Why Don’t Hot Dogs and Hot Dog Buns Come in Packs of Equal Number?
Yes, finally today we are going to answer perhaps the most oft asked question we get in our inbox, a question that has been perplexing mothers, stoned teenagers and lazy comedians for decades: why do hot dog buns come in packs of eight, when hot dogs are (usually) sold in packs of ten?
For our American readers who’ve been dealing with this infuriatingly mundane problem for years, we’d like to point out that you’re not alone in your struggle. For example, the writer of this piece is from the UK and over here, while hot dogs are usually sold in cans of eight (yes cans), hot dog buns are sold in packs of six. While the numbers may be a little different across the pond, the result is the same- extra hot dogs lying around with no bun to put them in. So why is it that these two industries whose interests and customer bases are so closely intertwined have failed to pick up on this seemingly obvious gap in their marketing strategy? Is it really just that they want you to have extra of one or the other, so you’ll continue to buy them both in a vicious, but profitable, cycle?
In truth, you can find hot dog packages containing eight hot dogs to match with the buns, but by far the more popular is the ten pack in the states. How did this come to be? The most common explanation for this is that, as with many meat products, hot dogs are sold by the pound and because the average hot dog weighs around 1.6 ounces, this invariably means that your average packet of hot dogs is going to contain ten. According to The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, this was a decision reached by manufactures in the 1940s, prior to which hot dogs were sold by butchers in varying quantities and sizes. (See What’s in a Hot Dog and How is It Made)
However, as mentioned, hot dogs are sometimes sold in packs of eight, often labelled as “jumbo” hot dogs with the weight usually still coming out at a pound. But the ten to a pound rule is by far still the most popular, whether because that’s what people are used to or because the bread to meat ratio is simply to the liking of the masses when the dogs are 1.6 ounces. So barring the hot dog manufacturers deciding to throw out the traditional “pound per pack” metric en masse, this isn’t likely to change anytime soon among most manufacturers. (As with all things, there are exceptions.)
So what about the bread?
Now, bread isn’t really sold by any particular weight in the U.S, though historically in the UK it was- after The Bread Act of 1822, all loaves had to weigh a pound or a multiple thereof. This law, which stemmed from another law passed in 1266 called the Assize of Bread and Ale, was in effect right up until WWII during which it was decided that all loaves had to weigh 14 instead of 16 ounces (or a multiple thereof) to save flour. This soon became the law of the land starting in 1963. Thankfully for us Brits wanting more diverse loaves, this law has since been abolished. Hot dog buns didn’t really fall under that law, but we thought it was interesting, and since interesting stuff is kind of what we do here, we couldn’t help but mention it.
So what’s stopping bakers from simply making bread buns in packs of ten if they’re not packaged by weight like the meat is? Well, really nothing at all except tradition. This isn’t so easy to change without incurring some expense as changing machinery to accommodate the new package sizes and layout would be no trivial thing. Besides the machinery, other things like pans, newly sized packaging, shipping containers, etc. would need changed. For instance, one of the most common types of pan used to make hot dog buns on an industrial scale bakes them in clusters of four. (For those curious, here’s an industrial hot dog bun pan shaker showing the trays. It’s actually kind of mesmerizing.)
Again, while pans that bake buns in numbers divisible by ten do exist, they’re far less common as is the automatic machinery to package them in a 5×2 arrangement. To incur the extra cost of modifying perfectly good working equipment, a company would need a good reason. And, as Oscar Meyer noted a few decades ago, only about 1 in 5,000 or so correspondents they receive from customers is a complaint about hot dog buns not commonly coming in packs of ten like the traditional packs of hot dogs. So lack of customer demand (particularly today when jumbo dogs in their packs of eight are readily available to those who like to up their meat to bread ratio) has resulted in little interest in most large baking companies investing the money to start mass producing buns in packs of ten. (Again, there are always exceptions.)
It has also been speculated that as people may or may not bother to count how many buns are in a package while they shop, and the package of ten will inherently cost more, if another brand is putting them out in packages of eight, a casual quick-grab customer might simply always go for the other brand, instead of the one sold in packages of ten. While more leisurely shoppers might not make such a mistake, never underestimate the coupon clipping shopper in a hurry on their way home from work. And, of course, despite it all costing the same in the end, many-a-driver will choose not to fill their car full of fuel in favor of saving money now. That same individual looking to buy buns may make the same type of decision when choosing the eight vs. ten pack, again favouring the manufacturer who goes with the traditional eight. For a little more hard data in this web of speculative theories, as noted by Eitan Gerstner of Georgetown University and James D. Hess of North Carolina State University, nearly 40% of people they surveyed in their study on this very topic indicated that they do not regularly compare package sizes vs. unit prices when determining which of some item to buy, perhaps lending some credence to this particular theory as to why there would be little benefit in a particular hot dog bun maker making the switch, or offering both.
