Costco Vs Sam's Club: Which Has The Better Hot Dog?

Here's a core memory that we probably all have a similar version of: One sweltering afternoon in July, an old charcoal grill fires away, carefully tended by a sandaled dad who passes you an Oscar Mayer frank on a white store-bought bun. It's a childhood snippet that we'll always keep wrapped in fond nostalgia, and a memory that could only be more American if there were a heap of fireworks nearby waiting for nightfall. Hot dogs in their ultimate state of simplicity — a basic trifecta of bun, meat, and ketchup — will probably always have a place at baseball diamonds and Independence Day cookouts. But this handheld meal has seen more than a few sophisticated makeovers as toppings get more elaborate, buns are seasoned and made fresh, and more brands proudly proclaim their dogs as 100% beef.

We are certainly glad to see beef adjacent franks retire, but we also don't exactly associate hot dogs with the finer things in life. That's why, as much as we appreciate the ingenuity of piling a frank with elegant toppings like olives, grape tomatoes, feta, and red onions, sometimes you just need to return to your roots. Enter the hot dogs of Costco and Sam's Club, two beloved wholesalers that offer this American classic for cheap. Both chains' prices might seem to be behind the times by a couple of decades, but that is by design. But even with prices like these, we had to find out — which wholesaler is better at hot dogs?

Why are Costco and Sam's Club hot dogs so cheap?

If you were to visit Costco or Sam's only to get a hot dog combo at the food court, you'd probably pay more in gas just to get there. Why are these two wholesalers selling their dogs at a loss, when they probably could have gotten away with having at least doubled the cost by now? At Costco, having easy and affordable meals available at the food court has been a pillar of its business model since the first hot dog was sold back in the '80s. Costco incentivizes its shoppers to grab a hot, cheap meal — whether it's a hot dog, pizza, or something else — either before heading in to shop or to take home. Basically, the store recognizes the anti-cooking phenomenon that takes over us after buying hundreds of dollars worth of groceries. 

Rumor has it that, for Costco, keeping the hot dog combo at a buck-and-a-half was literally a matter of life and death. At one time, Costco executives knew that they were "losing their rear ends" because of the meal's insanely low price, but when CEO Craig Jelinek approached Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal about adjusting the price (via 425Business), he was reportedly told, "If you raise the effing hot dog, I will kill you. Figure it out." The history of Sam's beef isn't quite as dramatic and mostly has to do with being better-priced than Costco, as shown by Sam's Club's 12-cent price drop for hot dogs in 2022.

Who made the better bun?

Let's start on the outside and work our way in. The Costco bun your dog comes with will vary based on your location; ours was this soft, white, cloudy bun on the left. According to Costco employees on Reddit, the buns at our upper Midwestern location would be the S. Rosen buns, which can be purchased on the Costco shelves. This bun was so pillowy, its texture and flavor that of bakery-fresh bread. Our only complaint is that there wasn't enough bun for all that hot dog. 

Unfortunately for Sam's Club, the hot dog bun from the Members Mark side didn't hold a candle to Costco. The cheapness of the meal really made itself evident in the quality of the bun. We couldn't find much information about the Sam's Club bun online, but it definitely tasted like the packaged white store buns of old — and we don't say that with much affection, given how good Costco's was. This bread was more compact, less soft, and airy, with a dry crackiness on the outer edges. The Sam's dog didn't necessarily taste stale but didn't taste fresh either. The Sam's bun was more proportional to its frank, though Costco takes the point here. 

Who offered the better toppings?

Like old ladies and news anchors, a hot dog can't go out without its face on. It's impressive from both locations that, for no additional cost, you're free to help yourself to a generous fixings bar. Toppings aren't quite important enough to make or break a good hot dog, but in this comparison, they could be just enough to tip the scales. Both Costco and Sam's Club offer packets of your standards, including ketchup, mustard, sweet pickle relish, and mayo (if you're into that on hot dogs), plus raw onions and sauerkraut. You are welcome to unlimited toppings at both places, too, but here's a fun hot dog tip: If you're really wanting to fancify your hot dog, just take it home, give it a sear in a pan, and add your own toppings.

