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Let’s be frank: Most people think hot dogs are made of leftover bits and parts, but the ingredients in Vienna Beef’s iconic dog are not as gnarly as you’d think. According to Bob Schwartz, the pup purveyor’s senior vice president, Viennas break down like this: beef, water, salt, corn syrup, dextrose, mustard, natural flavorings and coloring, garlic juice, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, extractives of paprika and sheep casing. But because words such as sodium erythorbate require just a teensy bit more explanation, here’s an in-depth look at the makeup of a Vienna wiener.
What’s the beef?
About 75 percent of the meat in the frank is ground domestic bull beef—meat from leaner, tougher, older cattle past their calf-makin’ prime. The other 25 percent: trimmings from the fatty cuts of beef brisket and beef navel (the cow equivalent of pork belly) Vienna uses to make corned beef and pastrami.
Garlic juice, salt and extractives of paprika give the dog some flavor, but trade-secret laws protect the company from disclosing all of the “natural flavoring and coloring” ingredients. Sweeteners corn syrup and dextrose are added to balance the saltiness.
Pretty in pink
Sodium nitrite is a salt that boosts the flavor, prevents the growth of botulism and turns the dog pink. Sodium erythorbate is a preservative that keeps the color from fading and prevents the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines that can develop when meat is exposed to high temperatures (read: burning on your grill).
Sheathing the wiener
The classic dog-stand Vienna is encased in natural sheep casing—a polite euphemism for intestine. Larger-size editions of the Vienna dog are stuffed into hog intestines.
The trail of a tube steak
The ground beef, flavorings and additives are blended into a thick paste inside an industrial mixer. This mixture is transferred to a stuffer machine that squirts the paste into casings, and these long tubes are twisted into big strands of links. Racks holding the links hit a convection smoking room, where hot air and hickory-chip–fired smoke circulate around the dog to cook and infuse it with a smoky flavor.