Searching for a great hot dog cart can be confusing. There are dozens of manufacturers across the US with new ones popping up, seemly, all the time. You want a well-built, sturdy cart with tons of cooking space that meets your health department codes and sold at a reasonable price.
The reviews are for the “base” model the manufacturer offers with no add-ons or upgrades. This is to get a close as possible to an “apples to apples” comparison. Reviews are listed in order by state. All information is taken directly from the manufacturers website and is correct as of 10/20/2017. Carts I have personal experience owning, working or training will be noted, as well as my thoughts on construction, work flow and durability for those carts.
Each cart will be ranked based on the following system:
Making an informed purchase of any piece of equipment should include work flow, cost, demonstrated durability and useful extras. Scroll to the Bottom Line for the recommended cart.
Disclaimer: I receive no income for the following information. I am not paid for the recommendations or reviews and the opinions are my own. Listed links are not affiliate links like so many pretend “review sites” use.
ThePremier Hot Dog and Food Carts – Model Elite
220 S Country Club Dr.
Mesa, AZ 85210
Premier Hot Dog and Food Carts is an Arizona based manufacturer that offers my personal favorite style of service for a cart. A side serve cart has the most efficient work flow design as long as the sinks are on the same side as your cooking equipment which the Elite does feature. Premier offers an eighteen-page manual for the new owner. The manual is a mix of Arizona specific information and links, as well as, generic food service checklists and basic troubleshooting. The side as you can see are diamond plate. Typically diamond plate is aluminum rather than stainless. Aluminum is a cost and weight reducing method for manufacturers. In practice aluminum is prone to pitting and discoloration when cleaned with degreasers. Anytime you see diamond plate ask what metal is used. Diamond plate design is cool looking just not practical for cleaning regardless of metal used. An interesting side note, the on-demand hot water heater featured on the Elite is made by American Dreams, Inc. American Dreams is owned by Ben Wilson, who also sells carts under The Hot Dog Cart Store out of Tennessee.
Kareen Carts – Model Steamed Hot Dog Cart
5850 Avalon Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90003
call for quote
If you are California vendor your best bet is to deal with a California based cart manufacturer. Not that other manufacturers are not able to meet the very stringent CalCode, they can and do. It is easier to deal with the experts, who build day in and day out for California based vendors. The picture shows a side serve with a reach in cooler. CalCode does require mechanical refrigeration and Kareem provides a generator to power the cooler. Kareem provides commissary services for Los Angeles, making it one of the few manufacturers to do so. They also help with navigating the myriad of required licenses in LA. Since the CalCode is so specific, most used carts made to pass those codes should remain in state to preserve resell value. CalCode requirements are overkill for the majority of the US.
Armenco – Model Hot Dog Cart
11819 Vose Street
North Hollywood, CA 91605
800-345-0104 | 818-768-0400
Call for quote
Another California based manufacturer building to meet CalCode. Built in refrigeration with a generator, gull wing enclosure and side serve, what is not to like? Of course, this and other CalCode compliant carts are expensive. These rarely make it Florida, so I’ve never seen one firsthand. The website has a downloads page with a “coming soon” display, hopefully that gets fixed soon. The company has been in business since 1977 offering parts, service, and design.
UVC – Model Hot Dog Tow Cart
(951) 595-8752 California
(561) 488-2332 Florida
This is a multi-national company with a presence in both the US and the UK. They offer carts made of fiberglass coated with a gel-coat paint, which provides some UV protection. Fiberglass coupled with stainless steel and aluminum creates carts that are lightweight and easy to clean. Fiberglass does break rather than dent like stainless. The carts are expensive for the size, and I question the long-term durability of the fiber glass and exposure to the sun. This would be a cool cart for indoor use, such as a mall. This model has an umbrella holder, but one is not included. Most states do require overhead protection. The manual water pump is a concern as is the limited steam table size. An expenditure of over $5,000 for a cart you should outgrow within a year makes little financial sense. You are paying for the “cool factor” rather than function.
Cart Concepts International – Model #425
1651 B Tolland Turnpike
Manchester, CT 06042
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The entry level cart at Cart Concepts International is Model #425. This is a well-made, sturdy cart made to Connecticut Food code standards. They do build custom carts to each vendor’s specific needs. In business for over 30 years, Cart Concepts has earned a reputation for reliability and high quality. I have traded several of their carts over the years and each one had held up to the hot dog business demands quite well. Each time I have inspected a cart for purchase I found it to be, for lack of a better term, solid. The company offers service, as well as parts and custom design. However, the website is very streamline, offering no business operational support or licensing assistance outside the normal schematics for the health department.
