By Scott Smith 

The dog days of summer are here, and for many Americans, that means inviting friends over for backyard get-togethers, gathering for family picnics at the park or trips to the beach. The classic menu items are sometimes off the grill. 

That menu does not have to include animal cruelty and exploitation because tasty and healthful vegan barbeque options abound.  

One of the first meatless products marketed to mainstream audiences, plant-based, vegan hot dogs and sausages are a go-to addition to any backyard barbeque. Not only are you being respectful of animals, but you’re sparing your guests from the horrific ingredients in meat options. 

In brief, a hot dog consists of meat trimmings from pigs, cows, turkeys, chicken, or a blend of all four. and fat ground into a paste, with flavorings such as salt, garlic and paprika as well as preservatives like sodium nitrate and sodium erythorbate.  

As with most sausages, hot dogs must be in a casing to be cooked. Traditional casing is made from the small intestines of sheep. “Skinless” hot dogs use a casing for cooking, but the casing may be a long tube of thin cellulose that is removed between cooking and packaging. 

Hot dogs can also made be made with pork, as well as from chicken or turkey, using low-cost mechanically separated poultry. Detailing that process would cause all but the hardest-core caveman to lose their appetite, but suffice it to say that a meat industry term for it is “white slime.”  

At Friends of Animals, we’re hard pressed to choose which form of animal farming is the most atrocious. But anyone thinking about eating a hot dog should be aware that gestation and farrowing crates are prisons for pigs. Restricting mother pigs to crates allows producers to maximize the number of animals who can be housed in a single barn. 

This brutal confinement means the mother pig cannot stand or turn around. Crates prohibit pigs from engaging in their instincts to forage, root, nest, and socialize, causing extreme stress and frustration.  

All the more reason to reach for these healthful, vegan options for your next cookout. 

Hot-diggity vegan dogs and sausages 

The Field Roast Smoked Plant-Based Frankfurter comes as links, which should impress any bystanding grillmeisters as you unfurl them out of the package (just be sure to remove the plastic casing before tossing them on the grill). They are made from water, vital wheat gluten, safflower oil, other oils and a variety of flavors, spices and whole wheat flour. These sizable franks (76 grams; 20 grams protein, 190 cals) cook up nicely and have a robust spicy flavor. ($6.50 for 6;

Vegan hot dogs from Love & Lemons

In a recent review, Consumer Reports gave The Impossible Sausage Bratwurst (230 cals) its Editor’s Pick. It’s an excellent source of protein with 13 g protein per serving, 0 mg of cholesterol (16 g of total fat, 7 g of saturated fat, 630 mg of sodium per serving), and has 30% lower total fat, when cooked, compared to the leading pork sausage links. They do not contain any added nitrates or nitrites, and they are gluten-free. ($9 for 4; And Impossible Foods points out that every time you eat Impossible Sausage (instead of pork sausage links) you use 79% less water, 71% less GHG emissions, and 41% less land. 

Beyond Meat ‘s Beyond Sausages are pea-protein based and offer 16 grams of protein. They consist of 11 g of total fat, 4.5 g of saturated fat, 600 mg of sodium, and 180 cals per serving. ($7.50 for 4;

Our favorite for the classic, kid-size frank is the Smart Dog made by Lightlife. Produced by Toronto-based Grenleaf Foods, Smart Dog has just 60 calories and less sodium than most other wieners. They consist of water, soy protein isolate, soybean oil, evaporated cane syrup, pea protein isolate, tapioca starch, flavorings, spices, and binders. For grownups, it goes best with a spicy mustard or relish. And speaking of dogs: A vegan colleague tells me that sliced-up Smart Dogs make irresistible treats for her pooches. ($4.50 for 8;  

Let’s face it: All hot dogs and sausages are processed products, with vegan franks mostly a combination of soy and pea protein with wheat and flavorings. In the end, a dog in a bun is the ultimate convenience food; the handiest of meals at a picnic. I’ve long considered a hot dog more as a conveyance for the good stuff—relish, grilled onions, peppers, and mustard of course, the spicier the better. If you have chili or sauerkraut, I say “bring it on.” 

And bringing on a vegan hot dog is better for you, guests, animals and the planet.