In any event, at this point you might be wondering why the bakers sold them in packs of eight and twelve in the first place? For this, we can’t be nearly as definitive as with the origin of the ten pack of hot dogs, and must continue to delve into the tenuous realm of speculation, which we normally do not like to do. Numerous theories have been thrown about, mostly bad, but principally it’s generally thought it started out that way as bakers classically seem to like to work in multiples of four (or really two, if you prefer), rather than multiples of five or other odd numbers. As to why, it has been speculated that multiples of four are easier to work with. For instance, with multiples of four you get more uniform packaging than with multiples of five, which potentially may have an odd man out depending on the configuration. Multiples of two or four, on the other hand, are always going to be even, leading bakers to tend to be biased in favour of it when making product that are sold with multiple items in a single package.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:
- Why a Baker’s Dozen is 13 Instead of 12
- Is it Safe to Eat Moldy Bread or Moldy Cheese?
- How Hot Dogs Ultimately Resulted In Taco Bell
- Bread Goes Stale About Six Times Faster in the Refrigerator than at Room Temperature
- Pre-Sliced Bread Was Once Banned in the United States
- You’ll often hear that the name “hot dog” comes from a cartoon drawn by T.A. Dorgan during a New York Giants baseball game at the Polo Grounds around 1902-1906 (date varies depending on who’s telling the story). At this game, he supposedly observed a vendor, Harry Stevens, selling “hot dachshund sausages”. Dorgan, being inspired by this, drew a dachshund in a hot dog bun, but didn’t know how to spell dachshund, so just wrote “hot dog”. As with so many such cute origin anecdotes, this is unequivocally false. For more on this and how the term “hot dog” came about, see: The Name “Hot Dog” Was Not Coined at a New York Giants Baseball Game
- The name “Frankfurter” comes from the fact that a popular hot dog-like sausage was originally made in Frankfurt Germany (Frankfurter meaning “of Frankfurt”). The name was brought over to America sometime in the late 19th century from German immigrants who were familiar with the Frankfurter sausage.
- It isn’t known exactly when somebody first got the bright idea to put sausages in a bun, however, the first historical reference of sausages themselves goes all the way back to one of the first books ever written, Homer’s Odyssey: “As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted… “
- While it is unlikely that the practice of putting sausages in some sort of bread only happened recently (bread being a staple food throughout history and sausages being relatively popular in many cultures), the first recorded instances of sausages being sold encased in bread come from around the 1860s where various German immigrants sold frankfurters with milk rolls and sauerkraut on the streets of New York City. There are numerous stories of people having claimed to be the first to put the sausage in a bun, but nobody knows for sure which, if any, are true. A common theme among all of these stories is that the idea behind the bun was to be able to serve the hot dogs to customers on the streets without the customers burning their hands on the hot sausages.
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Now I want a hot dog
After reading the line, “In any event, at this point you might be wondering why the bakers sold them in packs of eight and twelve in the first place?” it comes to mind that bakers tend to divide the raw product in half and half again and half two more times …. Its much easier than trying divide into 5ths or 3rds.
@Tex: Good point. 🙂
Really? You don’t know?
Any dog – and I mean ANY dog – can tell you who the extra two sausages are for.
When I was on vacation in Frankfurt, I decided to order Frankfurter sausages to see what they were like. Surprisingly (or not), they tasted exactly like cheap American hot dogs.
I was on a mission to eat food from each place I went to, that had a corresponding American food. I ate a danish in Denmark, a hamburger in Hamgurg, etc. It was fun!
Steak Hamburg Style originated in Hamburg, Germany (from sea traders bringing back Russian Steak Tartare which they themselves adopted from the Mongolians) but forming it into a patty and putting it on a bun is actually uniquely American (albeit invented to attract business during a wave of German immigration).
Personally i have a tendency to require extra amount of filling,and i assume there are others like me.
As an amateur baker I think I can shed more light on the bun conundrum. If you have a ball of dough it is fairly easy to divide it in two (certainly easier than trying to divide it in three). That give you two equal sized dough balls and each one of those can easily be divided in half to give you four that can be divided in half to give you eight, etc. etc.