For our own personal tastes and to preserve the beef flavor, we opted for one drizzle each of ketchup and mustard. Because these were just packets of condiments, there's no discernible taste difference between the two. This category would be a draw, but our local Costco condiment bar was very poorly stocked (no relish, sauerkraut, or onions), so Sam's Club gets an honorary point by way of disqualification. 

Which beef frank tasted better?

In our very unofficial weighted average scoring system, this is definitely the heaviest category. This is the hot dog review, after all, not the bun or ketchup review ... so which meat takes the cake? We sampled each hot dog without buns or condiments to find out, and our testing returned very interesting results. Costco's beef frank tasted the most like a hot dog. We know that doesn't make much sense, so let's elaborate: If you can recall the taste of a store-bought Oscar Mayer hot dog that your mom microwaved (or, if you were particularly unlucky, boiled) for you as a kid, that's exactly what the Costco dog reminds us of — not in a bad way. It was a very uncomplicated taste, basic, but wholly enjoyable. It's certainly a kid- and picky-adult-friendly hot dog.

Sam's really decided to come out swinging against Costco's wholesale food court hot dogs empire with a robustly-flavored, juicy hot dog. It's spiced, but not overly so; it reminded us of summer sausage, but a few notches down in terms of seasonings. It also had a more distinct beefy flavor than Costco's dog did. Despite the inferior bun, Sam's takes the win for tastier beef.

Which store uses higher-quality beef?

Both chains use 100% pure beef franks, according to both stores' signage and multiple online sources. Sam's Club's dogs are a quarter pound on the nose, according to All Recipes, while Costco describes its franks as "a quarter pound plus." Presumably, because the Costco product has been iconic for decades, there's a lot of information out there about this wholesaler's beef: It's free of corn syrup, artificial flavors or colors, fillers, and by-products.

Unfortunately, we just couldn't find much on the details of Sam's Club's beef. Truthfully, when it comes down to strict quality, both brands deserve a nod. Their hot dogs are juicy and fresh, and while Costco offers a longer dog, Sam's is thicker, which did seem a better choice for the dog-to-bun ratio. From a textural perspective, if we had to make a subjective guess on which beef was higher in quality, we'd go with the beef from Costco.

Which hot dog looked more appealing?

It's what's on the inside that counts, but a little visual appeal never hurts in the world of food. Right off the bat, the Costco dog was easier on the eyes. As seen in the above side-by-side comparison of the hot dogs, the Sam's dog on the right had a grayish-brown color and bespeckled skin that, because it's not a shade we expected to see in a hot dog, threw us for a loop initially. We could also immediately see that the Sam's bun looked more dense and compact.

The Costco bun, on the other hand, looked much more compelling with its soft and cloudy appearance, complete with cleaves indicative of a bakery-fresh bun. It had the familiar pinkish-red color that we associate with a flame-kissed hot dog. The Sam's Club frank looked more like a bratwurst — nothing wrong with that, but since a brat wasn't the meat cylinder we wanted here, the Costco dog definitely had a stronger visual magnetism. 

Which hot dog had the better texture?

As with any sandwich (yes, we've already had the "is a hot dog a sandwich" debate, and yes, in some states the argument is so hot it got legal) the textural experience of sinking your teeth in for that first bite sets an important tone for the rest of your meal. Between the Costco and Sam's Club hot dogs, this was a close race. The Sam's bun, albeit drier, was balanced out by the burst of juice and grease in the beef frank. The Costco hot dog retained less moisture than the one from Sam's Club, but with the softer bun, this wasn't all that big of an issue. 

Costco's beef had a slightly chewier, tougher mouthfeel than Sam's Club's did. We aren't sure if the Costco hot dog had been sitting under warmers for longer, but overall it certainly seemed to fall short of the Sam's dog in tenderness, juiciness, and general texture. Had Sam's Club's bun not been so dry, it would have blown Costco's dog out of the water. But with Costco's better bun inching it forward in the race, the wholesalers were neck and neck in this category, so although in considering only the texture of the frank we preferred Sam's, we are calling it a draw overall. 

Which hot dog had a better flavor overall?

