Should You Spiralize Your Hot Dogs and Sausages? We Tested to Find Out

We cooked five different kinds of sausage three different ways to find the best method for juicy, caramelized results.

A line up of sausages grilled with different methods.
Liz Cook

For a long time, I resisted spiral cutting my hot dogs—it felt a little childish and twee. I couldn’t help but picture the cookouts of my youth, where my practical mother, resistant to purchasing two types of bun, would hasselback a frank and coil it onto a hamburger bun like a grub. 

But spiral cutting has benefits beyond aesthetic novelty. First, the method—which involves slicing the hot dog all around into a coil—lengthens the dog, meaning it can run edge-to-edge in the bun, which saves you from naked bites of bread. Second, it creates grippy little pockets where condiments can settle, suffusing flavor in each bite. Third—and most importantly—it increases the dog’s surface area, allowing for additional browning and caramelization. For this reason, both Joshua Bousel and Daniel Gritzer recommend either slashing or spiral cutting skinless franks in their hot dog grilling guide. (Though Daniel slightly favors slashing, which he says is faster and less likely to lead to overcooking.)

But why stop at a skinless frank? If spiral cutting works so well for hot dogs, why not other types of sausage? I decided to try spiral cutting five types of sausages: a skinless hot dog, a skinless chicken sausage, an andouille sausage, an Italian sausage, and a bratwurst. The hot dog and chicken sausage were precooked, while the other three were raw.

A small, common-sense voice in my head said: If you cut into a raw sausage, it will fall apart. It will weep fat onto the coals and enrobe your dog in a blanket of soot. 

But a louder goblin voice said: What if you just…see?

How to Spiral Cut a Sausage

Spiral cutting a sausage is dead-simple, but can be hard to visualize. A video guide helps, but I’ll do my best to walk you through it here. First, skewer the sausage lengthwise through the center. Then, position your knife at an angle near one of the ends, and cut down until you hit the skewer. Slowly rotate the sausage away from you as you cut, keeping your knife at the same angle. Carefully remove the skewer, and your reward will be a sausage that looks like a telephone cord. 

The Spiral-Cutting Tests

A tray of uncooked sausages, some intact, some scored, and some spiraled.
Liz Cook

For ease of comparison, I grilled each sausage three ways: fully intact, scored with shallow slashes on opposite sides, and spiraled. I set up my grill for two-zone heating, keeping the "hot" side under 350°F, and I cooked the sausages to temp: 140°F (60°C) for the pre-cooked sausages, 150°F (65.5°C) for the raw dogs (consistent with Kenji’s guide).

Finally, I followed the advice of barbecue expert Meathead Goldwyn and cooked the sausages parallel to the grates (essentially, holstered between them) rather than perpendicular. In theory, positioning the sausages this way allows you to just nudge them over to the next gap like those gas station hot dog roller grills, and also promotes even browning. But I made the choice mostly out of aesthetic disregard. I was already flouting convention with spiral cuts; I figured I might as well give the sausages pinstripes, too. 

Will It Spiral?

Skinless Hot Dog

As expected, the skinless hot dog fared well under all three treatments. The intact dog was the juiciest—and also the least texturally interesting. The slashed dog nicely balanced juiciness and a little extra caramelization, but I preferred the spiral-cut dog. The additional crisped edges gave the skinless dog a snap that evoked a natural casing hot dog (my preference, but harder to source in my pocket of the Midwest). The spiral-cut version also came up to temperature more quickly than the intact and slashed dogs—though the time savings are really only a minute or two.

Should you spiral cut it? Yes. 

Chicken Sausage

The chicken sausage behaved almost identically to the skinless frank: The precooked sausage held together well through both slashing and spiraling, without drying out. Although the intact version was marginally more moist, the difference was slight enough to make the extra browning a worthy trade-off. Plus, the spiral-cut version came up to temp a little more quickly than both the intact and slashed sausages, making it a win for taste, texture, and convenience. 

Should you spiral cut it? Yes. 

Andouille Sausage

When I turned to the raw sausages, things went downhill quickly. Fat wept from the slashed and spiraled andouille sausages, causing flare-ups on the grill. Worse, my attempts to save the spiral-cut sausage from soot weakened its structural integrity—every time I tonged it over to the cool side of the grill, the coil became a little looser and more fragile. Although the spiral held together in the end, I came close enough to catastrophe that I don’t recommend it. Plus, both the slashed and spiral-cut versions lost much of their juiciness and bite. 

Should you spiral cut it? No. Keep your andouille links intact.  

Italian Sausage

The Italian sausage held up even worse to the slashing and spiral-cut treatments. Although both pierced sausages cooked much faster than the intact link, they tasted as dry as a cornflake. 

Should you spiral cut it? No. I don’t even recommend poking at it. 

Bratwurst

The results for the bratwurst were less conclusive. The spiral-cut brat was once again noticeably less juicy than the intact one, but not so dry that it was a dealbreaker. Nestled on a bun with some kraut and mustard gripped in its folds? I would eat it without complaint. The added length also eliminated any dry bites of brat-less bun. But to my surprise, I had a slight preference for the slashed brat—it was almost as moist as the intact link, but had a slightly looser, less dense texture. Plus, it cooked a little faster than the intact brat (though not as fast as the spiral-cut one), making it a sensible middle-ground option.

Should you spiral cut it? In most cases, no. But you have my blessing to slash it (as long as you’re cooking over low heat).

