Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


hotdogfilter - Why do BallPark Franks plump when you cook them?
August 6, 2009 10:12 PM   Subscribe

hotdogfilter - Why do BallPark Franks plump when you cook them?

remember the commercials that claim "ballpark franks plump when you cook them" and showed the hotdogs swelling on a grill?

Why? Is it all dogs or just Ballpark? ...Why do they "plump"?
posted by Paleoindian to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
My first thought would be water turning to steam.

All hotdogs, as far as I know, plump up when cooked. Ballpark may add more water, and / or have a tougher skin to prevent splitting, which would let more steam out.
posted by K5 at 10:19 PM on August 6, 2009


Wow, I remember seeing these commercials in Austin in the mid-1970s.

An ad agency quote here says: "During the 1960s Doner continued to grow, creating memorable ad campaigns for .... Hygrade Ball Park Franks ... with the classic "They plump when you cook 'em," slogan, which debuted in 1966."

Then this thread about ball park hot dogs
here says: "If you're using dogs that have a high cereal content, for sure prolonged watering will plump them up (to some degree so will steaming, another time-honored way to make a dog). High-cereal franks are generally cheaper franks. Boiling leaches out fats, and if you're keeping them around waiting for sale, it also inhibits bacterial growth without drying them out the way heated rollers will do. I'm theorizing that boiling also draws out salt, and if that's so it also might help account for putting them on the boil. From habit and mom's instructions, I boil all dogs before grilling, especially if they have pork or chicken content. They're juicier and taste better, at least to me."

So maybe they put in a little more cereal than the competitors for (1) ball park flavor, (2) to save money, and (3) have a basis for a cool ad campaign?

Boo to Sara Lee Foods for not answering such an obvious question about such a noteworthy product on their slick website -- I see from Google that others have asked this before.
posted by crapmatic at 10:26 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


According to the June 21, 1999 edition of the Memphis Flyer, it's nitrite (particularly, I suppose, sodium nitrite) that makes hot dogs expand when heated, although, because it is dyed pink to be visible as a food additive in the U.S., it also supplies some hot dog color. Too much nitrite additive tends to make hot dogs explosive, they intimate. I've never seen a hot dog explode, but I'm only 59 years old.
posted by paulsc at 12:22 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


because it is dyed pink to be visible as a food additive in the U.S., it also supplies some hot dog color

It changes the color of cured meat all by itself. The coloring is used to avoid mixups in the production chain; given the miniscule amounts that end up in the final product, I doubt much of that color carres over to the final product.
posted by effbot at 1:43 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Too much nitrite additive tends to make hot dogs explosive, they intimate. I've never seen a hot dog explode, but I'm only 59 years old.

Well, it is a decent oxidizer. Not as nice as the nitrate form, but still pretty decent. Throw it together with a fuel and set it off, you'll likely get something...uh...more energetic than burning the fuel in room air.

I really don't think you can make exploding hotdogs that easily. At best, I imagine you'd get smoking, fizzling hotdogs. Meat is not a high-availability fuel. Even sucrose and potassium nitrate only fizz and spark.
posted by Netzapper at 1:55 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's the ingredients list; I'm not sure which, if any of these things, 'plump', or which have sub-ingredients not listed, like perhaps the beef stock, which might contain grain based additives. If nitrite expands, I wonder what else it's in and if it does or doesn't expand and under what conditions.

MECHANICALLY SEPARATED TURKEY, PORK, WATER, BEEF, CORN SYRUP, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: SALT, POTASSIUM LACTATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, FLAVORINGS, PARTIALLY HYDROLYZED BEEF STOCK, SODIUM DIACETATE, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), SODIUM NITRITE, EXTRACTIVES OF PAPRIKA.

(Also, I would like to say that I find the word 'plump', when used as a verb, an abomination.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:50 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


more water than beef
posted by molecicco at 3:37 AM on August 7, 2009


(Also, I would like to say that I find the word 'plump', when used as a verb, an abomination.)

You may, but Merriam-Webster doesn't.
posted by scalefree at 4:05 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of with the simple "more water than beef" interpretation, but would also lean toward a thicker skin which would resist splitting and enable expanding as the water content reachs boiling.

I say this after just having grilled some amazing brats from The Brat Stop which grilled up beautifully without gimmicky expansion and tasted heavenly, and I don't even like packed meats! I got lucky with these guys on the grill last night - well made brats, sausages, and the like take care in preparation, the type of which throwing down some "Ballpark Franks" doesn't require.

As such I think any answer to this question will have to take into account the gimmick factor of Ballpark's "they plump when you cook them" slogan. It's gotta be some water and or skin ratio...
posted by wfrgms at 4:19 AM on August 7, 2009


Ah no, I meant - look at the ingredients. My god, there is more water than beef!

But ever notice how you can't replump a sausage of any kind? You know, those old wrinkly reheated sausages that you see on vendors grills or in the Sleven sometimes? That makes me think it's vapor, that it slowly escapes, and then once it's gone it can't rexpans (or the stretched out casing can no longer retain the vapor).
posted by molecicco at 6:20 AM on August 7, 2009


rexpans -> re-expand
posted by molecicco at 6:21 AM on August 7, 2009


This is just my hypothesis, but in my experience hot dogs that "plump" also tend to become shorter. I would imagine that if the skins shrinks longitudinaly that the meat inside has to go somewhere so they get thicker, or split along the side.
posted by borkencode at 6:35 AM on August 7, 2009


Borkencode, you mention the dogs might get shorter, but if you remember the jingle, the dogs get longer AND higher. Let me see if I remember ...

