Adam Gertler may be the only würstmacher in the fast-casual industry—or even in all of restaurants, as far as he knows. But it’s not a job he takes lightly. The food TV personality and former star of “Food Network Star” and “Kid in a Candy Store” is passionate about hot dogs and sausages, a passion that first budded in his backyard and through pop-up restaurants with his brother, and has since developed into a full-fledged gig with Los Angeles–based fast casual Dog Haus.
Here, Gertler talks about how operators can overcome hot dogs’ lowly reputation and get creative with wacky wieners.
How do you overcome people’s low expectations for hot dogs and sausages?
There is certainly a reputation for hot dogs being the lowest form of protein on the totem pole. You can create a hot dog with phosphates and fat and very little protein. That’s how some places are able to sell hot dogs five for $1. You look at one of ours and it’s basically a full serving of protein in a hot dog, because there’s more meat in it. We have a great price point, I think. As someone who is a food nerd, I’m like, come on, $5.99 for a basic house dog? That’s ridiculously good, because I know what goes in it.
In the quick-serve place where we are, we need that price point to be where we are, and it’s only when you actually get enough stores that we’re able to make our own signature blend, use a super high-quality cut of meat, and then be able to still get that price point.
How much does regionality come into play with hot dog and sausage innovation?
We definitely want to work on regionality. It’s something that I’m excited about. We’ve experimented with a green chili dog that is great for Colorado and New Mexico, and as we go into Texas or Cleveland, those people have their regional hits, and we definitely want to play to them. I don’t know that we’re going to try to do Chicago in Chicago, because then you’re going to be judged on that. I think we’re best served to show what we do: It’s just a great dog, and I think people will come around to that.
What’s the best blend of meat for hot dogs and sausages?
It comes down to fat content, and you can get there in a lot of different ways. We use a blend of chuck and brisket, because it’s a whole muscle and there’s a good amount of fat, and then to get that fat ratio, we’ll fill out with other parts of trim, just pure beef fat. You want to get to a place where you’ve got around 35–40 percent fat to lean meat. Then it really just comes down to the quality of the beef itself. You could use pure short rib and make a hot dog with that, and it’s a great fat ratio, but that’s a very expensive cut to use all the time.
I started using brisket when I was doing pastrami dogs. I would basically get a whole minimally trimmed brisket that was already cured, like a whole corned beef raw. Then I would add garlic and black pepper and coriander to it, and then I would basically cube that, freeze it, grind it, emulsify it, stuff it, and smoke it. That ratio of fat was great. The more fat you have in the dog, the more it will withstand cooking.
What kind of outside-the-box flavors would you recommend?
I was just talking to somebody yesterday about a Chicken Tikka Masala dog. That’s something I’d love to do, even if you could do it in naan or something like that. I love serving hot dogs in tortillas and nontraditional bread things, too. We’ve done Fresno, jalapeño, and Anaheim chilies; Monterey Jack cheese; smoked pork; and then cumin—basically your green chili flavors.
You can really go as wild as your imagination. Put it this way: Anything you can do in a meatloaf or a burger, you could do in a sausage. You just need to take a little bit more care in the way you’re bringing it all together. The sausage needs to be ground and it needs to be kept very cold the whole time so that bind will happen.
How much does health play a role in your development decisions?
If people want to keep it a little bit on the lighter-calorie side, I just say that the thing you eliminate is the bun. If you want to eat at Dog Haus and eat healthy, you can get any of our sausages, which are pretty lean and have only about 250–280 calories for the actual link itself. You could lettuce wrap that and then top it with avocado and mustard and then you can actually have yourself a pretty lean meal at Dog Haus.
What do you foresee for the future of hot dogs? A hot dog renaissance?
Every aspect of the food industry is getting the sort of foodie innovation—the foodie makeover, if you will. You can see how people are starting to redo the doughnut and they’re starting to redo the bagel—everything is getting a revolution through the eyes of a more conscious, more foodie culture. Being a chef is cool and you get more minds on those subjects and you have more people participating in the revolution.