Carrot hot dogs. Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN

So-called carrot hot dogs are hot on social media right now. Even popstar Lizzo has posted on Instagram about how much she loves carrot hot dogs. But making this alternative hot dog isn’t as simple as unwrapping a store bought package and popping them on the grill.

Instead, you’ll need to do a little bit of marinating to prepare this finessed veggie version.

“For people who love vegetables, carrot hot dogs are a really exciting addition to backyard barbecues,” said Avery Yale Kamila, a vegan food columnist in Portland. “Most of the hot dog taste is really about the toppings, and carrot dogs can go great with all kinds of topping combinations.”

Kamila said that, in the landscape of vegan barbecues, she generally prefers items like veggie burgers made with grains and chunks of vegetables as opposed to other, more meat-like vegan alternatives. Carrot hot dogs, she said, fill that void in the hot dog world, which is rife with imitation meats for vegans but nothing quite so vegetal.

“You can infuse them with a similar flavor of a traditional hot dog,” Kamila said. “It’s not going to be the same because it’s a carrot, so it’s not going to taste like a traditional hot dog but it will be completely reminiscent of that flavor and it fits perfectly into a bun.”

Carrot hot dogs. Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN

For carrot hot dogs, Kamila said that she looks out for medium-sized carrots of fairly consistent sizes with a taper at the end, so she can easily shape them to suit the buns. She usually trims the carrots (they can be peeled as well, though Kamila said she usually skips this step) and boils them until they are fork tender (Kamila recommended 6 to 8 minutes, but if the carrots are larger they may need more time).

The secret to good carrot hot dogs is to marinate them. Kamila soaks them in a special marinade for 24 hours — often using a combination of tamari, apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar, mustard and a dash of sesame oil along with spices like garlic powder, onion powder and powdered chipotle peppers.

There are variations on the marinade, though, and room to experiment. Angela Reilly of Wiscasset recommends liquid smoke as a secret ingredient to really make carrot hot dogs shine. However, she said to be sure to try the marinade and modify it to your taste.

The final step is to grill the carrot hot dogs until they exhibit the classic browning and grill marks usually associated with hot dogs. If you don’t have a grill, use a cast iron pan for a similar effect.

“I cook on the grill or in a cast iron to get that extra flavor,” Reilly said. “Try cooking with a toothpick in the cast iron or a pointy fork on the grill — this will help prevent overcooking, which is easy to do.”

Once your carrot hot dogs are ready, you can put them on a bun with all your favorite hot dog toppings, from the classic ketchup, mustard and relish to more creative combinations like Asian slaw and Sriracha. Reilly said that she also uses hers on salads, soups and mac and cheese.

Not everyone loves them, though. Kamila hasn’t been able to sell her son or husband on them.

Of course, carrot hot dogs aren’t new to Maine. In 2019, Portland Public Schools tried to add carrot hot dogs to their school lunch menu. That experiment was unsuccessful — possibly because they didn’t marinate them first.

“​​Our carrot hot dog was just a roasted carrot served in a hot dog roll,” said Jane McLucas, food service director at Portland Public Schools. “It did not go over well, and we discontinued it, soon into the start of the school year in 2019. We will be incorporating our vegan lunches again for the upcoming school year, but it will not include a carrot dog.”

McLucas said marinating the carrots first “may have helped” the reception.

When it comes to carrot hot dogs, managing expectations is important. If you are looking for the snap and juiciness of a standard hot dog, the flavor and texture might be off-putting. However, if you have a penchant for carrots, it may be right for you.

“It’s going to taste like a hot dog spiced carrot,” Kamila said. “Carrot has a lot of sweet notes in it, so it’s going to be kind of sweet. If you love carrots, then that’s awesome. If you don’t love carrots, maybe this isn’t going to work out.”