It’s time for the last gasp of summer: Labor Day weekend.
As the first leaves begin to fall, plumes of savory smoke will surely dot the nation — and many will be heading to a warehouse store like Costco to buy barbecue and party supplies in bulk beforehand.
Racks of ribs and five-pound packs of hot dogs will be flying off the shelves in a celebratory bulk-buying frenzy.
Yet so many shopping for dogs to grill will likely breeze right past perhaps the best hot dogs in the country: Costco’s.
I’m no hot-dog connoisseur, but of all I’ve tried in my life thus far, Costco’s is the best yet.
How is the nation’s best hot dog from such a bare-bones place as the Costco cafeteria?
First of all, it’s a great value. You can order a hot dog and a drink for $1.50 — that’s it. And considering how large the hot dog is, it’s definitely an outrageous deal.
But a deal alone isn’t enough to sway most. The expectations are understandably low for a Costco meal. But on that first bite, it’s abundantly clear that this is no run-of-the-mill hot dog.
The dog is unexpectedly flavorful. Gone is the bland, hollow taste of the average hot dog; instead, a delightful smoky taste pervades, similar to a kielbasa sausage, but not as fatty or rich. There’s a slight charred taste to it that isn’t overpowering. It’s juicy, and there’s a satisfying snap with every bite.
This is not the lifeless frankfurter that one microwaves for 30 seconds before chopping up and throwing in some ill-conceived mac-and-cheese dinner. Nay — this dog has vitality. The condiments aren’t needed to mask the soul-crushing saltiness that they normally would, but simply to complement the already-delicious hot dog.
Speaking of condiments: Ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, and sauerkraut — if you’re into that — are all at your disposal at Costco’s commissary. Such freedom is truly a national treasure worthy of our patronage.
The bun is deceptively simple — what’s in a bun, after all? It’s seen as the vehicle, not the cargo. Yet the bun is the unsung hero of this hot dog.
It’s soft and pliant, and tastes lightly sweet, which complements the dog itself perfectly. But the real magic happens when the condiments are dumped on the dog with wild abandon — precisely because nothing happens. The bun is immune to shabby sogginess or untimely breakage. It’s truly miraculous.
By all means, grill your own hot dogs in the backyard — char them if you must. But if you find yourself heading to Costco to stock up on huge amounts of paper napkins, meat for the grill, etc., do yourself a favor and grab a hot dog on the way out. You’ll be surprised.