The base model is end-serve design, like the street push carts of New York with the sinks on the opposite end. This is poor workflow design but at least the wheels and fenders are recessed. I am not a fan of quilted stainless as the creases create a place for road grime to accumulate and makes advertisements or license numbers look odd. The two full sized steam tables make growing your business or menu with this cart much easier than carts with small steam table capacity.
Creative Mobile Systems, Inc. – Model 325
189 Adams St
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This cart is similar in design to the Model #425 from Cart Concepts. As with the #425 every Model 325 I have inspected was sturdy and aged well. The company has over 20 years of cart building experience and that shows in the final product. CMS offers replacement parts for most carts and trailers. The website, while sparse, does have a little more information and links to assist the local buyer. Both CMS and CCI carts have a higher initial cost than other carts, but the difference can is noticed over the long haul. These carts hold up well to abuse and really are tank-like in their build. I am not sure of the weight, but they are among the heaviest, if not THE heaviest cart on the market. Equipped with two full sized steam tables and sound construction this cart is one a budding vendor will not soon outgrow.
Negatives are the position of the hand wash sink in relation to the serving end of the cart and quilted stainless. An unusual feature is the transverse position of the propane tank.
TDC Manufacturing, LLC TheVendor
1355 Bennett Drive, Unit 177
Longwood, FL 32750
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Top Dogs Carts have been in business over 25 years and produce a cart with some nice features. On the right side of the steam table is the condiment bottle holding area with a round pan insert. If your area requires condiments under refrigeration with feature won’t work for you as there is no place for an ice bath. The griddle is an awesome feature that really expands menu possibilities. If you are allowed to have one by your health department. I have found these carts to be “wobbly” when I inspected used ones. I am also not a fan of the rivets that seem to be everywhere. The website does offer more information on getting started, passing a health inspection and marketing. The information is very basic and general in nature, basically just enough to make you dangerous. The cart lists at 400 pounds but it is much lighter than the New England manufacturers. The utensil tray I found easy to bend as it is unsupported.
All American Hot Dog Co – The New Yorker
Jacksonville, FL 32234-0541
While the company address is Jacksonville FL according to the website contact page. The carts appear to be manufactured in Miami at this address: 292 NW 54 STREET Miami, FL 33127. The owner, Louis DiRaimondo started All American Hot Dog in 1972 after working for several years as a Hot Dog Vendor in South Florida. As recently as August 2017 updating a YellowPages.com review to reference South Florida. I have never purchased an All-American cart, but I have trained people that owned All Americans. The cart has a single steam table which makes handling sales in volume a challenge. The construction seems less than solid, and the carts are extremely light to the point of wondering why? I found several sharp edges on sides, sinks, and drains. In defense of All American some complaints on the scam/rip off sites have conflated All American with Willy Dogs. Both companies have very outspoken characters for owners. The website is “old” using primary colors and flashing attention getters. The site has extensive business-related material ranging from detailed to basic.
DreamMaker Hot Dog Carts – Malibu
2619 23rd Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33713
Dream Maker has been producing carts since the 1980’s. I find their carts to be OK construction. The diamond plate side is a huge negative for me as with quilted metal sides there are a lot of places for accumulation of road grime. The steam table is only a full size so limited growth and menu. The manufacturer has been inconsistent with meeting NSF construction standards, labeling carts as NSF that did not qualify as such. I have worked on several different models and found them all to be functional. The steam table has a tighter fit for the pans leading less heat escaping. Dream Maker also provides commissary services for the local vendor at a reasonable price. The website has general information for the vending business and dealing with the health department.
It is recommended the cart be stored inside and a stainless steel polish used often. Work flow, like most base model carts, is still outdated based on designs from 1926 with the hand sink opposite your food prep area. Meaning every hand wash requires avoiding the push handles, walk around the corner, avoid the fenders, round another corner, then wash your hands.
Smokey Hot Dog Carts – Only one model
925 Ocean Ave
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
A fairly new company producing only one model of cart. The owner has 20 years in metal fabrication and uses a very basic cabinet-on-wheels design. The website contains a tiny bit of general business and hot dog related information. Some of the chosen specs are unusual, such as the sink layout with 3 compartments of differing sizes. In Florida you only are allowed either 1 sink for a Hot Dog Vendor or a 3 compartment sink PLUS a separate hand wash sink as a MFDV. At the very least your product should meet design requirements of the home state.
Based out of Fernandina Beach FL, if you live close by might be worth taking a visit and asking a ton of questions.
