Hamburgers and Hot Dogs: Your State’s Favorite Summer Cookout Food

There are a lot of things to disagree about when it comes to your summer barbecues. But the one thing that divides us most is our choice of summer cookout food: Hamburgers vs. hot dogs.

Do you want a juicy, beefy hamburger patty, that American classic sandwich piled high with cheeses and veggies? Or do you want a tasty, meaty hot dog, that flavorful sausage that’s definitely not a sandwich with its simplicity and that snap at first bite? The debate rages on at parties, cookouts and barbecues across the land, where trays and grills filled with hamburgers and hot dogs define summer holidays and get-togethers.

In this report:

Hamburgers vs. hot dogs

Nationwide, there are 36 states that have a holiday preference for hamburgers and 11 on the hot dog bandwagon in the latest data. If you really like both at your holiday cookout, New Mexico, North Carolina and Ohio, along with Washington, D.C., are evenly split.

Over the last year, 25 states total saw an increase in hamburger love, and 20 stocked up on more hot dogs, with no change in four states and very-steady D.C. Looking further back, 33 states raised their hamburger profile from 2015 to 2019, while hot dogs grew in demand in 16 states, with Kentucky and Delaware abstaining.

So, does your state prefer hamburgers or hot dogs? The true answer often lies in geography. Which region of the country you come from can very much influence your cookout meat choices. Where you live has a lot to do with how many people will be clamoring for burgers and how many will be grabbing a dog. What states and regions are hamburger havens, which are hot dog hotbeds and how have those numbers shifted over the last five years?

Going ham for burgers

America is a land of beef. Steak, roast beef, beef stew, meatballs, fajitas, beef ribs, meatloaf — there are endless ways to serve beef. But the most popular has to be the hamburger.

The modern hamburger on its bun is truly an American dish, its invention most-commonly attributed to Danish immigrant Louis Lassen at his still-operating New Haven, CT, restaurant Louis’ Lunch. That tradition lives on every summer holiday when you throw your patties on the grill and cook to perfection.

hamburgers eaten in a year

We Americans love a good burger, and we each eat more than 150 on average a year. McDonald’s alone sells 75 burgers every second.

The most popular hamburger states

Texas and states in the Great Plains produce the most beef, and states in the South and Midwest have the most hamburger joints, so it’s no surprise that those are the places where hamburger popularity outdistances hot dogs by the greatest margin.

Based on the most recent summer holiday data, the top three states showing the greatest gap between hamburger and hot dog popularity are the ones that make up the Lower Mississippi River region, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, so expect some Southern and Cajun spices and toppings on your burgers. These three are followed closely by Utah and Nebraska, the U.S. state with the fourth-most beef cows.

With an overwhelming 82 percent, Arkansas leads the pack in hamburger supremacy. You would be hard-pressed this July Fourth to hit up a summer cookout serving hot dogs over burgers. This burger supremacy is deep-rooted in Arkansas, home of the historic Minute Man fast-food chain, a spot that invented the kids’ meal and was selling gourmet double full-sized meat patty burgers a year before McDonald’s introduced its Big Mac.

Five years earlier, a hamburger’s geographic peak was shifted a bit further north. In 2015, the top four states where hamburgers enjoyed the highest popularity were all northern tier Upper Midwest states, followed closely by red-blooded Alabama, the No. 1 state in the U.S. in burger restaurants per person.

North Dakota, the geographic center of the continent and land of Carson Wentz, loved its burgers to the rate of 4-to-1 over hot dogs. How much do they love them? It’s home to the Guinness record world’s largest hamburger, cooked and eaten in Rutland at 3,591 pounds. The second-most-popular state for hamburgers in 2015 was Idaho, where the potatoes for your French fries were most likely grown.

Where hamburger popularity is increasing most

Raw (no pun intended) burger numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. Tastes change and preferences shift, even with summer cookout food choices. Some states that were already pretty pro-hamburger have moved in an even less hot doggy direction. Where have we seen the biggest shifts towards more burger dominance?

Many of the states where hamburger popularity increased the most over the last year were already pretty hamburger-friendly spots in the first place. States away from the coasts like Louisiana, West Virginia and Utah saw double-digit increases in burger searches despite already wide margins.

But it was New Hampshire that had the biggest year-to-year jump in burger busting, a whopping 31 percent rise for the hamburger faithful. Maybe that’s expected from a state where one of the most popular burger spots, Gilley’s Diner in Portsmouth, was originally a hot dog cart dating back to 1912.

And what if you extrapolate those numbers over the last five years instead of just the last year? You can clearly see an upward trajectory from a few states that remain increasing like Rhode Island, Louisiana and Utah. Even the nation’s capital Washington, D.C., saw a 20 percent increase.

However, it’s the Bee State of Utah that takes the prize as the state where increasing hamburger love has taken hold from 2015 through last year. Just five years ago, Utah sat at No. 10 among states that favored hot dogs. But a huge 28 percent jump towards burgers in 2019 pushed the state to the fourth most popular for burgers. Maybe it can be attributed to the state’s penchant for its pastrami burger snaking its way into food culture.

The (hot) dog days of summer

What of the under-appreciated hot dog? While we consume 50 billion burgers each year in America, we chow down on two-and-a-half times fewer dogs. Hamburgers are a year-round entrée, eaten any day of the year and easily available at every fast food joint, diner and fancy restaurant.

Hot dogs usually require an event to be invited to the table like a birthday, a baseball game or a summer cookout. Or worse, are just sitting sadly on a convenience store roller in perpetuity or demoted to a rubbery stub on a kids’ menu. These wieners are indeed underdogs.

Burgers are carefully cooked to perfection as a gourmet cuisine for foodies. Hot dogs are shoved onto a stick, dropped in a pot or relegated to the side of the grill and summarily dumped on a bun with some ketchup or mustard and perchance some relish. But the hot dog has a proud history in the U.S., especially when we regionalize our versions, from New York dogs to Chicago dogs, Coneys to hot wieners, Texas Tommies to Dodger Dogs.

hot dogs eaten each year

Despite its secondary status, Americans still scarf down 70 dogs per person each year, (which is how many Joey Chestnut eats in 10 minutes). 7-Eleven, the largest hot dog peddler in the U.S., sells more than 5,700 an hour.

The most popular hot dog states

Perhaps as no surprise, it’s on the East Coast — and primarily in the Northeast — where the hot dog reigns supreme. The humble modern American hot dog is a direct descendent of the German frankfurter, brought to the U.S. through Ellis Island and to cities up and down the east coast.

Hot dogs were an easy and quick street food for immigrant workers in factories and on girder teams during the industrial revolution and building booms of the 19th and early 20th centuries and have endured ever since.

Those European immigration states on the East Coast quickly became filled with German culture and cuisine, and today, states like New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, feature some of the highest German-American populations. Not coincidentally, those states were also among those that were the most popular for hot dogs over their hamburger compatriots, based on data from the most recent summer season.

But at the top of the mountain is Vermont, the state that actually has the fewest residents of German ancestry in the nation. Known for its scenic getaways, parks and lakes, Vermont offers a culture of camping, campfires and cookouts, all of which require a steady diet of hot dogs.

In fact, 70 percent of all July Fourth cookout food searches were for hot dogs over hamburgers. Despite being a hotspot for the organic and eco-friendly food movement, Vermont has a booming hot dog culture.

Some of the names changed but the geographic region with the highest hot dog prominence five years before was still the same. The top five hot dog popularity states in 2015 were all Northeastern states, as well, including New Jersey and New York, where at the turn of the 20th-century concessionaire Harry Stevens famously introduced hot dog sales to spectator sports in 1901 at the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and Saratoga Race Course, creating the perfect game day meal.

But in 2015, it was Washington, D.C. that outclassed the rest of the East Coast and New England in hot dog popularity. In the District, July Fourth summer cookout food searches for hot dogs outbarked hamburgers at more than double the rate.

On its own, Washington is among the top 10 biggest hot dog-eating cities in the nation. Maybe it’s the snack food of choice in all those museum cafeterias or perhaps the love for half-smokes and chili dogs at iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.

Where hot dog popularity is increasing most

As interesting a metric as it is to discover which states love their hot dogs on holidays the most, it doesn’t tell the whole frankfurter story. Just as a hot dog in motion tends to stay in motion, so is the change in wiener popularity. What do the statistics tell us about where the humble hot dog has become more popular over the last year and over the last half-decade?

Hot dogs are hot — and increasingly so — in New England, as two of those northern states had the two widest gains in hot dog searches over the 12 months from 2018 to 2019. But joining the sausage party are two states from traditional western hamburger hotbeds, New Mexico and South Dakota, home of Mr. Hot Dog.

But interestingly, it’s the Connecticut hot dog in hamburger’s court that had the greatest year-to-year increase. Despite being home to the aforementioned restaurant where the modern hamburger was invented, it’s Connecticut’s hot dog profile that has increased by 18 percent over the year. The Nutmeg State is not just the land of burgers. The state’s hot dog culture was even the subject of a documentary (or dogumentary), “A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour.”

You can’t let sleeping hot dogs lie in New England. Even when you expand parameters to the last five years of summer cookout food, it’s still that northeastern region that dominates hot dog love. Three New England states are among the top five for increasing hot dog search popularity from 2015 to 2019.

But out in the Great Lakes, Wisconsin, where the sausages of choice are brats and kielbasas, the hot dog is having a moment. Perhaps it’s the proximity to the land of Chicago dogs or the penchant for adding cheese to every meat, but Wisconsin was once the home of Oscar Mayer.

But despite hot dog supremacy in New England, it’s Idaho, way out in the Rockies, that has seen the largest increase in holiday hot dog searches over the last half-decade. Whether you’re serving waffle, string, crinkle, curly or standard, the fries you’re eating alongside your hot dog are most likely from Russet potatoes grown in Idaho.

But it’s not just fries where Idaho potatoes and hot dogs intersect. One of the most unique regional variations is the Idaho dog, a skinless dog baked inside a hollowed-out potato, topped with bacon, chives and sour cream. Now that’s a July Fourth celebration.

Last bites and methodology

No matter which is the favorite in your state, hamburgers or hot dogs, you know you can’t go wrong with either at your summer cookout. Sure, if you’re in New England, your barbecue might be hotdog heavy and if you’re in the Great Plains there may be more burgers on the grill. But no matter your choice, we can all agree that a hamburger is a sandwich and a hot dog is not.

To determine popularity by each state, we enlisted a Google Trends query for June 27 to July 11 (the weeks immediately before and after July 4) from 2015 through 2019 for all 50 states and D.C. concerning the search popularity for the terms “hamburgers” and “hot dogs.” We then took that information and mapped out the percentages in each state of one over the other, and also calculated the change in popularity in each state over the course of the previous years.

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Michael HochmanMichael is a Philadelphia-based writer with a variety of interests, including music, TV, politics, travel, and sports (Fly Eagles Fly!). His background includes a decade as a programming executive in network television, six years as a marketing executive at a technology company, and time at two magazines and two advertising agencies. He also sits on the board of a non-profit law firm that assists veterans with disabilities. Michael is a proud Syracuse grad (Newhouse) who has lived in Kansas, Chicago, Saratoga and beyond.

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