Here’s What’s Really Inside Your Hot Dog

Hotdog and Fries with a Beer

There are plenty of jokes floating around about what, exactly, goes into a classic hot dog. My grandfather’s favorite was that they’re made from the “lips and a-holes” of the pig – basically the spare parts.

Whatever’s inside them, most of us Americans indulge from time to time, even if it’s just at the occasional baseball game, so you might be curious just what you’re putting into your body.

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If so, we’ve got your answers!

The good news is that since the early 1900s, there have been strict regulations that tell meat-processing and packing facilities exactly what can go into our food, and what definitely shouldn’t, and hot dogs are obviously subject to these rules and checks.

That said, along with your beef, pork, turkey, or chicken, you’re probably getting a good helping of “trimmings,” which are the fatty tissue, sinewy muscle, organ meat, and meat from the skull typically left on the table.

Then they precook the whole bundle to kill bacteria and form it into a paste before pushing through a sieve to form a hamburger-like texture.

Hungry yet?

This is when they add things like vitamin C to air in curing, and water, corn syrup, or spices for flavor.

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You urban legend that ground-up earthworms comes up here, when many places add sodium erythorbate, but the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council continues to refute the claim.

“In contrast to a popular urban legend, erythorbate is NOT made from earthworms, though the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports receiving many inquiries about erythorbate’s source. It is speculated that the similarity in the spelling of the words ‘erythorbate’ and ‘earthworms’ has led to this confusion.”

There you go – buy it or don’t.

The earthworm-free meat paste is pureed and shoved into casings before being cooked, getting a water rinse, and being packaged for their trips to the grocery store.

It sounds gross, sure, but I’m guessing most of our processed foods would, if we understood the entire process – and it’s all USDA-approved.

The bottom line is that yes, if your ingredients say “variety meats” or “meat by-products” you’re for sure eating heart and other organ material, tons of additives like MSG and nitrates, etc.

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If you spring for the package that’s labeled “all beef, pork, etc” then you’ll be getting all muscle tissue, no organs.

My grandfather was right, though – the “tissue” comes from a bunch of random, leftover parts that would otherwise go into the trash bin.

I say enjoy your occasional hot dog – there’s nothing in there that’s going to kill you.

In moderation, anyway.