Dog House Carts – Greyhound
Fort Wayne, IN
This manufacturer uses a modular design for all their carts. The overall design is still from 1926 (like most other manufacturers) just adding hot water and hand wash. The enamel paint adds a distinct look to their carts, sadly it is an up charge. The slide out cooler is a neat feature putting your meat or drinks in easy reach, rather than leaning over the steam table or walking around the cart. With only a single full-sized steam table this cart is a starter that you will soon outgrow. Swapping the water heater with the hand sink would make this cart more work flow friendly. The website has links to all the state’s health departments and an odd link to Niagara that is completely unsafe. (as of 10/20/2017) Also some basic license and business information. One unique program is layaway. I don’t recommend going in debt to purchase equipment and layaway is a path to your business without debt. Their fabrication experience is listed on one page as 20 years and another as 10 years.
Hot Dog Cart Company – Lightning Bolt
4497 Springbrook Road
Jackson, MI 49201
In business since 1998, the owner is a past hot dog vendor and unlike the other companies that make the same claim this owner understands workflow and the necessity of affordable equipment for the fledgling food vendor. The base model, Lightning Bolt, covers everything important. Workflow is efficient, enough steam table space to grow sales and menu, hand wash adjacent to the steam tables and, best of all, side serve. This is my personal cart and I find it to be sturdy and well built. Negatives are no on-board cooler and tons of rivets. Still, even purchasing a cooler, it IS the least expensive 3 steam table cart made in the US. If you grow your sales to properly use all three steam tables, you will need several additional coolers anyway.
Dock Dawgs – Mobile Food Cart
Another new manufacturer located in Michigan. The Dock Dawgs website is a basic Weebly template site containing a mix of cart manufacturing information and purchasing his catered foods. The information is confusing as on one page it lists sinks and water as an “option” while on another it lists sinks as a “feature”. They offer Michigan specific assistance to get started and also a “training” package upsell. The trailer appears to be one of the “infamous” bolt together Chinese made trailers but the website says they are “bolted and welded”. All in all, if you live nearby check it out and make your own determinations. The pricing seems all over the board recently raising the base price to $3999, but listing a "sale" price of $3399. Prices have been listed as low as $2899 in Oct 2017. I would not order sight unseen until they have a larger customer base.
Custom Mobile Food Equipment – Model 525
275 South 2ND RD.
Hammonton, NJ 08037
Call for quote
Custom Mobile Food is one of the oldest manufacturers in the US, having started in 1952. Along with Cart Concepts and CMS, these carts are solid in construction, offer plenty of space to cook and age well. Every cart I have inspected withstood the test of time and daily use. The website is company and product line focused, offering no business or licensing information.
I like the recessed wheels and taillights. Less things to trip over or knock your shins when hustling. This and the, Cart Concepts and CMS, are interchangeable in quality. Each cart is a worthwhile but expensive purchase if you don’t mind the workflow issues.
Willy Dogs – New Yorker
800 Proctor Ave
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
Even with a US address this company is actually out of Canada. The address is actually one mile from the border with Canada. The website is in primary colors, reminiscent of websites from 1998. Also using the annoying flashing background to get attention. The home page takes inspiration from the nonsense internet marketers spout, with ridiculously long, very wordy, very self-serving ad copy. I got bored with it after about a minute. Willy Dogs does have a business guide section that is worth reading if you are just starting out in this business, however the cart is one to avoid. The steam table layout is a minuscule ¾ of a full size, using 3 ¼ sized pans in the photos to mislead you into thinking the cart is normal sized. It is also a very narrow and light cart, feeling flimsy when you work with it.
USA Trailer Store – Cash Calf
1434 Poinsett Hwy
Greenville, SC 29609
“Plus, you can always upgrade features, such as a sink or a sneeze guard, once your business starts making money.” Hmmm? Yes, that is on their hot dog cart sales page. Sanitation is an NOT an optional procedure for a food service cart. Yes, a couple of states do not require a hand wash sink for a hot dog vendor. That neither makes it right nor safe. Read about Chipotle and norovirus, then decide on not having a sink or eating at a cart that does not have a sink for the operator.
As near as I can tell this company is a retailer rather than manufacturer. Twice this year (2017) they have notified purchasers that the “next shipment” would arrive several weeks from the purchase date to their North Carolina facility and then be shipped to the purchaser. My question is if they are a retailer how can they sell so cheaply?
Hot Dog Cart Store – Cash Cow
1012 Old Knox Hwy
Sevierville, TN 37862
$2699.00 Discount offered by joining a $347 group.
