“Can there really be that much of a difference between the best turkey hot dogs and the best chicken hot dogs?” we asked ourselves as we fired up the grill and gathered around a picnic table for another Epicurious blind taste test—the first one we’ve conducted together since March 2020. The answer: Yes, absolutely. The two dogs are alike in animal kingdom only; otherwise, they have distinct characteristics that I’ll get into down below. Our top-rated poultry dog turned out to be turkey, but it does come with a caveat: Ferndale Market Uncured Turkey Wieners are made with a natural lamb casing. If you’re opting for turkey or chicken hot dogs because you avoid red meat, the Ferndale option might not be what you’re looking for. We picked a few other top dogs, though, too, so keep scrolling to find out our methodology and the full list of contenders, including your new favorite grilling-weekend staple.
Our favorite poultry hot dogs: Ferndale Market
First things first: These turkey hot dogs are made with a natural lamb casing, which may turn you off depending on the reason you’re choosing to buy turkey dogs. Still into it? Good. Because these franks were deliciously spiced with paprika and garlic. And that casing gave each dog great texture and bite: it crisped nicely on the grill, but wasn’t so tough that biting cleanly through a loaded hot dog would be a problem.
Ferndale Market advertises that these hot dogs are made in Minnesota from humanely raised, free-range turkeys. The franks are “uncured”—an industry term that means no that artificial nitrates or nitrites are used in processing. Instead, celery powder (a common alternative) is used as a natural preservative. The wieners are still smoked, however, which is a different sort of curing. That means they’ll cook up full of flavor whether you choose to cook them over coals, an electric grill, or indoors.
While many of the franks we tasted were squat or oddly shaped (perfectly formed rectangle dogs, anyone?), the Ferndale Market turkey hot dogs were what some brands define as “bun-length”: long and thin, the ideal size to pile one—or two—to a bun with any toppings you love. Some tasters described the flavor as “sausagey,” or “delicious, but not totally a hot dog vibe,” but the truth is, once you get it loaded with mustard, ketchup, relish, and chopped onions (or whatever else), the only thing you’ll be thinking is, “Wow. I have been missing out.”
Ferndale Market Uncured Turkey Wieners (1lb)
$10.00, Crowd Cow
The Other Best Turkey Hot Dog: Applegate Naturals
Amid a sea of pale and honestly, quite flaccid franks, the Applegate Naturals turkey hot dogs earned praise from our tasters for “looking like a ‘real’ dog” due to their appealing pink color. That rosy glow comes from cherry powder, which also seems to round out the flavor with a touch of tang and sweetness. These dogs get good spice from garlic and paprika, and we also detected a hint of bright-but-earthy coriander. They are nice and juicy—more so than even our winner—and well seasoned with sea salt.
These are skinless franks, but they still grill well, developing a nice contrast between snappy surface texture and softer interior. Associate food editor Kendra Vaculin singled them out as the ideal candidate for butterflying and serving “well-charred with plenty of mustard.”
Applegate sources humanely raised birds raised in the Mid-Atlantic region for all of their poultry products. It should be noted, however, that this is the Applegate Naturals line and not the Applegate Organics line—although the brand’s The Great Organic Uncured Turkey Hot Dogs scored just a few points behind their non-organic sisters in our taste test. We found the organic version to have a slightly softer texture (meaning it had less satisfying bite), but we certainly wouldn’t be mad if it showed up to the party instead.
Applegate Naturals Uncured Turkey Hot Dog (10oz)
The best chicken hot dogs: Applegate Organics
Another Applegate on the loose: Of all the chicken hot dogs we tried, these were our favorite, hands-down. While we generally preferred the texture and flavor of the turkey hot dogs over chicken, this brand’s chicken dogs could go head-to-head with many of our top contenders.
Unlike its turkey counterparts, the Applegate chicken franks do not contain cherry powder. This means they’re pale in color, which, frankly, isn’t as appealing to the eye. But, they still taste quite good: juicy, salty, spiced with garlic, black pepper, and some warm spices (which later research revealed to be nutmeg and mace). Tasting them on their own made us question if these franks really had true hot dog vibes—there’s distinct chickeny flavor here. But given their balanced seasoning and pleasing texture, we’re confident that you’ll enjoy them as much as any deli-style (or scallion pancake–wrapped) frank, especially once they are loaded with your favorite hot dog toppings.
Applegate Organics The Great Organic Uncured Chicken Hot Dog (10oz)
What we were looking for:
We set out to find the best hot dogs made from poultry, choosing from brands that are widely available in the United States. Our contenders could be called franks, frankfurters, wieners, or hot dogs, and could be made primarily with either turkey or chicken. A few options were taken out of the running because they contain beef products (namely Ball Park Turkey Franks, which contains beef stock, and Gwaltney Turkey Hot Dogs, which uses beef collagen in its casings). Be sure to check the ingredients list if you’re trying to avoid beef (the same advice goes if you’re gluten-free)! None of the selections in our tasting contained pork.
We wanted the dogs to have a classic hot dog flavor profile: paprika, garlic, smoke. Other spices were welcome, as long as they didn’t steer the dogs too far into robust sausage territory. Some of our favorite franks were seasoned with coriander, ginger, cardamon, mace, and nutmeg. Celery juice powder is often used in hot dogs as a preservative and it sometimes lends an overt celery flavor to the franks, as well. A few of the dogs we tasted leaned too far in that direction, or had an overpowering taste of onion. Both of these latter flavorings leant a “chicken soup” taste to some of the selections, which we didn’t find particularly appealing. Too much celery powder also made some of the dogs taste bitter.
The best turkey hot dogs—or chicken—had to have good texture, which meant a distinctive contrast between the exterior surface and interior. The filling also needed to have some springy bite: not too smooth, soft, or mushy in texture (i.e. over-emulsified) but also not too gritty or gristley, as some franks proved to be.
How we tested:
At this outdoor taste test, each pack of franks was assigned a random number. The dogs were then grilled in batches on a gas grill, which can be monitored for heat more precisely than charcoal, allowing for fewer cooking-related discrepancies in preparation. We tasted the lightly charred hot dogs blind, with no indication of type (turkey or chicken), organic status, or otherwise, and without hot dog buns or other accoutrements.
The other hot dogs we tasted:
One big takeaway from this test is that, if well charred and covered in toppings, almost any of these hot dogs would do on a hot summer day.
Our least favorite dogs were steeped with the flavor of artificial smoke—which is not a bad ingredient when used in moderation, but here, occasionally overpowered all else. Other options were bland and flavorless. Some had an odd assortment of spices or flavorings that took them too far out of the hot dog realm for our tasters.
For many, texture was the biggest issue: either too bouncy (like commercial-style bologna in a tube) or full of gnarly bits of gristle. Ingredients ostensibly meant to improve texture such as various starches, corn syrup, and other fillers did not largely prove successful. Another thing we didn’t like was a frank with an extra-tough skin that made it hard to bite cleanly through the dog (before it was even heaped with toppings), or one that collapsed into mush with every bite.
What follows is a list of all of the franks we tasted that haven’t been called out by name above. They’re listed in order of preference, so if you have trouble finding our top picks, we recommend seeking out a few of the early mentions below.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious