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This Is So Stupid

Big Hot Dog Must Tell The Truth

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 04: Hot dogs are placed on the competition table ahead of the 2023 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on July 04, 2023 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The annual contest, which began in 1972, draws thousands of spectators to Nathan’s Famous located on Surf Avenue. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Last summer, my friend Dana brought me a very important question. She and some friends had been debating all weekend whether or not a certain officially reported number could possibly be true. Could I report it out? Could I find out whether there were lies afoot and frauds being perpetrated? As a good friend, I promised that I would try. And here I am, a mere 10 months later, trying.

The issue is this: The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council puts out a figure each year claiming to be the number of hot dogs an American eats annually.

I will give you a second to think about how many hot dogs this might be.

Maybe start with how many hot dogs you eat per year. But then remember: some people are vegetarians. Alternatively, many people are children and children love hot dogs. There are baseball games to attend, Fourth of July parties, backyard cookouts. How many hot dogs do you think the average American eats?

I have asked this question at every party I have been to in the last 10 months, and most people give an answer somewhere between five and 25. I, a lover of hot dogs, guessed 30 when first faced with this question. It is still nowhere near the number the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council claims.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (from here on out referred to as Big Hot Dog) claims that the average American eats ... 70 hot dogs a year.

Seventy is SO MANY HOT DOGS. That's more than one a week! Can we be so glizzy-obsessed that this is true?

A woman and her sailor boyfriend eat from both ends of a hot dog. Coney Island.
Getty Images

To be clear, this number includes only hot dogs. It does not include bratwursts or sausages or those mini dogs that can be rolled up in pigs-in-a-blanket. It does not include veggie dogs. It is only hot dogs that Big Hot Dog claims we are each eating 70 of every single year.

I emailed Eric Mittenthal, president of Big Hot Dog, last May to ask him where this number comes from and he said, "The number is an estimate based on the sales data we have." OK, yes. I figured that much. I tried to ask follow-up questions, but they were left unanswered. So we are forced to try to confirm this figure using our powers of deduction. It is important that we do because this number is cited left and right. In the past five years, Big Hot Dog's numbers have been quoted by Newsweek, and USA Today, and Time and a dozen other major publications. But are they ... real?

Seventy hot dogs per American x 341,362,543 Americans = nearly 23.9 BILLION hot dogs per year.

Now I know that a billion of anything is so many that it's impossible to really comprehend, so let's examine some other stats Big Hot Dog provides. On Independence Day, they say, Americans eat 150 million hot dogs. That's a lot, theoretically. But it's not even one-sixth of a billion hot dogs, and there are allegedly almost 24 billion hot dogs being consumed annually!

OK, you might be thinking, what about sporting events?

Thank you for asking. Big Hot Dog estimates that 19.1 million hot dogs are eaten at MLB games. That is nowhere close to a billion. Even if we were really generous and claimed that 20 million hot dogs are sold in each and every major men's sporting league, that's still only 100 million hot dogs. And then you have to throw out the Canadian teams.

If 250 million hot dogs are being eaten either at sporting events or on July 4th, sometimes both, that's still 23.65 billion hot dogs unaccounted for. When are are we eating all of those? This alone is enough to make it clear why we should at least have some skepticism toward this number and Big Hot Dog. So let's look at exactly what the NHDSC says:

"According to recent survey data obtained by the Council, Americans purchase 350 million pounds of hot dogs at retail stores - that's 9 billion hot dogs! But the actual number of hot dogs consumed by Americans is probably much larger. It is difficult to calculate the number of hot dogs Americans may eat at sporting events, local picnics and carnivals. The Council estimates Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs a year - more than twice the retail sales figures. That works out to about 70 hot dogs per person each year. Hot dogs are served in 95 percent of homes in the United States. Fifteen percent of hot dogs are purchased from street vendors and 9 percent are purchased at ballparks, according to statistics from the Heartland Buffalo Company."

OK. A lot is happening here.

First off, we have 350 million pounds of hot dogs. This number is coming from "recent survey data." Survey of whom? Joey Chestnut? Then it says that 350 million pounds = 9 billion hot dogs. Excuse me? That's not right. There are usually eight hot dogs in a one-pound pack. So, 350 millon x 8 = 2.8 billion. Where is 9 billion coming from?

While, I agree that the number of hot dogs consumed by Americans would be more than just the hot dogs consumed at "retail stores," how many would that be, realistically? Would it be, as the council suggests, twice the retail sales figure? (Again, by their own data, that would be 5.6 billion hot dogs per year, not 20 billion hot dogs per year, but let's move on.)

"Hot dogs are served in 95 percent of homes," is another statistic without a citation. I assume this is being calculated by subtracting the approximately five percent of Americans who don't eat meat, but that is not made clear.

Finally, who is the Heartland Buffalo Company and why should I trust them!?

Let's say we accept that data, though. If Big Hot Dog claims that 19.1 million hot dogs are sold at MLB games in a year, and that nine percent of hot dogs are from "ballparks" then, that's still just 212.22 million hot dogs! That's VERY MUCH NOT 20-SOMETHING BILLION HOT DOGS!!!!!!!

I am forced to to conclude that the people at Big Hot Dog are not good at math and that this is a simple error of magnitude where they have multiplied the actual number of hot dogs eat by a hundred.

I am willing to believe 212.22 million hot dogs, as a total. I am even willing to believe that Americans eat one or two or three billion hot dogs per year. Three billion hot dogs equates to a more realistic 8.8 hot dogs consumed per American per year.

But I do not believe that in any world we are eating 70 hot dogs per person, and I will never believe it until I am given solid and tangible proof.

UPDATE: An anonymous source with access to the NielsenIQ database of consumer behavior has reported to Defector that 760 million packages of hot dogs are sold retail each year. This is a possible explanation for the nine billion number presented by Big Hot Dog: If you assume all of those were 12-packs (a stretch), you get nine billion hot dogs. More likely they are eight-packs, which gives you six billion. The source notes that their data does not include some independent retailers, so could be off by 10 percent or so. With this information, we still do not reach anywhere near 20 billion hot dogs per year, but it seems plausible that Americans are buying at least 10 billion hot dogs, which would put the average around 30 hot dogs consumed per person per year.

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