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Pro secrets to the best grilled hot dog

I knew I was officially a homeowner when I received a gas grill for my birthday. And for the nearly 10 years that have followed, grilling at home has been a favorite pastime. Admittedly, however, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my hot dogs: Sahlen’s and middle-of-the-road condiments.

OK, I’m boring. Two local food experts who are not boring, however, are Donnie Burtless and Jeff Biesinger.

Burtless is one of the co-founders of, considered by many to be Buffalo’s top food blog. The Southtowns native grew up near George’s and still calls Ted’s his go-to hot dog stand, “because it’s efficient, consistent and cheap.” When it comes to home grilling, he looks beyond Sahlen’s and Wardynski’s.

“Spar’s European Sausage Shop makes two amazing hot dogs,” he says. “Its own, nitrate-free pork version is just a better-tasting Sahlen’s. It’s got a richer flavor. However, its ‘T-Dawg’ is made with pork from T-Meadow Farm, and it’s just ridiculous: fatty, super flavorful. It’s a one-and-done hot dog. I can’t eat that many.”

Burtless owns a gas grill but says he “firmly stands on the side of grilling over charcoal rather than cooking on a flat top/pan. You need that char.”

How about toppings? “At home, I go against the cool kids and put on ketchup, hot sauce, and a little mustard. If I want to get crazy, I’ll throw on some sriracha mayo, but I tend to leave those toppings to Frank’s.”

Jeff Biesinger is a restaurant reviewer and a competition barbecue cook. Like many Western New Yorkers, his usual brand of choice is Sahlen’s: “They’re easy to find and they’re what I grew up eating. When I was in college in Central New York, I grilled a lot of Wegmans brand white hots. The best bet is to hit Spar’s for knackwurst — weisswurst for really high-quality links.”

Like Burtless, Biesinger believes charcoal grilling is preferable to gas.

“I prefer to go Ted’s style and cook hot dogs over lump charcoal,” he says. “Lump provides high heat that gets the Sahlen’s dogs charring and splitting. We’re fortunate that Ted’s cooks this way; because of them you can find a great brand (Humphrey’s) of lump that’s made with American hardwood. I suspect it’s here only because Ted’s uses so much of it. Most of the lump around at big box stores comes from South America and it has a distinctive smell.”

When it comes to toppings, Biesinger likes to experiment: “After a visit to Crif Dogs in the East Village [of New York City] — where I had a bacon-wrapped dog with pineapple, green onion, and teriyaki sauce — I’ve been experimenting with different combinations and cuisines. Kimchi goes great on dogs, as does Tzatziki sauce.”

If he’s not grilling at home, Biesinger says choosing where to grab a dog is an easy decision: “Frank. Great, handmade dogs, and interesting topping combos.”

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