The first thing you notice when you go to this website is the pop up ad wanting your email address under the guise of asking you questions. This is the only manufacturer worried about gathering emails before actually establishing a real business relationship. The "free" courses or reports offered in trade for your email are basic common knowledge, similar to information offered on several other manufacturer sites without an email requirement.
The site owner and partner of the manufacturing company, Ben Wilson, is spokesperson and resident “pro food vendor”. If you are a complete novice to food vending this is THE most comprehensive site for information. However, much of the information presented in articles or videos is often rehashed over and over in different formats under different click bait style titles. This rehash increases the article & video count while providing little in the way of new information. That being said, much of the information is good and useful UNLESS it is attached to something they are selling. Then the information is hype to move a product. Ben follows the internet marketing theory of pretend scarcity and much of his “good” information gets moved to behind a pay wall at some point leaving the original video or article as an advertisement of “darn just missed it” and “please pay money and join my group.”
As with The USA Trailer Store, the base model has no sink! The self-proclaimed" best in the business food pro” offering a cart with no way to be sanitary? Makes you wonder about the true depth of experience and understanding of food sanitation. I have traded or trained on several of his higher tier carts with sinks. They were solid carts and held up to abuse from operation. The workflow on the next step-up cart, the Big Dog, still requires walking around a corner and behind a grill to hand wash. Something I would think a real food pro that worked in the field would recognize as a workflow problem.
They do offer parts and small wares on the website. Just be a careful shopper, some items are nicely priced while others are easily obtained elsewhere for a better price. Also, pricing for everything, including carts is dependent on being a part of his “mafia” group. Which is a pay to join group of $347 one time or $457 billed annually?
The next 4 manufacturers offer little information on their website to make a rank determination.
All Star Carts and Vehicles Inc. –
1565 Fifth Industrial Court
Bay Shore, NY 11706
(800) 831-3166 / 631-666-5252
This New York company manufactures a wide range of vending trailers, carts and kiosks. The website is product line focused and offers minimum details about specific types of vending equipment. I have never seen one of their products and with the website offering few details, it is difficult to comment on the construction, work flow or accessories. If you live nearby, go see firsthand the construction process and what a finished cart would contain.
All A Cart Manufacturing, Inc. – Built to your specs
2001 Courtright Road
Columbus, OH 43232
This company out of Ohio has a strong reputation for quality and service. I have never seen one of their carts, but I have talked to several people that owned one. Each person had great things to say about the company and the product. The website is product focused and provides information to make a good decision on your cart’s design. They also offer commissary services for local vendors as well as storage for your cart. One of the few manufacturers to offer local commissary services, this alone puts them ahead of their competitors. Having a working knowledge of the local health department as well as a food service license is a huge plus.
West Coast Custom Carts –
3684 KASHMIR WAY SE STE C
SALEM, OR 97317
Oregon based West Coast Custom Carts is another company whose product I have never seen in person. I have talked to one owner, and she liked her cart and said she planned on expanding her business and buy a second cart from them. The website is product focused with enough information about cart options. They do not have any food or business-related information on the site. They have been in business since 2008 making them a comparative newbie, as it were.
Two choices for build it yourself cart plans.
Read the whole ad then compare the text with the pages of hotdogcartstore.com which is owned by the same guy, Ben Wilson. The ad copy is interesting in that the exact same complaints about the "other guys" are now evident all over his main cart selling site. However, his plans are also easy to follow, requiring basic tools and skills. The cost will be around $1000.00
A very wordy marketing guru type ad, but the product is good and includes a few useful extras. The plans are easy to follow and if you have basic tools and skills, you can build it for under $1000.00 in a couple of weekends. The website is internet marketing heavy with very wordy ad copy, using testimonials and a price that changes too often. Prices range from $47 to $199 at times, so be careful when you purchase. There are also aggressive add-on sales for a website service.
There are a couple of YouTube videos from a wood worker that shows how he built a cart for a friend. The videos will give you an idea of what skills you need as well as tools before you consider purchasing one of the above sets of plans.
I have worked, bought/sold or trained folks on nine assorted brands and considering cost, features and a solid build, the Lightning Bolt is the best cart on the market. Even purchasing a $70 dollar cooler from Sam's Club (making the grand total $3169.00) still puts the Lightning Bolt by far the best cart in features and value. My personal cart is a Lightning Bolt with a grill add-on. This is the only one I would buy new and the only one you will not outgrow.
I have had a passion for helping people since an early age back in rural Kentucky. That passion grew into teaching and training managers and owners how to grow sales, increase profits, and retain guests. You’ll find a ton of information here about improving restaurant and food cart/trailer operations and profits. Got questions? Email me at Bill_Moore@live.com