Hot off their Flavor of Now menu—an attempt at capturing the foodie market with artisanal options like honey sriracha crust and Peruvian cherry peppers, which led to a decline of 3.5 percent in annual sales—Pizza Hut has put it in reverse for their latest offering: cocktail weenies.
Technically called the Hot Dog Bites Pizza, each pie will come with 28 “premium hot dog bites” arranged like tiny flavor soldiers encircling a pepperoni pizza, each wrapped snugly in a foreskin of pretzel or standard crust. This special edition debuts June 18 at all 6,300 U.S. locations in an attempt to recapture their core market, the “mainstream pizza lover,” which must be industry speak for “people with zero regard for cholesterol.” Each smoky, cheesy slice is a belly-blasting 460 calories.
The concept is just one of many gut busting extreme pizza ideas chains have been introducing to maintain their share in an increasingly crowded and picky market. Other notable Hail Marys include Little Caesars’ bacon-wrapped pizza, which features three and a half feet of cured pig encircling it like the elastic waistband you’ll want after eating one, and Dominos’ so-called fried chicken crust pizza, which even proffered the motto “failure is an option.”
Indeed, Pizza Hut acknowledges this most recent culinary creation is a direct descendant of their own hot dog stuffed crust pizza, which was available only in the U.K. a few years ago.
The whole thing is part of an industry-wide fast food scramble, in which former king of the coagulated hill McDonalds suffers from a 30 percent drop in profits and Taco Bell chases Chipotle’s tail by adding booze.
Wackiness aside, here’s what really matters: Are all those calories are worth it. Does it taste good?
Intrepid journalists that we are here at the Daily Beast, we had to find out. And, boy, did we ever.
The first thing that hit me after I accepted the three piping hot cardboard boxes from the smiling member of Pizza Hut’s PR team was the sheer heft. I’m no stranger to carting around boxes of pizza, but these were different—leaden in a way that I immediately suspect to be foreshadowing of my own post-lunch state.
“Nonsense,” I muttered to myself, the beginning of an internal profanity-laced pep talk that manages to get me up the elevator and into a Daily Beast conference room. Once there, and within full view of my coworkers, the fight-or-flight impulse was sufficiently quashed. Fight it was, and dammit, we were ready.
Only a handful of my Beast brethren were “brave” enough to put their health on the line, but those that did were a stalwart lot, no stranger to the perils, and pure joy, designer fast food such as this elicits.
First, the unveiling (drumroll).
Honestly, they look just like you’d expect, maybe even a little less greasy than originally anticipated. A standard issue pepperoni pizza being held hostage by a small army of weenie soldiers in carbohydrate armor, unflinching—defiant even—in the cold fluorescent light. The aroma was pizza mingled with hickory smoke and soggy cardboard.
Each hot dog bite was a uniform brown cylinder, looking as though it were cut from a long rope of chopped and formed pink slime before being sheathed in heavily salted pretzel dough. Even from afar, the potential for sodium-enriched dehydration was glaring—something sure to help with sales of sugary carbonated beverages and onset of adult diabetes.
This is not a meal for the faint of heart or already weak of bloodstream.
Due to the configuration of dogs on the crust, picking up a slice with them intact feels horrifyingly reminiscent of taking the hand of the elderly or infirm. Limp, dead weight that strikes your fingers in a way that makes them instinctively want to interdigitate. It’s as though the pizza itself is meeting your grasp and pulling you closer, down into the cheesy, meaty depths of carbohydrated ether.
The first bite, taken traditionally from the food triangle’s point, is pure pizza bliss. True, there is good pizza and there is bad pizza, but the best pizza is almost always the pizza that you have in your hands. A second bite invariably finds curiosity winning out to form and function, and the slice is reversed so that a hot dog nub can be bitten free. The result is bready, salty, meaty, smoky, and, as wonderful as all those elements should be when performed in harmony, ultimately disappointing.
I should preface the following by admitting that, as much as it’s easy to snarkily deride the nutritional fouls and sensationalistic nature of the hot dog pizza, I wanted to love it, or at least savor it. And the few stoic fellow Beasts who gathered with me were downright excited at the thought of eating it. I didn’t come into this for a takedown, and that’s not what it’s intended to be.
But damn, man, these weenies? Nope.
Conveying the texture of a Snausage more than a hot dog, the little sausages were so packed with faux-flavor they tasted like the cruel caricature of a meat product, and certainly not one designed for human consumption. Even slathered to the point of Homer Simpson impersonation in the included bright yellow mustard dipping sauce, they were barely palatable.
One pregnant staffer, who had previously been hands down the most excited and who was fresh off a weekend’s self-described “hot dog party,” spat them out. Some of the rest of us followed suit.
Even as I write this, the vague air of hickory smokiness surrounding me like the pheromone secretions of a demon intent on devouring me from the inside out, I can’t quite come to terms with Pizza Hut’s decision to pass off such bottom of the barrel meat products as edible. Certainly even with margins to make, declining sales, and reasonable retail price of $11.99 (for a large, though!) they could have sourced a more passable product.
The brand has somehow managed to drum up an Internet full of hype that they must know, on some internal level, they can’t live up to with such an inferior flagship ingredient.
In other words: They only had one job.
How hard is it to satisfy the gluttonous pizza devotees who will willingly, hell, enthusiastically, subject themselves to such a creation? Just throw some low-grade but palatable tubed meat paste in there and it would have been a home run. But, sadly, they’ve only delivered a salty foul.
The rest of the pizza, the cheese and pepperoni and pretzel crust? Fantastic. But that’s not what we came for, is it?
When this limited edition pie rolls out next week, it will surely sell well. People will want to try it, and who can blame them? We did, to the point of selfishly reaching out for a preview. And who knows, maybe our Internet journalist taste buds, attuned to late night Seamless orders, hastily scarfed microwave sandwiches, lukewarm coffee and salty things that come in crinkly bags weren’t up to the task. It could be that it’s us and not them, and the only judge of that will be the American people.
But as I sit here, greasy fingers slipping on my keyboard and oily beard salty with shame, that shame is the only thing I can really focus on.
Because at the end of the day, the Hot Dog Bite pizza is all about shame.
It was born from the shame of a venerable pizza chain hoping to win back their lost clientele. For many, it will be ordered in hushed, shameful tones, and eaten by people—most of whom who will, ultimately, feel overwhelmed with self loathing at each slice’s conclusion.
A tribute to both Pizza Hut’s product development team and our own instinctive drive for salt and fat, however, is that even with the shameful burden of those calories weighing on our shoulders like a five gallon bucket of rendered pork and dairy, we will undoubtedly reach for another weenie-heavy slice to beat back said shame.
We did, anyway. We put the leftovers in the kitchen, and the whole thing was gone by mid-afternoon.
And so it goes.