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What the Hell Are ‘Uncured’ Hot Dogs?

All I wanted was to throat a couple glizzies and now I have to deal with these existential questions

It’s another normal trip to the grocery store, and you’re shopping for glizzies. Suddenly, something strange catches your eye: A glistening packet of “uncured” hot dogs. Puzzled, you nab them up and analyze each weenie. They look normal. They feel normal. But, your sausage senses are tingling. You wonder, what are uncured hot dogs? What are “cured” hot dogs? When did wieners get so complicated? It’s actually simpler than it seems.

Cured hot dogs contain synthetic nitrites or nitrates (more on those in a second), and their uncured brethren don’t, says Jess Pryles, multi-platform meat influencer and author of Hardcore Carnivore: Cook Meat Like You Mean It. However, she explains that uncured hot dogs usually still contain nitrites or nitrates, but they’re from non-synthetic sources like celery juice. Cured or uncured, Pryles says they don’t taste any different.

What does all that mean? Basically, nitrites and nitrates, synthetic or otherwise, serve as preservatives. They help hot dogs (and all sorts of deli meats) maintain their color and prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. Whether you go cured or uncured doesn’t matter. As Pryles says, “It’s the same destination — just two different routes to get there.”

There is a problem with synthetic nitrites and nitrates, though. They’re converted by our bodies into nitrosamines, organic compounds that are believed to be carcinogenic. (Nitrosamines are some of the more precarious carcinogens in tobacco products, for example.) 

On the other hand, non-synthetic nitrites and nitrates come from natural sources that also contain vitamin C (again, like celery). This inhibits their conversion into nitrosamines, so they’re thought to be a healthier option. That said, modern-day regulations require manufacturers to limit the amount of synthetic nitrites and nitrates they use, and force them to add vitamin C instead. 

So, if you want to be extra safe, uncured hot dogs are potentially a healthier choice than “cured” hot dogs, if only because their preservatives come from a more natural place. And if you’re a real health nut willing to make friends with your local butcher, Pryles notes that there are truly uncured hot dogs out there, which contain no nitrites and nitrates whatsoever, but their shelf life is “much shorter.”

Though, considering the increase in regulations around nitrites and nitrates, your real concern when slamming glizzies should be their high levels of saturated fat and sodium, both of which we know for sure can mess up your heart. 

Still not convinced? Fine. Pick your damn hot dogs and move along. There are other people in this grocery store, y’know?