Hamburgers and hot dogs are still the undisputed champions of summertime grill season (and frequent players at tailgating parties), no matter how enthusiastic the grill master in your life is for experimenting with other meats and veggies. Crowd-pleasing, kid-friendly and cost-effective, these go-to grilling staples and their attendant side dishes make for easy and festive summer dining any night of the week.
If you’re relying solely on conventional grocery store meats and packaged brands, however, your summer and early fall grill favorites can easily tip into the “too much of a good thing” category. Do you really want to deconstruct what all is in your hot dog? Fortunately, even crowd pleasers like burgers and dogs can receive the artisanal or upgraded treatment. Many farms and brands with national availability are producing options using higher quality meats and cuts, blended approaches or organic and sustainable practices. Here are nine of our favorite options for giving you reason to feel good about your grill favorites this season.
Teton Waters Ranch/Facebook
Beginning with one operation in Idaho, Teton Waters Ranch now sources from numerous cattle ranches that operate with the same principles in mind: 100% grass-fed animals with certified humane treatment. Uncured hot dogs and sausages come in numerous flavors, and beef burgers also include a blend of mushrooms or peppers for some hidden veg. All this goodness is coupled with convenience: Burgers can go right from the freezer to the grill without defrosting. Prices vary by location but expect to pay about $10 for four burgers.
Dry aging is a process that concentrates flavor and tenderness in meat, especially beef. Though it’s typically thought of as a thing for expensive steakhouses, extreme flavor can be achieved this way for even humble hot dogs and burgers (preformed patties or loose ground beef, starting at $9 per pound). What’s more, Porter Road sources meat from the whole animal, and has a “if it’s not raised right, it can’t be delicious” mantra to guide its farming practices.
Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative
“Real meat, raised right,” is the principle behind this farmer-owned cooperative, which sources its meat from small-batch US farms that emphasize quality over quantity. A commitment to craft processing and transparency ensures that you know exactly what you’re getting in your ground beef (which goes for $10 per pound).
Baldor Specialty Foods
There was a time when Pat LaFrieda meats and Baldor specialty food products were only available wholesale to restaurants. But in the age of COVID-19, those connections have now been opened up for the home consumer. Pat LaFrieda has been in the butcher business for several generations, creating custom burger blends from specific cuts of meat. Baldor’s Shake Shack kit ($59) combines Pat LaFrieda beef with not only the requisite cheese, lettuce and tomato components, but also Martin’s Potato Buns, signature Shack Sauce and paper sleeves to put the burgers in, for an experience that is both high quality and fun. It’s also available on Goldbelly for $49 without the veggies or paper sleeves.
We’ll let this one fly under the “hot dogs” heading, because these sausages are both grill-friendly and bun-worthy. Made in a “less meat, not meatless” approach, this woman-owned, carbon-neutral Brooklyn business combines ethically sourced chicken and pork with vegetables to serve up fun flavors including Loaded Baked Potato and Broccoli Melt. Try all four flavors in this variety pack on sale for $53.
Snake River Farms
If you’re still in the “What is Wagyu?” camp, here’s a quick breakdown: Wagyu is a Japanese breed of cattle that produces meat of exceptional flavor because of its muscle-to-fat ratio. (How it is typically treated and fed also plays into this.) Unlike Kobe, which is a distinction tied to a place in Japan, Wagyu can be raised outside of Japan, as is the case with Snake River Farms Wagyu burgers and hot dogs (starting at $12), giving it every right to call its hot dogs “gourmet.”
As convenience grocery stores go, it’s no surprise that Trader Joe’s provides a go-to option that is both of a high quality and reasonably priced ($7 for four patties). As we’ve learned, cows are meant to eat grass, and Angus is a Scottish breed popular for beef because of its exceptional marbling, tenderness, flavor and texture.
Take all of the most desirable qualities that a farm operation can hope to achieve, and apply them all to these hot dogs: certified organic, all grass fed, certified humane and climate positive farming. Plus, a lightly seasoned, uncured approach takes the sodium down a notch while we’re at it (all at $10 a pack). Ground beef available from Belcampo also more than passes muster on the desirability scale.
Raised & Rooted
Another option that you may find along with fresh meats in your local supermarket, Raised & Rooted offers a blended approach. Angus beef is mixed with isolated pea protein for a burger that is still rich and meaty in flavor and hearty in texture but that clocks in at less fat and packs extra protein.