So when you wrap it all up — the frank, the condiments, the bun — what's the tastier hot dog? While we know there might be some circumstantial factors at play — maybe the Sam's bun was dry because it was the last in a batch, maybe Costco was short-staffed on the day we visited and there were essentially no condiments available — the sum of it all points to Sam's Club as a generally more delectable hot dog. The Costco product tastes more like a classic hot dog, but the Sam's one is more interesting. Plus, when you dress it up with your favorite fixings, the dryness of the bun does go unnoticed. 

That said, there are a few instances where we'd prefer the Costco one — if we were eating a dry hot dog, for example. We'd also pick the Costco hot dog if we had kids in the group since it is a more familiar hot dog taste. You can see the difference in this side-by-side comparison of the two products: One look at the one on the left (Costco) and yep, that's definitely a hot dog. The Sam's frank on the right could be mistaken for a seasoned sausage, like a bratwurst. 

Which hot dog was a better value?

It seems silly to count pennies when you can get a hot dog and soda for under $2 at either Sam's Club or Costco, but let's get into it anyways — because there are some major value discrepancies between the two. For one, as anyone who isn't currently living under a rock knows, Sam's Club sent shockwaves through the membership-based bulk grocery community when it announced its plans to undercut the Costco price of the hot dog combo by 12 cents. Franchise-wide, you can get a quarter-pound hot dog, unlimited toppings, and a 20-ounce soda for $1.50, plus any applicable sales tax, at Costco. But at Sam's Club, you get the same quarter-pound hot dog, unlimited toppings, and a 30-ounce soda for $1.38 — again, plus tax as applicable by state. 

Another major point for Sam's Club is the fact that only Costco members can use the Costco food court, while Member's Mark welcomes all. And since the standard Costco membership is $10 more than Sam's Club — $60 rather than $50 — it's hard to look at the Costco hot dog combo as truly only costing a buck and a half. So, given the cheaper price, a bigger soda, and no membership necessary, Sam's Club's fresh competition for Costco is definitely a winner in value. 

Which hot dog is better for you?

Okay, so hot dogs aren't exactly healthy, but there are worse things in the world to consume ... right? If the nutritional details of each brand's hot dogs are of importance to you, here's a breakdown of what to expect from each. Note that this is the hot dog and bun only, not including the soda or toppings that accompany the combos. 

One Sam's Club Member's Mark hot dog with a bun is 660 calories and brings 32 total grams of fat. The real kicker with hot dogs, of course, is sodium — of which the Sam's beef frank alone has 1,370 milligrams, plus an additional 280 in the bun, for a total of 1,650 milligrams of sodium. Finding actual numbers on Costco's hot dog was difficult, although Very Well Fit deems the hot dog one of the "least nutritious options" at the store (most nutritious being the chicken Caesar salad and the BBQ beef brisket sandwich). We aren't sure of the accuracy, being an unofficial Costco source, but My Fitness Pal says that a Costco hot dog with a bun is 540 calories — and if that's accurate, it's a bit more forgiving than the Sam's dog. However, it's reportedly slightly higher in fat than Sam's — 33 grams in total — and sodium too, 1,750 milligrams between the bun and dog. 

According to these two sources, each option is equivalent in protein — 24 grams — and Sam's Club's product is slightly higher in sugars (11 grams over Costco's nine). 

Overall, are Sam's or Costco's hot dogs better?

In looking at the summation of all that we've found — Costco with the better bun, Sam's with the better beef and overall flavor, and Sam's again with the better value — it seems that a clear winner emerges. An honorable mention on our list of judgments that may make a difference to some is that Costco did have a better food court environment than Sam's. This could just be happenstance based on our nearby location, but Costco had more (and cleaner) seating, self-serve kiosks for credit card customers, and a more logical layout. The Sam's food court line snaked through the seating, making things weird for both people sitting down to eat and customers waiting in line. Our Costco also utilized a number system, so we knew exactly which order was ours, while the Sam's food court just drops food at the end of the counter in a sort of free-for-all honor system. 

But all in all, in both beef and value, Sam's outperformed both Costco and our expectations. This surprises us, being longtime Costco shoppers ourselves, but our evidence shows that Sam's Club was better at the hot dog game — if we're disregarding the food court needing some logistical updates. If the Member's Mark wholesaler could just update its dining area and make improvements to its bun, it could very easily knock Costco off the weenie throne.