5 Things to Put in a Hot Dog Bun That Aren’t Meat

These vegetarian hot dog stand-ins don’t rely on fake meat and let plants-only eaters in on the fun.

Hot dog with carrots on white plate. vegetarian fast food. Copy space
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Hot dogs are a curious animal; some may go so far as to describe them as mashed up mystery parts married to a slurry of synthetic ingredients. But nonetheless, we scarf them down at a furious rate; on July 4th alone Americans will eat 150 million of them, enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. more than five times.

For vegetarians and vegans—and anyone else looking to reduce their meat consumption—there is little fun in the hot dog field. There are fake frankfurter options, but many people who choose not to eat animals may be turned off by the processed nature of faux franks. And flavor-wise, they can tend towards salty Silly Putty tubes; honestly, some of them don’t taste much like food.

But there are other options! The following ones don’t pretend to be hot dogs, but they are fun and can be put in a hot dog bun and dressed up in hot dog clothes (as in, ketchup and relish, if that's how you swing). And best of all, they are delicious and possess a distinct lack of mystery parts.

Marinated Carrots

I know this may sound pathetic – a carrot in a bun? – but you will be amazed by what a good facsimile this turns out to be. (See photo, top.) The magic is in the marinade, which gives the root some deep savory flavor; cooking brings it all out yet the carrot retains a nice mix of crunch and tenderness. They do still taste a bit like carrots, but hot-doggy carrots!

For the marinade I mix and match whatever leaps out from the pantry – things like soy sauce, smoked paprika and sesame oil all add nice hot-doggy hints – but here is a tried-and-true recipe to get you started: Fatfree Vegan Recipes.

Grilled Avocado

Is this weird? Maybe. Is it anything like a hot dog? Not exactly. But smoky grilled avocado is divine and eaten in a bun with all the fixings secretly puts you on a deliciousness level beyond that of your meat-hot-dog-eating peers.

Cut an avocado in half and remove the pit, give it a squeeze of lemon or lime and a brush of olive oil, place it on the grill open-side down and cook for three minutes. Remove from heat, slice each half in half, remove skin, salt and pepper as desired, load into a bun. This is a good one to go straightforward with pickles and slaw, or ketchup and onions, or mustard and relish, or whatever you like ... it's hard to wrong with grilled avocado.

Miso-glazed Japanese Eggplant

You may very well already know this ubiquitous menu item from Japanese menus. And while broiled eggplant won't give you the same "bite" as a hot dog, the eggplant texture is undeniably rich and the miso gives it that deep umami that serves to satisfy. I wouldn't go the ketchup-and-relish route with this one, but mayonnaise and an Asian style slaw for snap is great. This is also something I wing in the kitchen, but this simple recipe from The New York Times is good.

Dry Rub Portobello Mushroom

Most of us have gone the portabello route for a meaty kind of feeling (without a meaty kind of taste). But I love giving them a dry rub before grilling; it really brings out their savory depth. Remove the stem from a portabello, slice into 1 1/2-inch "dogs" and toss in a bowl with olive oil to lightly coat. Rub with your favorite spice mix and grill, turning from time to time, for 6 to 8 minutes. (You can also broil them.)

If you are looking for a good spice combination, try mixing this:

1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Banana Dog!

OK this one doesn't get the ketchup and mustard treatment ... unless you are unusually adventurous. But a whole banana in a hot dog bun dressed with peanut butter and honey is a fun option for kids (and grownups) who aren't in the mood for a savory dog. You could add slivered almonds, cocoa nibs, Nutella, sliced strawberries, caramel and sea salt, coconut flakes, raisins, you name it.

And now back to the carrot hot dog, the recipe above is good, but in addition here's a how-to video for some visuals.