Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mr. Dave Does Mini-Dogs: Homemade Capital Region Style Hot Dogs (Part 1 in a Possible 3 Part Series)

Wouldn't you know it? Those Giants went done and made it to the big show again. What the hell? Can't they ever just suck, or be good, for the entire season? But I guess the fluky weirdness of the G-Mens' occasional success is what keeps being a Giants fan exciting.

Anyhow, I decided to attempt to please the gods of hot dogs and football (I posit that they are similar gods, or at least live in the same neighborhood) with something of a votive offering to ensure a Giants victory. I pledged to construct (from scratch) that hallowed Capital Region delicacy that is the mini-hot dog with meat sauce. I begin here with the formulation of the actual dinky dog, but I have plans to also make the buns, meat sauce (I have done this before), and the mustard.

For my meats, I began with about a pound of cubed and partially frozen pork belly.

To this I added a further 2 pounds of cubed pork shoulder and 1 pound of beef chuck (again, all partially frozen).

As you probably already know, keeping your meat and fat cold during the grinding process is probably one of the most important measures you can take to ensure a successful sausage. I picked up this grinder on sale off of Cabella's a while back for about 90 bucks. I have been thoroughly pleased with the purchase, you can grind meat that is just short of frozen without taxing the motor.

Here we have the meats after the first grind (coarse plate). Isn't there just something very pretty about freshly ground meat and fat? Maybe it is just me...

Below we have our sausage mix ground a second time through a fine plate after which it sort of looks like meat spaghetti.

This is a good time to throw your meat mixture back into the freezer for a bit while you prepare your seasonings.

For the actual flavorings I used (this is basically Len Poli's Frankfurter recipe with some omissions and additions):

     -1 tbs. Paprika (the cheap stuff)
     -1.5 tbs. Kosher salt
     -1 tbs. White pepper
     -1 tsp. Garlic powder
     -1 tsp. Mace
     -1 tsp. Prague #1
     -1 tsp. Liquid smoke (hickory)

I also use a number of things to ensure a good texture and juiciness, I can't let you in on all my secrets, but you probably want to use a bit short of a cup of non-fat dry milk powder. As this is an emulsified sausage some whey protein isolate will help too (about 2 tbs). My remaining secrets will remain secrets unless you want to become my apprentice.

To the thoroughly mixed dry ingredients I add enough ice cold water to make the seasoning mixture pourable. The ground meat goes in to Lur-lenore's (my stand mixer) bowl. I am using the method for sausage emulsification recommended in Ruhlman's Charcuterie book in this recipe. This is a departure from my usual food processor emulsification method a 'la Len Poli. In this case we slowly pour the spice mixture in as the meat goes at a fairly high speed (with a cake paddle) for about 4 minutes.

Here is the sticky hot dog paste after mixing. The texture of this batch seemed about the same as that which I have achieved using a food processer, maybe a little denser. I put the mix back in the freezer and prepared my stuffer and casings.

For my mini-dogs I am using 21mm smoked collagen casings (from LEM products, same company that makes my stuffer). These are the approximate size of sheep casings, and along the lines of what you would usually use for breakfast links or snack sticks. I have never used "smoked" collagen before, I wanted to give it a whirl here as I desired smoke flavor, but am not going to have time to actually put a natural smoke on the sausages.

Here we see my X-mas gift (5 pound, hand-cranked vertical stuffer thank you Mrs. Dave) working away. This thing has made the stuffing process as worrisome as a cloudy day. If you make sausage regularly, do yourself a favor and put out the 150 bucks for one of these bad boys. You will quickly make your money back in time saved and frustration avoided. Plus, especially in coarser sausages, utilizing a hand powered stuffer does wonders for the final texture.

Here is the resulting 7 or 8 feet of delicious looking hot dog rope ready to be linked.

I have found that collagen casings do not have the natural elasticity of gut and won't stay twisted on their own when you make your links. I made three inch double links and used a bit of twine to tie them off. Here is the beautiful result of my toil-

4 pounds of meat made 50 or 60 individual sausages. I think they look excellent -- just how I envisioned them! The color looks a bit weird, but that is because they are still raw. Once the cure takes and they are cooked a bit, I expect them to be pretty and pink.

As I stated, these dogs are still raw. I like to let hot dogs set up overnight in the refrigerator before I begin the cooking process. To cook, I will stick one with a probe thermometer, place the dogs on a rack inside of a hotel pan, throw in some water, seal the vessel with aluminum foil, and cook in a very slow oven until they reach 150 degrees. I have found that this method makes for a moist, slow-steamed dog and reduces shrinkage/case wrinkling. Before serving I will brown them in cast iron (I don't own a hot dog roller....yet.).

Anyhow, I will surely update with how these turn out (flavor and texture-wise). My next project will be manufacturing enough buns to enrobe all of these wee, beautiful sausages. I think this will actually be the hardest part of my whole endeavor.  Making a bun with the proper texture is no small feat, and I will have to think about it a bit. After that I will tackle the meat sauce and mustard. Hopefully everything comes together before Superbowl Sunday. We shall see.


I would like to apologize for all of the "She-li Manning" jokes that I made all season.


  1. Never thought I wanted/needed a Kitchenaid mixer (don't bake) but now I want one!

  2. There's an apprentice opening?!? I didn't see it at Capital Area Help Wanted Dot Com. Sign me up. I've never used smoked casings either. Curious to see how it comes out.

  3. Although you strayed from the 100% beef new York style dog I still want to eat some. Pop about 5 of those suckers in the mail to Cali for me.

  4. @bk-

    Yeah, all beef hot dogs are notoriously hard to do well at home. It is hard coming across the requisite amount of quality beef fat, and if you are trying to make lean dogs without an industrial quality emulsifier (and the aid of food chemists, not that I didn't use a bit of that in this recipe. i.e. my "secret ingredients") you are not going to have good results. Not to say people don't make good all-beef dogs at home, it is just less easy (and more expensive, beef is crazy these days) to use a pork mix.

  5. Wait, thats not what I meant. Using a pork/beef mixture is easier and cheaper. That is what I meant.

  6. Mr. Dave, you rock the block. I love this blog. I would so much rather read this than Food 52 or Smitten Kitchen or any of the other ho' couture food blogs. Keep up the great recipes, Capital area restaurant reviews, product editorials, etc.

    S. Katz from Seattle

  7. I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer currently serving in the former Soviet Union. I'm not exactly sure how I originally found this blog, but it's been read in its entirety during the recent blizzards of January. After about 75 consecutive days of cabbage and potatoes, it warms my blood a little to see the sausages and other good stuff produced here. As most blood warming here is only through the use of a 'Russian Blanket'(vodka), this is a welcome change. Good work, Mr. Dave

  8. Im gonna have to try this one out. Looks and sounds great!


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