What's The Difference Between Hot Dogs And Frankfurters?

Do you know the saying: All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? Well, the same thing is true when it comes to hot dogs and frankfurters. All hot dogs are frankfurters, but not all frankfurters would be considered hot dogs. Despite the fact that they share similar histories and meat fillings, hot dogs and traditional frankfurter sausages are nonetheless distinct foods. And though there is some dispute over whether the frankfurter sausage originated in Germany or Austria, today, this family of processed meats represents over 25% of the sausages sold in the U.S.

Just as you can go to the grocery store and browse a number of different hot dog brands, each with its own unique recipe, there is still a common flavor thread of salt, smoke, and spice. The same is true with the traditional European frankfurters. They vary in meat and spice choice, but a commonality of flavor and cultural heritage binds them together. As immigrant sausage makers assimilated into American life and culture, their sausages began to change to reflect the tastes of their new home. 

Though we use the terms hot dog, frank, and wiener interchangeably as if they are the same thing, they are not. Yes, they are all members of the same sausage family, but there are distinctive characteristics that differentiate them from one another. The hot dog may be a natural evolution, but they are by no means traditional frankfurters.

Traditional frankfurters and wieners

Two European cities, Frankfurt and Vienna both lay claim to inventing the frankfurter. Legally, however, only sausages that come from Frankfurt carry the official name Frankfurter Würstchen. These sausages are long, slim, with a firm texture, and made purely of pork seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, sugar, mustard powder, and nutmeg. The meat is ground into a paste, encased in lambs intestines, cured, smoked, and then cooked. Locally, these sausages are only cooked in water, never subjected to direct heat, and are not served on buns.

You can, however, cook other similar sausages in a variety of ways, like the Frankfurter Würstel, a smaller sausage closer in shape and size to Viennese wieners, and Frankfurter Rindswurst, a pure beef variety that carries the frankfurter name, but is described by traditionalists as "Nach Frankfurter Art" meaning they are frankfurters, but not from Frankfurt.

Vienna sausages are essentially identical to the Frankfurter Würstel, and are commonly referred to as such in the city. Though they are smaller than German frankfurters, they are no less flavorful. Viennese sausages can be made with an amalgamation of meats such as pork, beef, poultry, or combinations of the three. Vienna sausages typically come canned but can also be fermented and dried, making them closer in consistency to a salami. As Germany and Austria share similar cultural customs, it's no wonder their sausages share similar characteristics. This would prove key to the development of hot dogs in America. 

Frankfurters come to America

The term "hot dog" came into use from German immigrant street vendors in New York City during the late 19th century. Initially called dachshund sausages for their elongated shape, the name eventually morphed into the shorter hot dogs. As the city grew, so did its liking for the quick portable snack. Famous stands, like Feltman's and Nathan's (famous for its Kosher all-beef dogs), popped up on Coney Island and outside of the city's many baseball fields. 

The chief difference between the traditional frankfurter and the hot dog is the meat that goes into each. As mentioned, the traditional German frankfurter is made entirely of pork. Hot dogs, meanwhile, are more like their Viennese counterparts and can be made of beef, pork, a combination of both, or even with chicken or turkey. However, beef and pork are the most common. Along with the meat, spices like paprika, nutmeg, pepper, garlic, and coriander go into the hot dog mix, along with preservatives like sodium nitrate. Hot dogs tend to be shorter, plumper, and have a bit sweeter taste and softer texture than frankfurters. 

While there is a distinctive difference between a traditional Frankfurter Würstchen and a hot dog, the similarities are clearer than crystal. We can therefore view the hot dog as a natural evolution of the Frankfurter. And it's an evolution that remains exceedingly popular and unquestionably delicious.