Most items baked from dough are going to be 1, 2 or some multiple of 2 as it is simply easier to divide dough in half than into any other portion.
All of the arguments of “traditional” blah-blah are moot and without merit when you consider MODERN 21st century factories including baking FACTORIES.
These are all done on machines run by computers nowadays therefore the NUMBERS are an easy fix. Same with the pans.
Big whoopee doo that it will cost them some money to make a few small changes. THAT IS the cost of business that SHOULD NOT be passed onto the consumer.
The end reason for these type of anomalies is that it serves GREED and only greed. Nothing else is a factor.
I remembered the question in “Bulletproof Monk” and it was comical as I watched it again. So in the style of an ancient Chinese proverb, I will lead you to the answer. You are asking a question when you already know the answer. You just have to look rather than wonder at its perplexity. If you purchased the 2 packages of hot dogs and 2 buns, which you will likely do because we are a social society and desire pairing things up, you will likely notice during the clean up of the barbecue there lies a ratio of more buns to hot dogs, yes more buns to hot dogs. So how is this possible? There truly must be some sort of witchcraft going on. No, there is not. Long before the bun there was the sausage and hot dog yearning for something more. They sat waiting for hundreds of years. Even mustard on a hot dog was before the bun, but not everyone liked mustard, back then and today. Could this be the missing link, pun intended? Ahhh it just my be, so next time you are at the barbecue look down and over to notice that guy or girl throwing that extra juicy grilled dog on top of the beans or potato salad, next to their already bunned dog, then you will see the answer right in front of you. So ask yourself the question again and contemplate an answer of less than 80% of of hot dog eaters like their hot dog on a bun versus on their plate. Hence the 8 to 10 ratio.
For you conspiracy theorist. Yes the hot dog and bun makers are in cahoots. They know the answer. Without divulging it they are causing people to buy a disproportionate purchase of the two products. You cant fight the universe so stay with equal pairing and our world will be in balance. Without balance we fall prey to chaos and confusion.
Seriously people, just buy one of each. Don’t waste your money. The answer truly is this simple.
Actually, “Frankfurters” come from Austria…
In Germany they are called “Wiener”.
(German, more detailed: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiener_W%C3%BCrstchen
Here in Vienna the tale is told like this: A butcher from Frankfurt came to Vienna, bringing with him this recipie (which he got from somewhere in France, as far as I remember). The “new” sausage was popular and was named after the hometown of the butcher – Frankfurter… Then the sausage (recipie) was reexported to Germany – and as it came from Vienna it became the “Wiener Würstchen” (which translates as “Little sausages from Vienna”…).
If you don’t have a dog at home, here’s what to do with extra hot dogs when you run out of buns: slice up a hot dog, set water boiling to make a package of instant ramen, and put the hot dog slices in with the water while the ramen cooks. Yummy!
I usually don’t care and don’t pay attention… if I happen to come home from the grocery store and notice that there are spares on any side, they are promptly eaten: either double dogs or bread next day on breakfast – no problem here 🙂
Hot dogs are not sold by the pound. They are sold by the package. NOTHING stops producers from packaging 8 instead of 10 wieners. Frankly the solution is in packaging wieners, which wouldn’t cost producers any more since they’re constantly changing their packing methods anyway. Getting bakers to change their machinery would indeed invoke extra expenses since their methods never change.
thanks for sharing
I am a Canuck north of the 49th. LOL. For my whole life until recently that I noticed, probably about the last year or so, the store I frequent and a child plus all the years i was a Gypsy and travel to different towns in canada, it was always 12 dogs to a pack and this matched the the buns that were 12 to a pack. Very rare did I know anyone who purchased the 8 pack unless that was your only choice.
Now we are going to 10 dogs and still have the common 12 buns. What the heck do I do with the 2 extra buns. They make lousy sandwiches.
Perhaps keep them frozen and buy 5 packs of the hot dogs and 5 packs of 12 buns. On the sixth pack of dogs I will have free buns.
Oh Ya!! Bonus.
Everyone knows “DADs” are the king of the barbecue. And because dads always sneak about 20% of the meat off the grill before it is ever served, ya just gotta have two extra dogs in the pack. Trust me, I’m a dad, I love to barbecue, and this is a true story.
I thought it was so if you make a new friend on the day the host and regular guests have a chance too share the dogs between the even number of rolls! 6 rolls 5 dogs,the bread is also less perishable ,new friend might even have an onion with them!
Packages of ten buns vs. 8 dogs…Maybe people should understand that life doesn’t always work out perfectly like you would want it to….But you can always get a Hot Dog!