The Surprising Origin of the Corn Dog in Oregon

Introducing the Corn Dog

A corn dog is a popular American party food and snack consisting of a hot dog or sausage that has been dipped in a thick cornmeal batter and deep fried. The corn dog is served on a wooden skewer or stick. The combination of the crispy exterior cornmeal coating and the savory sausage interior makes for an irresistible treat at fairs, carnivals, ballparks, and backyard barbecues across the United States.

While recipes can vary, a traditional corn dog batter contains cornmeal, flour, eggs, baking powder, salt, milk, and sometimes honey. The batter can range in color from golden yellow to deep brown depending on the type of cornmeal used. Batter consistency can also range from thicker and cakier to thin and crispy. No matter how it’s prepared, when perfectly fried, the corn dog will have a crisp outer shell that gives way to the juicy hot dog inside when you bite into it. The skewer or stick makes corn dogs easy to hold and dip into condiments like ketchup, mustard, or chili sauce.

Though hot dogs and sausages are the most common filling, you can also find corndogs made with bacon, cheese, or vegetarian fillings. While the standard size is a full-size hotdog, mini corn dog versions, known as “corn puppies,” are also popular. No matter what’s inside, corn dogs satisfy cravings for that perfect combination of savory meatiness enclosed by a crunchy, corny coating.

The Origins of the Corn Dog

The true origins of the corn dog are shrouded in mystery, but most food historians believe it was invented in the late 1930s or early 1940s. According to the Bar-S Foods company, corn dogs were likely created by the Fletcher brothers who owned a concession stand during this time period [1]. The earliest known printed recipe appeared in 1946 in a Nebraska State Fair cookbook. Other reports claim that corn dogs first appeared at the Texas State Fair sometime in the 1940s as well.

Although the exact inventor may be unknown, corn dogs seemed to emerge from the state fair circuit in America’s southwest and midwest regions. Vendors at fairs needed a quick and easy food to serve that could be eaten while walking around. Spearing a hot dog on a stick, dipping it in cornbread batter, and deep frying it was an ingenious solution. The portability and novelty of the corn dog made it a hit at state and county fairs, allowing it to spread rapidly across the country in the 1940s and 1950s.

While the details are fuzzy, the general consensus is that corn dogs trace their roots back to concession stands at state fairs in Texas, Nebraska or other parts of the American southwest in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Corn Dogs Arrive in Oregon

original pronto pup stand in rockaway beach
Corn dogs first arrived in Oregon in the late 1930s when George and Versa Boyington opened up a small concession stand on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk. According to the Original Pronto Pup, the Boyingtons began experimenting with different foods they could serve to tourists visiting the beach. After trying out various hot dog preparations, they hit upon the idea of skewering a hot dog, dipping it in a cornmeal batter, and deep frying it to create a crispy outer shell. This combination of a hot dog and cornbread turned out to be a huge hit with customers.

The Boyingtons dubbed their new creation the “Pronto Pup” and began selling them at their Rockaway Beach stand in 1939. The Pronto Pup was an immediate success, wowing customers with its unique taste and portability. The Pronto Pup was such a novel concept at the time that it drew attention from newspapers and visitors from all over the West Coast. Soon the Pronto Pup spawned numerous imitators as the corn dog concept spread across Oregon and the United States in the 1940s and 50s. But the Original Pronto Pup stand in Rockaway Beach takes pride in being the birthplace of the very first corn dog over 80 years ago.

Pronto Pups at the Oregon State Fair

pronto pup stand at oregon state fair

Pronto Pups have become a signature food at the Oregon State Fair over the years. The famous corn dog stand has been serving fairgoers since the 1940s, according to the Oregon State Fair’s Facebook page (1). Many fairgoers have fond memories of stopping at the Pronto Pup stand for a quick, delicious bite while taking in all the sights and sounds of the fair.

Pronto Pups play an important part in the fair experience for many Oregonians. As one article notes, “Oregonians don’t need to wait for the Oregon State Fair to taste deep fried delights and sweet novelties in Salem…Pronto Pups wafts past the gates on summer nights when the carnival comes to town” (2). The signature corndogs have become synonymous with summertime and state fair fun.

During the 2020 Oregon State Fair cancellation due to COVID-19, alternatives like the Taste of a Fair event offered elephant ears and pronto pups to give community members a taste of the state fair experience (3). This demonstrates how beloved and tied to state fair culture pronto pups have become after decades of being a staple fair food.

Other Notable Oregon Corn Dog Vendors

In addition to Pronto Pups, Oregon has a number of other popular spots to get delicious corn dogs across the state. Some other notable corn dog vendors in Oregon include:

Coastal Express is a go-to spot along the Oregon Coast to get corn dogs near seaside towns like Cannon Beach and Seaside. They serve up classic corn dogs as well as inventive flavor twists like their peanut butter and jelly corn dog (source).

Herb’s Hamburgers is a local favorite in Salem, Oregon that has been serving high-quality corn dogs since the 1960s. Their corn dogs are always freshly hand-dipped and fried to order (source).

Camp 18 Restaurant & Lounge in Portland is renowned for its menu of carnival-style fare, including gourmet corn dogs made from artisanal sausages and Oregon craft beer batter. Some signature options include a rattlesnake sausage corn dog and a wild boar chorizo corn dog (source).

