In Search of the Goldilocks Hot Dog at 7-Eleven

As I write this, it’s 7-Eleven Day, that curious alignment of the calendar where Americans get free Slurpees and Europeans wonder why we Yanks don’t celebrate 7-11 Day in November like civilised people.

But I was not interested in iced beverages—well, not solely interested in them, anyway—when I went out to America’s favorite chain convenience store for lunch today. No, I was making good on a promise first made on Twitter:

Of course, strong opinions needed a reminder. That’s where today’s lunch came in. I bought three hot dogs in three different styles. A classic 1/4-pound Big Bite, a Spicy Bite, and—thanks to the 7-Eleven near Angle Lake Station in SeaTac carrying an item not usually found at 7-Eleven locations—a Bahama Mama German Sausage, and put sweet relish on all three.

I also grabbed a Rockstar Revolt grape energy drink because the only thing better than grape soda is grape soda with enough caffeine to make your brain able to fold time and space like a god.

I then took a short walk to the park because (a) everything’s better with squirrels and (b) had I schlepped that all the way home to Kent it would’ve gotten cold, and dug in.

The Control

The first dog down the hatch was the classic Big Bite, which unlike the sausages mentioned in that tweet, I do not have strong opinions on.

7-Eleven’s quarter pound hot dog, which they sell millions of each year so clearly someone likes them, is an inoffensive hot dog for inoffensive people. Because it’s all-beef, it doesn’t crash against the rocks of Islamic or Jewish dietary law—Hindus are out of luck, but you can’t please everyone.

It’s minimally seasoned, not as mild as an Essem No. 10 from New England but nor as robust as, say, the Vienna Beef hot dog that has to speak up for itself with a salad piled on top of it in Chicago.

I’ve eaten dozens of them over the years. Some plain, most with relish, some with Gulden’s spicy brown, and a fair few with 7-Eleven’s infamous ersatz chili, which complements the flavor of a Big Bite in a way that absolutely has to be intentional.

I ate this one with relish. I wanted a baseline. It was…pleasant.

The Spicy Bite

After eating a hot dog that is serviceable and competent, biting into a Spicy Bite gives you a shocking wave of artificial chemical taste that can’t adequately be explained by a simple look at the ingredients.

Some Google sleuthing seems to suggest that this is basically just an Oscar Mayer spicy hot dog, which is 98 percent pork and water and “contains less than 2 percent of” an assortment of spices and preservatives that are completely standard for just about every cured meat product you can buy.

But then again, in that list is the word “flavor” unqualified by the words “natural” or “artificial” or indeed just what it’s supposed to the flavor of, but when I ate it, and this is not unique to my experience at that specific 7-Eleven location, “chili oil that’s gone slightly off and was never all that good when it was fresh” leaps to mind.

On the other hand, sodium diacetate is more or less ersatz vinegar in practice, and maybe that’s where the off flavor was coming from.

Either way, by the time I gnawed through this hot dog, I was both seriously questioning my life decisions and wondering why I ever bother to eat this thing on purpose.

The other thing about the Spicy Bite is that it has a nasty habit of containing at least one bone fragment of unknown origin per link—it’s probably for the best that it’s a pork sausage because otherwise you’d start getting ideas about prion diseases when you’re trying to sleep at night.

The Bahama Mama

The Bahama Mama sausage is the brainchild of Schmidt’s Sausage Shop of Columbus, Ohio, and they’ve managed to get their product into gas stations and convenience stores across the country. In general, the closer you are to Buckeye country, the easier they are to find, but like I mentioned, the 7-Eleven on 200th in SeaTac by the light rail terminus from Seattle has what you’ll crave.

Biting into one of these is a beautiful departure from the norm of a hot dog, since the texture is a bit looser, more like…well, like a sausage proper rather than a hot dog, which has the texture peculiar to cooked meat puree rather than a coarser grind.

It lives in a hybrid butter zone between something like a bratwurst and a hot dog.

And with relish on it, and especially under normal circumstances when the flavor is unsullied by the lingering aftertaste of the Spicy Bite, it’s the Goldilocks hot dog.

That’s not just talk, either. A Big Bite is all beef. A Spicy Bite is pork. A Bahama Mama is a blend of both meats.

Likewise, the Bahama Mama uses smoke and mild spice to deliver a pleasant middle ground between the bland Big Bite and the shockingly artificial Spicy Bite.

And even after having kicked myself in the gut with two big hot dogs totaling over half a pound of meat, I was able to enjoy and appreciate the third and final sausage of my “OK, I don’t think I need to eat again for about two or three days”-sized lunch.

This is one of those hot dogs that, no matter what gas station you’re at, is worth your money, and tasting it against two extremes of the hot dog flavor spectrum punched home the idea that the best hot dog is one that sits squarely in the middle of that recipe variation.

Just…don’t eat three large hot dogs in one sitting. You’ll hate yourself in the morning.