We Tried Oscar Mayer’s New Vegan Hot Dogs

Collage by Julia Duarte

Hot dog stalwart Oscar Mayer announced earlier this month that it would release a vegan hot dog, the company’s first since its founding 141 years ago. You’ll be able to find the product on shelves at major retailers later in 2024. Ahead of their public launch, we got our hands on a few dogs to see how they stand up to the original.

Oscar Mayer’s vegan franks are produced in partnership with NotCo, which uses an AI program (that’s for some reason named Giuseppe) to analyze molecular structures of items like milk and chicken and create plant-based dupes like Not Milk, Not Chicken, and Not Burger.

The release comes at a strange time for the meat substitutes industry. Fake meats are not doing well. A major player in the nonmeat-meat game, Beyond Meat, faced public scandals and safety concerns in recent years. Beyond’s stock prices were in freefall throughout 2022 and sank by nearly 83% over the past two years. One of the major issues is that plant-based meats are more expensive. Also, they’re not all that healthy.

But finding ways to get the world to consume fewer animal products is still a critical part of addressing climate change. Just last week, Jeff Bezos’s Bezos Earth Fund announced a $60 million commitment to establish Bezos’s Centers for Sustainable Protein to research and create new meat alternatives that taste better and are healthier. (Bezos is also, coincidentally, a backer of NotCo.)

The taste better part is important, especially to our staff here at Bon Appéit. We’re all for a vegan alternative, but it shouldn’t feel like a compromise. Several of our editors have dabbled in plant-based sausages and not purchased them again. The question in our test kitchen was clear: Is Oscar Mayer’s vegan hot dog delicious enough to include in your next backyard barbecue?

Straight out of the package, the dogs were floppy, with a kielbasa scent—nearly identical to real hot dogs. To find out how they tasted, we sizzled the dogs in a skillet with a squirt of vegetable oil, tucked them into squishy buns, and zigzagged on a bit of mustard, for the full hot dog experience.

Despite their vegan casings—sodium alginate, a common casing for plant-based sausages that’s derived from seaweed—the dogs browned beautifully as they cooked. Each link developed a shiny, burnished crust as it plumped, just like a real wiener. Our tasters, a notoriously choosey bunch, were delighted. There was enthusiastic agreement when senior service editor Kelsey Jane Youngman pointed out that each bite of the dog had a nice snap versus the leathery exterior of other vegan dogs we’ve tried.

Epicurious commerce writer Wilder Davies flatteringly compared them to a Costco hot dog, and said they were just the right amount of smoky and savory. Nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, mustard, and “smoked flavor,” all appear on the ingredients list, and made us feel like we were sitting around a firepit on the beach.

Digital production assistant Li Goldstein went so far as to say she’d believe that her hot dog was made with actual meat if she didn’t know any better. “Tell me that’s not a hot dog!” senior cooking editor Emma Laperruque said of her Not Hot Dog.

Marks were high all around, although the group agreed that the interior hue was more reddish than we are used to, and the filling was more spongy than springy. That textural difference isn’t unexpected because the dogs are made of wheat gluten, which you may know as seitan. Such downsides were minor points—unless, of course, you’re avoiding gluten. Oscar Mayer’s vegan hot dogs were still some of the best we’ve crossed paths with (somewhat ironic since Oscar Mayer underperformed in our hot dog taste test last year).

A delicious hot dog is a delicious hot dog, regardless of the protein source, and Oscar Mayer proves that a plant-based dog can indeed be craveable. The links in our taste were gobbled up quickly—perhaps too quickly. “Are they all gone?” culinary production director Kelly Janke asked after our test concluded. “I want more.”

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Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit

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