How to Make a Winning Hot Dog

Will Nick's new take on the classic Chili Cheese Dog win him another 1st prize?

After winning the Great Hot Dog Cookoff in 2009, Nick Suarez went on to beat Bobby Flay in an epic Hot Dog Throwdown and hasn’t looked back. This weekend, Nick returns to compete in the 6th Annual Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn, NY with his newest creation, a riff on the classic chili cheese dog. Nick shares his secrets for building a winning hot dog recipe.

Yesterday I shared my strategy for how to win a cookoff. Today I’m revealing my secrets for building a winning hot dog recipe.

One of the keys to success is creating a balance of flavor in your dish. You must create the perfect bite. Apply these tips for a cookoff, or the dogs at your next family BBQ.

1)  Start by Finding the Right Mix of Dog and Bun
This is one of the most important steps of the process. Buy a bunch of different buns and franks and do a taste test. Top-sliced buns are great because you can grill both sides and get the bun extra toasty, although their size limits the amount of toppings you can put on the dog. I like potato rolls because they can hold up to the weight and moistness of chili without falling apart. Plus, they have a thick, doughy nature, so I’ll be using them this weekend at the cookoff.

Potato rolls hold up to the weight and moisture of runny toppings like chili.

I always use a natural casing beef hot dog, because I like the snap that comes when you bite into it. I prefer a salty, juicy hot dog, but one that isn’t too garlicky or heavily spiced.

Franks with a natural casing have great snap.

Now the fun begins with the toppings. Hot dogs are versatile, because you can literally put anything on a hot dog. Meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits — you name it. I find there are a few distinct aspects of flavor that can elevate your hot dog to another level, and hopefully score you a win.

2)  Find a Creamy Sauce or Condiment
This will bring your dog together. Avocado, ketchup, mayo, mustard or any kind of sauce adds a smooth textural element to the hot dog. I’ll be making a special sauce of mayonnaise, ketchup, herbs and lemon to apply to the the bun. It will also act as a liquid-proof barrier, so the bun doesn’t get soggy from my ultimate secret weapon, a special chili I’m finishing the dog with.

A creamy sauce or condiment lays the flavor base, and keeps the bun from getting soggy.

3)  Add a Crunchy, Crispy Topping
When deciding on your toppings, texture is super important. Anything that adds crispness or crunch to the dog will help balance the softness of the bun and dog. Good examples are crushed potato chips, coleslaw, dehydrated and fried items. This year, I’ll be topping my dog with deep-fried slices of jalapeño and a simple coleslaw of thinly sliced cabbage.

Fried jalapeno will add some texture and heat to Nick's hot dog.

4)  Don’t Forget an Acid Flavor
All great hot dogs feature some sort of acidic item, like pickles or any other pickled item. This helps balance the saltiness and cuts through the fat in the meat of the dog. I’ll be making quick pickles with cucumbers, sugar, salt and rice wine vinegar.

Quick pickles will add acidity to this dog.

5)  Surprise Yourself
I’m topping the whole thing with my secret homemade chili, and a fondue sauce of assorted cheeses that pare well with my other flavors.

At the end of the day, just have fun finding the right mix of ingredients for you. The hot dog is really just a blank canvas, and serves as a vessel for any ingredient imaginable, even non-traditional ones. The number one rule for all cookoffs is to have fun.

Ready to compete.

Taste Nick’s dog and 22 other competing hot dogs this weekend at the 6th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn, NY. Proceeds benefit Food Bank of New York, a 28-year-old non-profit working to end food poverty throughout the five boroughs.

More Hot Dogs:

Learn more about Nick Suarez and his national cookoff series, Food Experiments, at