Saturday, June 28, 2008

Frankfurter Taste Testing--Try This At Home, I'm Not a Professional!

I was surfing randomly around the internet yesterday when I ran across this story in about Kraft's Oscar Meyer and Sara Lee's Ball Park Franks getting into some sort of "wiener war" for America's outdoor grilling taste buds. One of my cousins works for Kraft, so I thought I'd help her out by doing some random, non-scientific field testing of these two products so that I might reach a more informed decision the next time I have the urge to load up on nitrates. Below are the "conditions" of said field/taste test. No promises on its scientific accuracy or relevance.

So what I did was head for the lunch meat section of Publix and bought a pack of each. I tried to find comparable products, but had to deal with what was on the shelf. Here's what I ended up with:

Oscar Meyer 10-count Premium Beef Franks, 16 oz. Prior to cooking, the Oscar Meyer dogs looked better in the package. They were obviously smaller--10 dogs to the pack instead of 8 for Ball Park--but they also had a reddish brick color, more akin to Smokies than hot dogs. Unfortunately, I neglected to do a pre-grilling taste test. Cold hot dogs were a staple of my childhood, and still make an appearance in my adult diet when I'm too lazy to microwave my grilling leftovers. It might have been interesting to do a before-and-after taste test.

Ball Park 8-count Bun Size Franks, 16 oz. These dogs were obviously bigger and slightly longer in the package. Their color was that distressing grey-brown that causes adults to grill or otherwise hot dogs rather than eat them in their natural state.

Cooking Conditions: The hot dogs were grilled on a non-Weber knockoff grill over approximately 50 Match Light Instant Charcoals after ~10 minutes of prefiring. The grill was on an unenclosed patio, outside temperatures in the mid-80s, moderate humidity.

Grilling: The Oscar Meyer hot dogs remained straight throughout grilling. They took slightly longer to brown but reached a nice, crispy texture (cook's preferred level of done-ness) once they got going. The dogs did expand to approximately the same length as the Ball Park dogs after several minutes on the grill. The Ball Park dogs browned more quickly, began to curl, making them slightly unmanageable when turning, but did not grow appreciably during the grilling process. Eventually, as I was beginning to remove them from the grill, both sets of hot dogs began to assume the same color, length, and consistency, with the Ball Park dogs remaining slightly curved. If not for this slight difference, my absentmindedness might have made telling the two apart more difficult.

Tasting: As I had only myself on hand for the experiment, you'll just have to go along with me on this. Being boring and cheap, the dogs were both put on simple Publix white-bread hot dog rolls (currently selling at 2/$1.99 in Huntsville) with Heinz Ketchup and Hebrew National Deli Mustard. Your taste/mileage may vary. The Oscar Meyer, despite its healthier appearance in the package, had a slightly tougher skin (thus the longer browning time) and an unremarkable flavor. The Ball Park Franks, despite their thinner skin and more rapid browning, still retained a juicier, somehow fresher or more distinctive flavor.

Results: While it won't make my Kraft cousin happy, I'd have to go with the Ball Park Franks for future frankfurter festivals. The flavor and purpose-built bun length more than outweighed their inconvenient grilling/turning characteristics. Da Winna: Ball Park Franks!

May your experiments be just as rewarding.

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