Football, cooler weather, and chili cook offs all signify that it’s autumn in Texas. But no October is complete without a trip to the State Fair of Texas.
Held in Big D, our fair boasts a 52-foot talking statue named Big Tex (whose signature phrase is “Howdy folks, I’m Big Tex!”), racing pigs, the Texas Star Ferris wheel, and the most impressive array of fried foods ever seen.
It’s become an unofficial annual competition to see what crazy concoctions the vendors will create: fried Coca-Cola, fried jelly beans, fried strawberry waffle balls, fried moon pies and fried guacamole are just a few of the fried foods on offer this year. And while I love fried foods as much as anyone, I have to admit that despite the fair’s bounty, I still prefer the original State Fair fried food—Fletcher’s Corny Dogs—most of all.
Carl and Neil Fletcher started selling their corny dogs—deep-fried hot dogs dipped in corn-bread batter—at the Fair in 1942. It has not been proven if they are the inventor of this treat, but I do believe they were the first to call it a corny dog as opposed to a corn dog, as it’s more commonly known. What makes a Fletcher dog so special is its crunch; theirs are the best corny dogs you’ll ever eat.
Corny dogs are not completely unknown here in New York—most grocery store frozen food sections sell boxes of vegetarian corny dogs. But that’s not quite the same. Likewise, with the ubiquity of hot dog purveyors around town, you’d think that some would sell corny dogs, but nope, you seldom see them.
And that’s a shame. New Yorkers are often eating on the move, and corny dogs are the ultimate in portability. Self contained and resting on a stick, it’s easy to eat one either standing or walking. And it’s not that messy either, unless, of course, you over-lace it with mustard or ketchup. Corny dogs make excellent snacks, or you can eat a few and call it a meal. And they’re great for families because it’s hard to find anyone young or old who doesn’t smile when presented with a corny dog.
I decided it couldn’t be that difficult to make corny dogs at home and I was correct. I just stuck some hot dogs on sticks, dipped them into my favorite cornbread batter and fried them in peanut oil for a few minutes until they were crisp and brown.
I admit they weren’t as good as Fletcher’s; after all they have over 65 years of corny-dog frying experience on my one afternoon. My corny dogs wouldn’t win any beauty contests either. But boy oh boy, did they taste like a bright afternoon playing state-sanctioned hooky from school (something known as “Fair Day”), while taking a spin on the Texas Star and listening to Big Tex bellow his greetings and salutations.
2 cups of yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup of flour plus more for dusting on the hot dogs
1 heaping teaspoon of fresh baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 egg lightly beaten
2 cups of buttermilk
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or peanut oil
8 hot dogs
Thin sticks with pointy ends (some people use chopsticks, I used sticks designated for candy apples.)
1 quart of peanut oil
1. Mix the cornmeal, and 1/2 cup of the flour, baking powder and salt.
2. Beat the egg in the buttermilk and add to dry ingredients. Stir in the 2 tablespoons bacon drippings or peanut oil.
3. Pour the batter into a tall glass or quart-sized Mason jar.
4. Heat the peanut oil in a large pot or Dutch oven until it gets to 365 degrees.
5. Gently poke the sticks into the hot dogs about half-way, leaving enough sticking out to be a suitable handle.
6. Put some flour on a plate (you can start with 1/ 2 a cup) and roll the hot dog in it until it’s coated (doing this helps the batter stick to the dog).
7. Dip the hot dog into the batter and then add to the oil.
8. Cook for three minutes, turning occasionally.Drain on paper towels.
Notes: The best thing about homemade corny dogs is you can jazz up the batter if you wish, with jalapenos or chipotles, and you have control over the dogs you use—you can use turkey, chicken or tofu pups, if you prefer. Or you can get fancy and make a corny dog out of a fancier sausage—it’s up to you!
Fellow homesick Texan Sarah over at The Pink of Perfection has an amazing video round-up of the State Fair. Check it out!