and caramelization are always good for the taste, of course, but like with all things in life, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.
Some people also recommend spiral cutting wiener sausages before grilling. This might improve the evenness of caramelization and prevent them from curling. They also sit well inside the bun and look simply delicious.
How do you grill hot dogs without a grill?
If you don’t own an outdoor griddle, don’t be quick to dismiss the possibility of ever cooking a good hot dog at home. Similar results can be achieved with the help of a stove and a freestanding grill pan with cast-iron or stainless steel grates.
To grill hot dogs on a stove you will also need a pair of culinary tongs for turning the sausages, cooking spray to prepare the pan and prevent burning or sticking, and a pot for heating up the sausages.
- Take a medium or large pan (depends on how many sausages you plan to cook), fill it with water, and bring to a boil. Put the sausages into the pot and wait for them to heat through—you can tell when they are ready by the split ends.
- While the sausages are being heated in the pot, set up a grill pan on the stove. Normally, grill pans designed for indoor kitchen imitate classic grate lines of an outdoor grill, so it will be able to caramelize hot dogs in the same fashion.
- Lightly layer the cooking spray over the grill pan, then heat the pan until it’s scalding. The higher the heat, the lower the chances that the sausages will stick to it.
- Now it’s time to move the pre-heated sausages onto the grill pan. Avoid using forks to handle hot dogs since even small punctures can lead to the loss of delicious juices and your sausages can end up being too dry. Instead, use a pair of tongs to put the hot dogs on the pan, placing them either perpendicular to the grate or diagonally. This way each sausage will get a beautiful ridges crust, and diagonal placing makes it easier to turn them while grilling.
- Grill and turn hot dogs until done. Use tongs to take ready hot dogs off the grill and place them in their respective buns.
How do you grill the perfect hot dog?
Most prepackaged hot dog sausages usually come already cooked, so the actual making of hot dogs consists of basically heating up the sausages and giving them a bit of crispy and juicy shine. Whether you prefer them only slightly browned or properly seared to the charred edges and even caramelization, it is usually best done on an outdoor griddle or grill, either propane or charcoal.
Normally you’d find prepackaged hot dogs already skinless, but many BBQ lovers prefer sausages in their natural casing. Indeed, hot dogs that haven’t been stripped of the skin can enhance the flavor and give a delicious snap when you cut or bite into them.
Among the all-time favorite hot dog sausages are frankfurters and wieners that are normally slashed or spiral cut—this way they caramelize better and look more appetizing. Of course, you can grill your franks without doing any cutting or slicing, though you should keep in mind that this way the sausages can curl up under the effects of high heat.
When you cook on a propane or two-zone charcoal grill, it would normally take between 2 to 3 minutes for sausages to show brownish grill marks on the underside, so keep checking for the charring with a spatula. Once the first side is done, flip the sausages and cook until complete.
It is important to watch the entire process since you don’t want your hot dogs to be too dry or, even worse, acquire a horrible ashy aftertaste. Charcoal grills allow you to safely finish the heating of hot dogs on the indirect cooking zone, but you can achieve it with a propane grill by finishing the sausages on low heat.
The key to making a perfect hot dog is simple: patience, vigilance, and a good flavorful topping. Even if your hot dog buns are well-toasted and the sausages are properly grilled, it will still pose a tough swallow without a good topping to ease the way and enrich the overall taste. Toppings can be extremely basic, such as bottled condiments, or they can be something complex and creative like hot salsa, caramelized onions, melted cheese, and various pickled side dishes.
Cooking your own hot dogs will never become tedious if you allow yourself to experiment and be slightly more daring. Don’t hesitate to try out different flavor combinations and always be ready to experiment with grilling techniques.