The Case for Grilling Dry-Aged Hot Dogs and Burgers This Fourth of July Weekend

A look at what goes into steakhouse-quality grillers — and more importantly, what doesn't

An assortment of Porter Road's dry-aged hot dogs.

By Evan Bleier

While you won’t see unsavory bits like lips included on the list of ingredients on the back of most packages of hot dogs, most companies will disclose that their dogs are made with something called “mechanically separated poultry.”

What exactly is mechanically separated poultry — or MSP, for short? The USDA has the answer: “Mechanically separated poultry is a poultry food product produced by high-pressure machinery that separates bone from poultry skeletal muscle tissue and other edible tissue by first crushing the bone and then forcing bone and tissue through a sieve or a similar screening device. The final paste-like material has a physical form and texture that differs materially from other boneless chicken and turkey products that are deboned by hand. Because of its cake-batter texture, it is ideally suited for use in hot dogs.” And it most certainly is used as such: hot dogs can legally contain “any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.”

While we’ve got nothing against brands that use MSP and grew up gorging on them at the backyard BBQs of our youth, it may be time to put away childish things. Or, at the very least, to stop eating them at the holiday BBQs of our adulthood.

Porter Road’s dry-aged hot dogs.
Porter Road

One easy way to avoid MSP-infused hot dogs is to go with all-beef dogs from an institution like Nathan’s or Feltman’s. To take things a step further (away from MSP), dry-aged hot dogs like the ones that are sold by boutique Nashville butcher shop Porter Road are a next-level option.

Made with carcass dry-aged beef harvested from the same pasture-raised, hormone-free cows that Porter Road uses to produce its hamburgers and steaks, the dogs are flavored with a blend of garlic and spices then smoked over cherrywood. Once the smoking process is complete, the collagen casing is removed, but the dogs still retain a nice snap thanks to the emulsification process.

“Most hot dogs are kind of boring and don’t have much flavor. We set out to bring back a really traditional Frankfurter and season it pretty aggressively to bring out the flavor of the dry-aging,” Porter Road co-founder James Peisker tells InsideHook. “We had a bunch of crazy things we experimented with before ending up on the recipe we use today. We took out the thyme and simple syrup that was originally in there. We don’t add any sugar, because the meat is naturally sweet. We went to powdered garlic from fresh garlic because the fresh garlic would give you, I quote, ‘garlic burps.’ Fresh garlic was the gift that kept on giving. Switching that made it more approachable and kid-friendly. I think fresh garlic was always the thing that scared kids off.”

Porter Road’s dry-aged burgers are a hot commodity.
Andrea Behrends

The lack of coloring, additives or anything else a human wouldn’t normally consume also make Porter Road’s Franks markedly less scary than many other offerings.

“There’s the old saying that hot dogs are lips and assholes. That’s not far from the truth,” Peisker says. “The meat that is used in a traditional dog is an inferior meat product that can’t be used for a hamburger. The big guys are cutting costs across the board and utilizing every last piece of animal. For mechanically removed meat, they use air guns to blast little bits of meat off the bone that takes with it cartilage and other things you don’t want. But if you chop and grind it up. fine enough, you can use that type of stuff. With a good hot dog, you’re getting quality meat, not things you normally wouldn’t want to eat.”

Thanks to the mix of ingredients, the smoking process and the quality of meat, Porter Road’s dogs differ in the taste department from other all-beef offerings, according to Peisker.

“Our all-beef hot dog is going to have a little bit more of that steakhouse-y flavor because of the dry aging,” he says. “But, I think the biggest difference is going to be the amount of flavor you get with it. Your average run-of-the-mill hot dog is designed to really just be fatty, sweet and salty. It’s a vehicle to make you want more, but it has nothing, seasoning-wise, that’s going to make it flavorful and exciting. Ours has that beef flavor with those great spices and seasonings and then the smokiness really rounds it out. Also, we designed our current dog to fit into a regular-sized bun so that a little bit of the dog meat sticks out on each side. That way, your first and last bite will be just pure hot dog. The bun is the vessel to get the hot dog into your mouth. You don’t want it to be the star of the show.”

Porter Road’s dry-aged hot dogs dressed up Chicago-style
Porter Road

Weighing in at 2.5 ounces each without a bun or any toppings, Porter Road’s dry-aged frankfurters are certainly hearty, but perhaps not quite as hefty as their dry-aged burgers, which are aged for 21 days and just launched at the end of June. Tipping the scales at approximately 1/3 of a pound apiece, the burgers just as additive-free as Porter Road’s dogs and don’t need any other add-ons outside of salt and pepper to cook up perfectly on a grill.

“A few weeks ago, we ran an extra dry-aged ground beef experiment in our butcher shop in Nashville and customers lost their minds so we wanted to make this special product available nationwide in time for the holiday,” Peisker says. “While all of our beef is dry aged, we decided to set some sections aside from the hind quarters for extra dry aging — 21 days to be exact. This concentrates the beefy flavors and develops umami notes. When ground and blended with fresh beef fat, the result is the best steakhouse burger money can buy. Burgers should have flavor, not just act as a condiment delivery system.”

A smashburger guy himself, Peisker does have one warning about grilling up his dry-aged patties this Independence Day. “A dry-aged burger obviously pairs perfectly and even enhances the taste of a cold beer, but one downside of a burger this good is the sadness one might feel thinking back on all the wasted bites of substandard burgers that proceeded,” he says. “If you can’t shake this feeling off, you might not feel up to fireworks.”

We’ll chance it.