What you don’t know about Costco’s $1 hot dog
Chances are that if you’ve ever set foot inside a Costco you’ve had the famous $1.50 hot dog and soda combo. We’ve all been stuffing our faces with this insanely affordable meal for decades, but aside from thoughts like “Mmmmmmmm, good,” or “How many hot dogs is too many hot dogs?” you probably wolf it down without giving it too much consideration. It turns out there’s plenty we didn’t know about the iconic food court staple…
It all started with a hot dog cart
It might be hard to believe, but Costco’s now booming food court business got started back in 1984 with a single hot dog cart. Hebrew National, their hot dog supplier at the time, provided the cart in front of a San Diego warehouse for their first food service trials. Needless to say, things went very well.
The price has never changed
You won’t hear any wistful reminiscing about the good ol’ days when it comes to the price of the hot dog combo. Shockingly, the price has remained $1.50 since 1985. This isn’t an oversight by management — Costco says that it “sees the food court as a benefit that adds demonstrable value to membership.” In other words, it helps take the sting out of that yearly renewal fee, but hey, we’ll take it.
An unbelievable number are sold each year
Ready for this? Costco sells more than 100 million (MILLION!) hot dogs a year. In 2015 that number hit a staggering 128 million, which is said to be four times as many hot dogs sold in all the major league baseball stadiums combined. Mind blown.
The combo has never been downsized
Typically, when the price of a food stays the same for decades, we expect to see a decrease in size to compensate. (Think about how small “fun size” candy bars have gotten. Not fun at all, really.) But that’s not the case with the Costco dog plus soda meal. In fact, it’s gotten bigger. When the combo first debuted, $1.50 got you a 12-ounce can of soda and a quarter pound dog. Today, you get a 20-ounce soda (with free refills) and a dog that’s 10 percent bigger and longer. You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that you’re coming out ahead in this deal.
There's a reason the buns can get a little soggy
As delicious as a Costco hot dog is, chances are good that you’ve gotten an extra soggy bun at some point. You know, the one that’s falling apart more and more with each bite, and by the end is a pile of mush? Since the hot dogs and buns are steamed, there can be a fair amount of moisture wrapped up in that foil package. Eat it as soon as you get your hands on it for the best results.
They switched from Hebrew National in 2009
In a move that angered a legion of Hebrew National fans, Costco stopped offering the kosher dogs and made the switch to sell Kirkland brand hot dogs in their food courts in 2009 — but it wasn’t entirely their decision. The new hot dog was developed after their suppliers either quit or were closed down, and the result is the 10 percent bigger all-beef dog (made with USDA choice or better cuts) we’ve all come to know and love today.
The ingredients might surprise you
We already know that the Kirkland hot dogs are 100 percent beef, but after years of hearing horror stories about sketchy ingredients in wieners, it is somewhat surprising to learn that they contain no by-products, corn syrup, phosphates, fillers, artificial color or artificial flavors, and they’re also gluten-free. That’s practically health food, right? Score one for Costco.
Wondering how they stack up against other fast food dogs? Burger King’s flame-grilled hot dogs (the menu item everyone loves to hate) weigh in at 123 grams, just like the Kirkland dogs, but have 60 fewer calories and 15 fewer grams of fat. BK’s do contain corn syrup and phosphates though, and cost 50 cents more, no drink included.
Costco Japan's hot dogs aren't beef
In the U.S. and Canada the only hot dogs you’ll find in the Costco food court are 100 percent all-beef, but in Japan you’ll only find pork. One blogger notes that the beef dogs were rumored to be unpopular with the Japanese customers, forcing the switch. As far as taste is concerned, another blogger says that while most of the pork dogs he’s tasted in Japan have a “unique taste,” the Costco dog tastes just like any other hot dog from the U.S.
You can ask for extra toppings
Some stores still offer onions and sauerkraut in self-serve dispensers, but if you don’t see them front and center, don’t assume you have to eat a naked dog. Ask for those toppings at the counter and you’ll get them free of charge.
They're a loss leader
Costco realizes they aren’t making money on their popular combo meal, and they’re totally fine with that. The hot dogs are a loss leader, meaning that they attract customers with the promise of a dirt cheap lunch, who in turn go and spend hundreds on gigantic jars of pickles and reasonably priced electronics. At the end of the day, Costco is coming out waaaaaay ahead.