6 Best Healthy Hot Dogs
From backyard barbecues to concession stands at ball games, hot dogs are a popular mainstay on menus, and it's easy to understand why. They're juicy, flavorful and easily customized with toppings ranging from ketchup and mustard to chili and cheese. While hot dogs are delicious, they aren't the healthiest pick around.
Hot dogs are a type of processed meat, a category of foods that are known carcinogens, according to the American Cancer Society. Processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, ham and cured bacon are high in sodium, which when eaten in excess can lead to headaches, bloating and an increased risk of stomach cancer and dementia. Another concern with hot dogs are their high levels of saturated fat. Limiting saturated fat is important for heart health, as too much can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends foods that are high in saturated fat and sodium "should be occasional choices—consumed in small portions." So while the occasional hot dog at a backyard barbecue is OK, it might not be the best thing to have as a staple in your weekly meal plan.
Although hot dogs aren't the most nutritious option, they can still be part of a healthy diet in moderation. "A great-tasting hot dog doesn't have to break the bank in terms of sodium, saturated fat and calories," says Jessica Ball, M.S. RD, nutrition editor at EatingWell. "For this taste test, we focused on products that had no more than 430 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of saturated fat and 150 calories per serving. This left us with hot dogs that are special-occasion worthy while still fitting into a healthy eating pattern."
To help you find a healthier hot dog, we conducted a blind taste test with more than 15 products that met our nutrition parameters, including veggie, beef, poultry and more. We tried each hot dog as the package instructed and made notes about the taste, texture and appearance. Our winner? Sabrett Skinless Beef Frankfurters were the best-tasting hot dogs around. Read on for our full list of the top dogs.
Our Product Recommendations
- Best Overall: Sabrett Skinless Beef Frankfurters
- Best Veggie Hot Dog: Lightlife Smart Dogs
- Best Beef Hot Dog: Hebrew National All Natural Uncured Beef Franks
- Best Poultry Hot Dog (it's a tie!): Ball Park White Meat Smoked Turkey Franks
- Best Poultry Hot Dog (it's a tie!): Jennie-O Turkey Franks
- Best Combination Hot Dog: Applegate Naturals Stadium Beef & Pork Hot Dog
If you're looking for a delicious, juicy hot dog, Sabrett Skinless Beef Frankfurters are a fantastic choice. Or, if you're looking for a hot dog that will please meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, Lightlife's Smart Dogs are a great option.
To narrow the field, we researched and read the labels of more than 60 products, and selected the ones that fit the following nutrition requirements: ≤150 calories, ≤5 g saturated fat and ≤430 mg sodium. We also looked for a range of products, including veggie hot dogs, beef hot dogs, poultry hot dogs and combination hot dogs. For the taste test, a blind tasting was set up with four testers. Each hot dog was prepared according to the package directions. If directions were not provided on the package or company website, we opted to grill the hot dog, as grilling is a popular method for cooking hot dogs. If the hot dog specified cooking on the stove, we also tasted it grilled. As a result, a few hot dogs were tested twice, once with a boiled version and once with a grilled version. We took notes regarding the taste, texture and appearance of each product.
Conventional hot dogs are a processed meat product, which the World Health Organization officially classified as a carcinogen in 2015. Most hot dogs contain nitrates, a compound used in the curing process. When nitrates combine with protein, they form nitrosamines, a compound that has been linked to increased risk of certain cancers. Nitrates are part of the curing process, so they're impossible to avoid with typical meat-based hot dogs. If you see a package labeled "uncured," that doesn't mean it's nitrate-free, but rather that natural nitrates like celery or beet juice were used instead of sodium nitrite. Natural nitrates can still lead to nitrosamines, so neither is better than the other.
Due to their high sodium and saturated fat content, hot dogs should be enjoyed on a once-in-a-while basis. To help keep sodium and saturated fat intake in check, we set nutrition parameters after analyzing the numbers on products in the category. Each hot dog met the following criteria: ≤150 calories, ≤5 g saturated fat and ≤430 mg sodium. By capping sodium at ≤430 mg, you'll have room for a bun (around 220 mg) and toppings like mustard (198 mg per Tbsp.) without going too high on sodium.
Alex Loh is the associate food editor at EatingWell. She is passionate about food and cooking, and has over two years of experience with the brand. She has written more than 15 product guides and has tested hundreds of products, including salad spinners, chef's knives and protein powders. For this article, she consulted with a registered dietitian and nutrition editor at EatingWell, Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, for her insights about nutrition. The testers included a registered dietitian and food editors. Initial research for this piece was conducted by Joyce Hendley, M.S.