The sooner a meal is ready to eat, the happier everyone is, especially on a work/school day. For many quick meals, deli meats, sausages, and hot dogs provide the basis for the main course. That means a steady demand for nettings and casings. Nettings are commonly used on deli meats. Casings serve as the housing for many sausages and hot dogs and are experiencing a 2.6% compound annual growth rate globally (1)

The casing plays a critical role in a new, ultra-convenient hot dog from Sahlen Packing Co., a family-owned and operated food production company in Buffalo, N.Y. The new Sahlen’s Grilled For You Pork & Beef Smokehouse Hot Dogs combine a collagen, or “tender,” casing with flame-grilled flavor and condensed prep time down to just one minute for some methods. 

The collagen casing, Sahlen’s initial preferred choice during the early development of the Grilled For You Hot Dogs, not only is preferred by customers but also differentiates its products, giving Sahlen’s Original Smokehouse Pork & Beef Hot Dogs their signature snap when they’re grilled. 

“This type of casing allows us to achieve real grill marks and authentic grilled flavor without splitting,” says Kenneth Voelker, vice president of sales and marketing at Sahlen Packing Co. 

The result of a 20-month development effort from initial concept and prototyping to production fine-tuning and retail shelf placement, the Grilled For You Hot Dogs began with an idea from Sahlen Packing Co. CEO Joe Sahlen. Voelker recalls, “It was something Joe always wanted to do. Every time he would grill our Smokehouse Hot Dogs, whether it was just for himself, hosting a smaller family meal, or larger get-together, he would be sure to grill extra (so he could) wrap those extra ‘pre-grilled’ hot dogs in tin foil, put them in the fridge and have a delicious hot dog lunch to look forward to the next day without having to fire up the grill again. As we thought more about that, we realized that people don’t always have the room, time, or equipment to grill our hot dogs whenever they want.” 

So, the decision was made to add a layer of convenience and provide a product that tastes and looks like a hot dog fresh off the grill. Designed for a variety of easy, at-home cooking methods such as air frying, broiling, and microwave heating. Sahlen’s pre-grilled hot dogs are ready in seconds (30 seconds in the microwave for two hot dogs, 40 seconds for three or four hot dogs, plus a 30-second post-heating hold time). 

Maintaining flame-grilled flavor and freshness presented the biggest hurdles during product development. The solutions included specification of an extremely consistent collagen casing, actual flame-grilling of the product, and high-pressure pasteurization, a process that destroys spoilage organisms.

Sahlen’s Grilled For You Smokehouse Pork & Beef Hot Dogs are sold in 9-oz. packs at Wegmans and Tops supermarkets and other select retailers. They also can be found in a variety of grab-and-go convenience locations and food service operations. 

Voelker reports response has been extremely positive. He explains, “People are always looking for ways to make their day-to-day life easier, and prepping and cooking food can take time you don’t always have. Plus, with the addition of Grilled For You at convenience stores and foodservice locations, people have been thrilled to see an authentically grilled hot dog option that tastes like they grilled it themselves at home.” 

Sahlen Packing Co. uses either collagen casings or natural casings for the vast majority of its hot dog products. Deciding which casing to use is influenced by feedback from customers, foodservice partners, and new markets as well as recommended cooking methods. “Our core products have loyal followings, and our customers are sensitive to changes,” EVP Joseph Sahlen says. 

Like many products, casings have been impacted by global supply chain issues during the past two years. With casings more difficult to procure, “opportunities for innovation are becoming scarce,” Joseph Sahlen says. In fact, casing and netting product lines have changed very little in the past five to 10 years other than the addition of more flavored nettings. Based on supplier-developed or custom formulas, flavored nettings have grown in popularity and appeal to processors that want to offer retailers a wider range of products for the deli case. 

As to future casing and netting developments, Joseph Sahlen says he would welcome “anything that provides good consistency.” But, he concludes, “The real game-changer would be automating the removal of netting. Unfortunately, that’s essentially wishful thinking at this point.” 

1 Knowledge Sourcing Intelligence LLP, “Hot Dogs and Sausages Market . . . Forecasts from 2021 to 2026,” Market Study, January 2022. 

Hallie Forcinio is a contributing writer.