Charcutepalooza: Hot Dogs

Hot dogs

Charcutepalooza is a yearlong project I’m participating in to make recipes from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. For more information, see my introductory post.

When you get hardcore into sausage-making, there’s all kinds of crazy equipment you need. Grinders, stuffers, casings, pink salt, and all manner of herbs and spices of which you need about a quarter of a teaspoon per recipe.

I’ve been using my trusty KitchenAid grinder attachment for both grinding and stuffing, but as I mentioned last month, the thing isn’t the most effective. So I decided to go out and buy something else, and ended up purchasing the single greatest kitchen tool in history.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Jerky Cannon:

Jerky Cannon

When you live in the Deep South, you have only one non-internet retail option for sausage-making supplies: Bass Pro Shops. These places are like enormous temples to killing animals. Imagine two Wal-Marts stacked on top of each other, except the only things they sell are fishing boats, guns, and camouflage, and you’ll have some idea of what this magnificent store is like.

Anyway, my local Bass Pro Shop had several sausage-stuffing options in the camping section, but the Jerky Cannon was the only one in my price range. (Plus, I couldn’t turn down anything with that name.) It sounds ridiculous, but it’s amazingly effective. Basically a caulking gun for meat, it features a long barrel with a plastic piston on one end. And it looks cool.

Jason wielding the Jerky Cannon

On to hot dogs. I grew up loving hot dogs. Excellent Chicago hot dogs: Vienna Beef at pretty much any greasy-spoon restaurant and franks from the now-defunct Best Kosher at home, plus occasionally the magnificent ones made by Hungarian Kosher Foods, which my grandfather would pick up as a special treat a couple times a year.

Birmingham is also famous for hot dogs, though completely different ones. Ours are made almost completely from pork and sold mostly by a small group of old Greek men, topped with chili or a thin, spicy sauce. Also good.

I learned this from this month’s project: Hot dogs are hard to make. You grind, cure for a day or two, add some spices, freeze, grind again, freeze again, run through a food processor, stuff into casings, and finally hot-smoke before you can eat the things.

I was worried stuffing the hot dogs; the color wasn’t right. More a pale peach than the bright red-brown they’re supposed to be. But then 10 minutes in the smoke-filled grill caused a magical transformation in the perfectly colored sausages you see above.

They made for a fantastic summer meal, paired with homemade pickles (using Charcuterie‘s simple recipe) and sauerkraut (using my even simpler one), yellow mustard, and fresh grilled corn on the cob. I went with a longtime favorite: Sunset‘s Honey-Chipotle Grilled Corn. You’ll wind up putting the leftover honey-chipotle butter on everything.

Kraut dog, pickle and Honey-Chipotle Grilled Corn

I didn’t expect homemade hot dogs to be exactly the same as the factory-made kind, but honestly the Charcuterie recipe makes an exact replica of the kosher dogs of my youth: The texture and flavor match my memories 100 percent.

And because I made them myself from locally raised meat, that makes these the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Honestly. If you’re an aspiring home charcutiere, this is a great goal to reach for.