Those dogs on the fire
gettin' longer and higher
they're Ball Park franks!

The plump when you cook 'em
(bing bing bing)
Ball Park franks!!

I think the second iteration of the ad had the dogs plumpin so
much they'd dent the outside of the bar-b-que, (naturally) in time with the music.

Wow, I watched so much TV I must have never gone outside!
posted by skybolt at 7:40 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


effbot: It changes the color of cured meat all by itself. The coloring is used to avoid mixups in the production chain; given the miniscule amounts that end up in the final product, I doubt much of that color carres over to the final product.

When it's your first week in pastry school, and you're poking around in the ingredients in the culinary kitchen, and you see something that looks just like pink salt, don't taste it.

Don't ask me how I know.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:04 AM on August 7, 2009


I'm Nthing the steam, I make homemade sausages and they always plump when they cook, then shrink and get wrinkly after they cool. The guy talking about the nitrite was taking the piss, it's added in there to prevent botulism (the interior of a sausage is a good botulism growth medium while its being smoked). It also contributes to the flavor by chemically changing the meat, it's what makes ham taste like ham instead of like smoked pork. They could be using some special casing, or some proprietary method of mixing the meat to enhance this effect over other brands. If their casings are a little more flexible, or they've figured out a way to incorporate tiny air bubbles into the meat just right, I could see it helping the plumping effect.

Fun fact: sausage meat mix is referred to as "batter" before it's put into the casing, and it's treated like a bread batter in a lot of ways.
posted by TungstenChef at 9:44 AM on August 7, 2009


fiercecupcake writes "Don't ask me how I know."

Not that I want to know how you know but what happens? You know, so I'll know what mistake I've made if I was to do this.
posted by Mitheral at 10:37 AM on August 7, 2009


Long ago I worked at a spice company, we made a lot of sausage seasonings. The #1 product at the time was a sausage binder that was guaranteed to absorb 7x it's weight in water and hold it through cooking. By keeping the percentage of binder low it reduced labeling requirements. We made it by the box car.

So 100 pounds of meat, add 5 pounds of binder and presto 140 pounds of product. Profit!

This was long ago. I am sure there are more clever ways to do it these days.

Fun fact: baloney is commonly white in color until the paprika oil/power is added.

As an aside. after working in the spice company lab for years, I do not ever eat additive preserved meats, ever.
posted by blink_left at 10:57 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


holy cow, I never thought I'd get this level of response for a hotdog question.

The question remains unanswered. All we have concluded thus far is that the hotdog expands through the absorption of water but where did the water come from? The ballparks plumped(verb) on the grill!
posted by Paleoindian at 3:44 PM on August 7, 2009


Woops, I missed the answer by paulsc and the related link. It seems sodium nitrite is the ingredient responsible for the plumping. But I still don't get it. We need a chemist in here.
posted by Paleoindian at 3:51 PM on August 7, 2009


where did the water come from?

The short answer is the meat. The proteins in raw meat are shaped similarly to the fibers in a towel. Just like a towel, they can soak up and retain water. When you cook them, the proteins curl up ("denature") and can no longer hold water, so they release it. You can see this with pretty much any meat you cook, it'll always shrink and release liquid.

One thing about hot dogs, they're in a category called emulsified sausages and they're a bit more complex than, say, your typical sausage. In summer sausage, meat and fat are ground up into small chunks, and them mixed with spices. You can still see those chunks and tell the meat apart from the fat though. In an emulsified sausage like hot dogs, the meat and fat are ground into much tinier chunks, until it forms a uniform paste. The paste then mixed in powerful, high speed mixers together with spices, additives, water, and air. If regular sausage is like pesto, emulsified sausage is like vinaigrette. There's a lot of things going on in there that you just can't see without a microscope.
posted by TungstenChef at 4:05 PM on August 7, 2009



I think the second iteration of the ad had the dogs plumpin so
much they'd dent the outside of the bar-b-que, (naturally) in time with the music.


This is an alarming image.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:07 PM on August 7, 2009


Woops, I missed the answer by paulsc and the related link. It seems sodium nitrite is the ingredient responsible for the plumping. But I still don't get it. We need a chemist in here

*raises hand*
chemist here

The link from paulsc is flat out wrong, the person that said that was pulling the interviewer's leg. Think of the sausage as being like dumpling batter. Even if the batter has no yeast or baking powder in it, it's just plain flour and egg, it'll still end up with tiny air bubbles after you cook it. These are caused by steam just like in a hot dog. When the hot dog cooks, the meat gives off water that quickly turns to steam in the heat. An emulsified sausage batter is going to already have tiny air pockets whipped into it from the mixing process. When the sausage cooks, the steam it releases causes those pockets to expand. The thing is, the cooked meat isn't strong enough to hold those pockets forever. Eventually it'll cool and those pockets will shrink, even smaller than when they started. That's when you end up with a dry, wrinkly sausage.
posted by TungstenChef at 4:16 PM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


« Older We are completely new to super...   |  Recommend audiobooks for a fou... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.