Cultural Significance of Corn Dogs in Oregon

enjoying corn dogs at an oregon fair

Corn dogs hold a special place in Oregon’s culture. They are a staple food at festivals, fairs, and local events across the state. In particular, corn dogs are beloved at the annual Oregon State Fair in Salem. The famous Pronto Pup vendor has been serving their corn dog creations there since the 1940s (Source). For many Oregonians, enjoying Pronto Pups at the fair is an annual tradition and part of the state’s cultural heritage.

Beyond just the state fair, corn dogs are also featured at many county fairs, rodeos, and festivals across Oregon. They provide a quick, easy, and nostalgic food option that appeals to locals and visitors alike. The handheld food on a stick makes it convenient to eat while walking around events. It’s also an affordable treat, adding to its popularity. For Oregonians, biting into a corn dog is like taking a bite of childhood and tradition.

Additionally, corn dogs have become ingrained into Oregon’s pop culture. They are frequently referenced in tv, movies, books, and songs set in the state. Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who grew up in Oregon, even featured corn dogs in an episode as a nod to his home state’s obsession with them (Source). Whether at the state fair or in pop culture, corn dogs hold a special place in the heart of Oregon’s culture.

Corn Dog Eating Contests

Competitive corn dog eating has become a popular event in Oregon, with contests taking place at fairs, festivals, and other events across the state. One of the most well-known corn dog eating contests in Oregon occurs at the annual Great San Francisco Corn Dog Festival, which marks National Corndog Day every March. According to the festival’s website, competitive corn dog eating first began in 1992 in Corvallis, Oregon when students competed to see who could eat the most corn dogs.

The Oregon State Fair hosts an annual corn dog eating contest each summer, drawing daring competitors from across Oregon hoping to set new state records. In 2019, the contest winner ate over 2 dozen corn dogs in just 10 minutes. Other Oregon events like the Portland Beer & Music Festival have also featured competitive corn dog eating contests, with prizes awarded to winners. The contests showcase corn dogs as an iconic American food with roots in Oregon’s history.

Unusual Oregon Corn Dog Variations

Oregon is home to some unique and creative spins on the classic corn dog. One popular spot known for funky corn dog offerings is Cluckin’ Dog in Albany. Located at 640 NW Hickory St, this food truck serves up gourmet corn dogs with toppings like mac and cheese, pulled pork, and even Cap’n Crunch. They call them “craft corn dogs” and have fun with different flavor combinations.

Another Oregon establishment that puts its own spin on corn dogs is the Barn at Hickory Station in Albany. Diners can enjoy corn dogs dipped in flavored batters like lemon-pepper or Cajun seasoning for a kick. Sweet tooth corn dog lovers can opt for the Barn’s dessert corn dogs with batters like chocolate or funnel cake. With off-the-beaten-path flavors and custom toppings, these Oregon eateries offer adventurous corn dog options beyond the ordinary.

Corn Dogs in Oregon Pop Culture

Corn dogs have become ingrained in Oregon’s pop culture over the years, with references found in movies, TV shows, music, and more that originated in or are set in the state. For example, the indie comedy Portlandia, which is filmed and set in Portland, featured corn dogs in a memorable season 1 sketch. In the sketch, the main characters become obsessed with the “authenticity” of corn dogs at a new artisanal food cart in town, questioning whether they live up to the idea of classic corn dogs or are just some hipster riff. This speaks to the cultural significance of corn dogs as a nostalgic, beloved comfort food in Oregon.

corn dog reference in portlandia sketch

The TV show Leverage, which was filmed in Portland, also included jokes about corn dogs as an Oregon staple food in several episodes. Likewise, references can be found in music from Oregon bands like The Decemberists. Lead singer Colin Meloy has talked in interviews about enjoying corn dogs from vendors at the Oregon State Fair every summer when he was a kid. And the band’s song “Oceanside” includes the lyric “Let’s grab a corn dog and run with the waves.”

Beyond TV, film, and music, corn dogs have seeped into other areas of Oregon pop culture as well. Local artist Liz Huntington has an ongoing series of corn dog paintings that aim to capture the nostalgia and emotion tied to corn dogs in Oregon. There have also been Oregon-themed corn dog art shows and gallery events held periodically. All of this demonstrates the surprising depth of meaning attached to corn dogs as an iconic cultural touchstone in Oregon.

The Legacy of the Oregon Corn Dog

The corn dog has left an indelible mark on Oregon’s food culture and identity. Though a seemingly simple food, the corn dog has become ingrained in the state’s culinary DNA thanks to its strong ties to beloved local events and traditions.

According to an article on oregonlive.com, the corn dog is considered an “iconic food of Oregon” due to its prominence at the annual Oregon State Fair, where over 50,000 corn dogs are consumed each year (https://www.oregonlive.com/travel/2016/08/10_iconic_foods_of_oregon.html). The tradition of enjoying corn dogs at the fair dates back decades and is now solidly part of the state’s food culture.

Beyond the state fair, corn dogs have become menu staples at many beloved Oregon restaurants and stands. Local favorites like Tulip’s in Portland, Weiner Works in Eugene, and Tastee Treet in Salem all have their own twists on corn dogs that have attracted generations of loyal fans (https://www.chefspencil.com/iconic-food-of-oregon/).

The popularity of the corn dog has also spawned unique Oregon variations like hazelnut-encrusted corn dogs and ones with locally made cheese fillings. These creative twists showcase local ingredients while staying true to the spirit of the original corn dog.

Though not invented in Oregon, the corn dog’s lasting appeal and cultural significance in the state is undeniable. The corn dog has earned its place as one of Oregon’s iconic foods.

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