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What are hot dogs made of? What meat is in a hot dog?



Hot dogs are a staple food for many. They are often found at social gatherings or prepared as a quick meal. Groups of boisterous family and friends throw them on the grill as they get ready to watch the game. Stalls selling hot dogs dot busy street corners in hundreds of cities around the world. Though they may seem innocuous enough, the production of hot dogs actually comes accompanied by a side of suffering — the suffering of animals, the planet, the people who make them, and even the person eating them. This suffering is not just the result of how the hot dogs are made, but also of the ingredients that go into them.


What are hot dogs made of?

Flipping over a package of original uncured Oscar Mayer hot dogs reveals a list of ingredients consisting of three different animals (mechanically separated turkey, mechanically separated chicken, and pork). In addition to the meats used to make its signature hot dogs, Oscar Mayer also uses other ingredients: water, distilled white vinegar, dextrose, salt, corn syrup, cultured celery juice, sodium phosphate, cherry powder, and generically described “flavor.”


You probably expect there to be meat in a hot dog, but you might be questioning why the chicken and turkey are denoted as being “mechanically separated” on the ingredients list. You might also be surprised by the lack of any beef in the weiners, a meat that is reserved for Oscar Mayor’s “beef uncured franks.” Perhaps while perusing the package your eye is drawn to the small asterisk at the bottom that denotes ingredients that are used to support quality, as is the case with the vinegar and celery juice. This still leaves seven ingredients unexplained, which might leave you wondering what they’re doing in the dogs at all.


Beef trimmings and other meat

Much of the meat contained in hot dogs is leftovers from the processing of animal carcasses for other purposes. In its original wieners, Oscar Mayer uses mechanically separated chicken and turkey. This mechanically separated meat is made up of the bits of meat that remain on the bones after the carcass has already been processed by hand. Mechanical separation involves forcing the birds’ bones, with a small amount of tissue still attached, through a series of sieves and strainers, separating the sinew from the bone. What results is a batter-like meat substance that is used to make a variety of processed meats including hot dogs.


When you see beef listed as an ingredient on a package of hot dogs the most likely source is beef trimmings, or the pieces of the carcass that are cut off by hand but are too small or otherwise impossible to sell on their own. If a package of hot dogs is labeled as containing “variety meats” or byproducts, those wieners were made with organ meat.


Salt and seasonings

Salt is the major seasoning in a hot dog. The packaging of an original Oscar Mayer hot dog shows that a single link contains 400 milligrams of sodium or about 17% of an adult’s daily recommended intake. Other flavor enhancers include dextrose, a type of sugar, and various other spice and seasoning extracts labeled only as “flavor.”


Fillers, binders, and preservatives

The specific ingredients of a hot dog vary based on the brand and product recipe. Oscar Mayer original uncured hot dogs contain celery juice, a source of nitrites, as a curing agent that helps to preserve the hot dog. Other brands may opt to use sodium nitrite or other ingredients for this purpose.


What are hot dogs really made of?

Making a hot dog involves combining a variety of ingredients to create a finished product that not only contains bits of meat scraped off the bones of an animal, but also helps to perpetuate the different forms of suffering caused by the animal agriculture industry.


What part of the animal are hot dogs made from?

Generally speaking, hot dogs are made from the flesh of animals that can’t be sold on its own. For example, when a hot dog is made out of turkey or chicken the meat has more than likely been scraped off the bones in a process called mechanical separation. When you see beef on the label of a hot dog, the chances are that the label refers to offcuts from larger pieces of meat, that were produced as these larger cuts were prepared for retail. If hot dogs contain organ meat they will usually be labeled with either “variety meat” or “meat byproduct” and include a list of specific byproduct ingredients on the label.


What disgusting things are hot dogs made of?

The meat that goes into them is not really the most disgusting thing about how hot dogs are made.The thing that consumers need to be more disgusted by is the suffering caused by the production of hot dogs to stakeholders across the industry.


Hot dogs, like other animal-derived foods and products, perpetuate a vast amount of suffering. Animals, people, and the environment are all harmed by the systems that are used to create such products.


Animal suffering

In order to produce hot dogs, animals suffer by the billions on factory farms. On these farms thousands of animals are packed into small spaces, often standing in their own waste. Mother pigs are confined in cages that don’t even allow them to turn around, while their young are mutilated by having their tails cut off. Chickens and other birds often have the tips of their beaks cut off at the start of their lives, before then growing at such a fast rate that their hearts fail.


Human suffering

Hot dogs perpetuate human suffering — both for those who work in the slaughterhouses that process living, breathing animals into cuts of meat, and for those who choose to consume these products. Working in a slaughterhouse is a dangerous occupation. In addition to working alongside countless terrified animals, who often weigh in at hundreds of pounds, slaughterhouse workers are also at greater risk of zoonotic diseases than the population at large and can suffer from injuries due to the repetitive nature of the job. The very nature of the job, breaking down animals into food, also takes a massive toll on workers’ mental health.


People who consume hot dogs are also more likely to suffer from certain conditions than those who opt not to eat hot dogs or other processed meats. Processed meats have been linked to an increased risk of developing a variety of cancers, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer.


Environmental damage

The environment also stands to suffer from our continued consumption of hot dogs and other animal products, due to the monstrous toll of producing such foods. In fact, animal agriculture is behind 16.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. In addition to emissions, animal agriculture also requires a large amount of water and land and is a leading cause of deforestation around the world.

How are hot dogs made?

A hot dog starts with the death of an animal, whether they be a cow, pig, chicken, or turkey. From there the process continues until a shiny five-inch hot dog is sandwiched into a bun.


Select meat trimmings

One ingredient commonly found in hot dogs is meat trimmings, which is essentially the meat that is taken off the other cuts of meat before they are sold in the store. The trimmings are unable to be sold on their own so they are processed into other kinds of meat products, such as hot dogs.


Blend the ingredients

The hot dog ingredients are blended together with ice to keep the friction caused by the nonstop churning of the massive blender from creating too much heat and drying out the substance. The result of this process is essentially a meat batter.


Fill the casings

The meat batter is then squeezed into casings. Often these casings are inedible and not intended for consumption, and will be removed once the hot dog has been cooked. Other casings, namely those on hot dogs that snap when bitten into, are made out of intestines and will stay on the weiner.


Cook the hot dogs

Hot dogs are cooked using a massive smoker. This method of preparation is a major health concern as it can produce specific chemicals that run the risk of causing cancer.


Cool the hot dogs and remove the casings as needed

Once cooked, the hot dogs are showered with cool water and, if they are in an inedible casing, have their casings removed.


Package and box for distribution

Workers at the hot dog factory package and vacuum seal the links so that they can be shipped to stores.

Conclusion

Communities around the world have created their own versions of hot dogs. There are Chicago dogs with their sport peppers, celery salt, and bright green relish and Brazilian dogs piled high with mashed potatoes, cheese, corn, and peas. With such a wide array of different toppings vying to capture our taste buds, swapping out animal-derived hot dogs for a plant-based version is easy. Not only is making the switch straightforward, it also stands to reduce the harm to the environment, animals, and even ourselves that is perpetuated by the production of hot dogs and other processed meat products.

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