The Verdict

So, will it spiral? With some careful skewer and knife work, absolutely. But the real question is, should it spiral? 

For precooked sausages that have homogenous texture throughout, yes. The extra surface area aids browning and gives skinless dogs a snappier texture. But for most raw sausages, I don’t recommend cutting into them at all—unless you’re especially short on time or cooking for a crowd that likes to play with their food. 

You Can and Should Eat Cicadas—Here’s How

Across the Midwest and Southeast, trillions of periodical cicadas are emerging right now. Here’s how to harvest them, prepare them, and eat them.

A yellow plate with five cicadas on it and a knife and fork
Getty Images / TwoMeows; Wong Yu Liang

Across the Midwest and Southeast, trillions of periodical cicadas are emerging and clearing their throats for their SHWEEE-OO-WEE mating call, a white noise machine without an off button.

I am here to tell you that we are not helpless in the face of the horny cicada’s carnal screams. We can eat them.

Let’s bust one myth upfront: Cicadas aren’t crunchy. At least, they don’t have to be. Sure, you can chomp down on a fully grown cicada, exoskeleton and all. But the better culinary bet is to look for the tenerals—the pale, soft-bodied nymphal cicadas that have just abandoned their exoskeletons.

The good news? The next couple of weeks are the sweet spot for finding those newly emergent cicadas. While periodical cicadas typically emerge in late May, a relatively mild winter and warm spring means many nymphs are already crawling up a tree trunk near you.

Illinois is the epicenter of two of this year’s periodical cicada broods. So I called up Illinois state entomologist Chris Dietrich to ask if he’d considered eating them.

His review was not especially glowing. “Some people say they taste like canned asparagus, other people say they taste more like shrimp. To me, they taste like bugs.”

Still, Dietrich notes, if you’re going to taste a bug, there’s good reason to make it a cicada. Anyone who’s tried both grass- and grain-fed beef understands that an animal’s diet affects its taste. Crunch down on a leafeater like a grasshopper or cricket and you’re also crunching down on its half-digested plant matter. Cicadas, by contrast, suckle on heavily diluted tree sap, giving them a relatively mild flavor. 

How to Find Cicadas to Eat

Cicada harvesting follows horror movie logic: keep your head down and follow the screams. Although any noisemakers will be adults, you’re likely to find some nymphal cicadas in the same areas.

Emergent cicadas are most common in wooded areas, and they stay relatively close to the ground. Dietrich recommends looking around tree roots or trunks after sunset, when the tenerals first emerge, and watching as they shed their skins. But you can also try to catch them denuded just after sunrise. The adult cicada’s new exoskeleton take a few hours to harden, so use color as your guide: as the shells firm up, they’ll also turn dark. 

What to Avoid When Harvesting Cicadas

With cicadas, use the same caution you’d extend to any foraged ingredients, and avoid areas with likely soil contaminants or that are treated with pesticides and herbicides. For those in farm country, that means steering clear of any wooded areas adjacent to corn and soybean fields, which can be susceptible to pesticide drift.

Yes, researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found mercury levels in some periodical cicadas on par with tuna, but you’d need to house an awful lot of cicadas to reach an unsafe dose.

The biggest contamination threats are to the cicadas, not you. In recent years, periodical broods have been hijacked by a mysterious, metal-sounding fungus that transforms them into hypersexual flying “saltshakers of death.” Personally, I welcome the fungus, just based on the absurdity of its rock ‘n’ roll name. But if the idea makes you squeamish, know that it’s both nontoxic to humans and easy to avoid. Tenerals are less likely to be infected than adults, and the signs of infection aren’t subtle: “You would see almost what looks like a piece of chalk protruding from the base of the abdomen,” says John Vogel, a natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

How to Prepare Cicadas

Freeze your cicadas in a bag overnight to kill them humanely, then wash them thoroughly to remove any dirt. Tenerals don’t require much prep, but if you’re cooking adult cicadas, you’ll want to remove the wings, much like you would peel a shrimp. (On the subject of shrimp: the FDA has warned against eating cicadas if you have a shellfish allergy. As arthropods, insects and shellfish contain some of the same muscle proteins that trigger shellfish allergies. In other words: shrimps is bugs.)

Snip off the heads if the beady little eyes bother you. Then par-boil them for two minutes to kill off any malingering microbes and give the meat a firm, even texture. Vogel, who sampled Brood XIX when they made their last debut 13 years ago, compares the texture of a par-boiled teneral to soft tofu.

From there, the only limit is your imagination (and your tolerance for tenerals). Try roasting them in a convection oven or air-fryer (how about swapping them for sprouts in Daniel Gritzer’s air-fryer Brussels sprouts with preserved lemon–Caesar dressing)? Marinate them like an artichoke and toss them on a pizza (Vogel’s preferred application). Velvet them and make Kung Pao Cicada.

Or follow the lead of Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream in Columbia, Missouri, and toss them in an ice cream. 

In 2011, when Brood XIX last emerged, a couple of employees collected some backyard cicadas and candied them, covered them in chocolate, and stirred them into a cicada ice cream.

When manager Tony Layson called the Health Department to check on the protocol for serving cicadas, their answer was a clear “don’t.” The store pulled the flavor. In its place, they put up a tongue-in-cheek sign stating the ice cream was sold out until 2024—the next year the 13-year brood was due to emerge.

“You know, I think when we put that sign up, I don’t think any one of us was planning on still being here,” Layson says. “But I’m still here, and now I have to reckon with that little sign.”