This post is intended to serve as the ultimate blue-print for building your own hot dog cart from scratch. It’s true, if you’re an individual that’s skilled at do-it-yourself projects or simply want to save a few bucks, building a custom-made hot dog stand is an option. In this guide, we’ve organize instructional videos you can use to help build your dream cart in addition to outlining the all the tools you’ll need to accomplish it.
But before we get into the instruction of how exactly to build a hot dog cart though, there are a couple quick things that you need to find out before getting started. Read on.
Time, Money, Tools and Your Situation
There are three things you need consider before ordering the the first part to your dream cart. If you don’t consider each of these items, you could end up wasting a lot of your own time and money.
It’s going to take a longer to build your own cart than buying it pre-manufactured. If this is your first time building a cart, it could easily take you 2 – 3 months to assemble. Even if you order from a kit with instructions you might end up putting the 3-compartment sink in the wrong location or maybe your plumbing pipes won’t be long enough. There’s an endless number of things that could go wrong a build out assuming this is your first time building. Mistakes are going to happen and it’s better to go into this understanding this fact before getting started.
Next is the money factor. Depending on the cart, you could build a cart yourself for around $1,000 – $2,000. But the thing is, you can often buy a comparable cart built by a professional manufacturer for between $3,000 – $4,000. Considering relatively small different in cost, many vendors opt to have a professionally built stand and forget about the headaches associated with building something on their own. Again, if you are the type of person that enjoys building things then go for it. It will probably be a fun challenge for you!
Tools – Here’s where building a cart on your own can get more expensive than intended. Depending on complexity of your build out, you may need to conduct basic welding, cut wood for the frame using an electric saw, and of course use some screws and bolts to hold the thing together. If you already own these tools, wonderful! If not you’ll have to either buy, borrow or rent them.
Your Situation – This one’s really important. Before you buy a manufactured cart or make it yourself, you need to get to know the local laws and health regulations for operating a hot dog cart in your city or county. For example, most cities will require that you have a cart with hot and cold water or even a 3-compartment sink to legally operate. If you don’t figure these important details before hand, you could end up building a cart that you’ll never be able to operate for profit legally. You can contact your city hall for more information about the rules in your area. The hot dog business is one that’s been around for 100+ years so there are already clear rules for operating. If you’re not able to find the right contact in your area, try to reach out to an existing food cart business and ask how to get started in your area.
Still want to make your own cart? Read on.
The Build Process
Create a Frame – The first step to any cart build is to create a frame that essentially serves as an outline for the cart. This frame is preferably made from steel or wood on DIY projects. This frame is typically mapped out on a piece of paper or CAD software prior to beginning. This will serve as the road map for where you will place the rest of the equipment housed.
Water Tanks – Fresh and waste water tanks need to be installed in most locations. For most aspiring hot dog vendors, you will be required have hot and cold, fresh and waste water on the cart. You will also need to install basic plumbing between the tanks, typically with plastic pipes.
Counter Tops and Doors – Although you don’t need much counter and prep space while slinging hot dogs, you will need some room for food preparation. For example, if you’re planning to serve Chicago-style dogs, you’ll need a place to assemble the pickle, tomatoes, and celery salt. We recommend that the external doors include a locking mechanism that prevents doors from swinging open when you’re in transit.
Refrigerator – By installing a refrigerator, you will be able to keep condiments and vegetables cool. It also offers the opportunity to increase profits for your cart. Restaurant quality mini-refrigerators can be purchased for under $500 at this time and is totally worth the investment since you’ll be able to add cold drinks to the mix. This is a low effort way to increase the overall customer value by $1 – $3 per person. The additional prep work for this will be minimal and all you need to do is hand customers the can or bottle.
Deep Cycle Battery – You’re going to need a mobile power source if you want to take this show on the road! A deep cycle battery will power the refrigerator and water tanks.
Propane Tank – Propane will be used to warm your dogs, but there’s a variety of other cooking equipment you might not know about that can be powered by propane. Did you know a coffee maker or nacho cheese dispenser can be powered by propane? They can be if you purchase the right type.
Steam Tables – You will need to install at least two steam tables in your cart, but you’ll probably want even more than that. Steamers can be used to keep buns and sausages warm in addition to any extras you need to keep hot like chili or nacho cheese.
Waste Water Drainage and Extension Hose – You’ll need a safe way to get rid of your waste water, but also an easy way to collect fresh water for tanks. Make sure to provide yourself with a few extra feet of hose, which will make refilling easier.
Install Canopy or Umbrella – Of course we can’t forget that trademark umbrella or canopy that helps drive customers to your cart. Most umbrellas are brightly colored with red, white and blue colors but you can also get something custom made that better reflects your carts brand.
Lights – If you want to pull around your trailer, you need to make sure your vehicle is street legal. That means you’ll need rear brake lights that will flip on in transport. This is an important and often overlooked step in the process. You’ll need something that you can legally transport from one location to the next.
Optional Extras – The addition of a stainless grill, nacho cheese dispenser and coffee maker are all extras we’ve seen included on a hot dog cart. If you plan to include one of these extras, you’ll need to make space for them within the frame. A stainless grill in particular can be a nice addition because it really opens up your menu options. For example, with a grill you can start serving things like hamburgers, grilled peppers and onions, or we’ve even seen jalapeño poppers served off carts.
Testing – The work is almost done, but you’ll still need to run some tests to ensure everything is working correctly before taking this cart out to customers. Here are a few tests that should be conducted before taking your cart for it’s first day in business: ensuring the lights work, test pressure of propane tank, run refrigerator for at least 24 hours to ensure consistent temperatures, and of course test all the steam tables.
How to Build a Hot Dog Cart Video Series
In our humble opinion, Wayne Warren of Rednecks Concession and Catering has put together the best and most comprehensive video series on building a food cart that exists on the entire internet. There are a lot of videos on YouTube that promise to guide you through the built process, but most fall short of getting into those critical details. Fortunately, as you’ll see in the videos below, Warren’s how-to videos are extremely detailed and offer hours of guidance on the topic.
This is the final video on building a hot dog cart. At the start of this video the barbecue grill is almost ready to be installed, the gas fitting is complete, and the hot water heater is in place. During this part of the series, Wayne also tests his cart for any leaks. Check out the finale right here!
Want more information about starting a hot dog business? Check out this awesome podcast interview that shows you how to develop a market research plan for your hot dog business.