The Surprising Origin Story of the Corn Dog on a Stick

Introduction

Corndogs are a popular food that consist of a hot dog on a stick that has been coated in a thick layer of cornmeal batter and deep fried. They have been a favorite festival and fair food for generations, especially across the United States.

The combination of meat on a stick has a long global history, with records of early kebabs and meat skewers across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe dating back thousands of years. Skewering meats and vegetables made them easy to cook over a fire and convenient to eat without utensils. The corndog brought this concept to American shores by using the hot dog, a very American creation, and coating it in a hearty cornmeal batter before frying the entire concoction.

Origin of Corndogs

There are two main claims for the origins of the corndog. One claim is that the corndog was invented along the famous Route 66 highway. Specifically, some point to the Corndog Castle drive-in that opened in 1946 in Springfield, Illinois as potentially being the first to serve corndogs 1.

However, most food historians give credit for the invention of the corndog to the Texas State Fair in the late 1930s 2. The exact inventor remains unknown, but the corndog quickly became popular fair food across the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. While the Route 66 drive-ins may have helped popularize the corndog, the initial creation seems to have happened earlier at the Texas State Fair.

Route 66 Claim

One of the most well-known origin stories for the corn dog claims they were invented along the famous Route 66 highway in 1946. According to this account, a vendor named Stanley Jenkins operating a stand near Rock Hill, Missouri decided to insert hot dogs on sticks into his cornmeal batter and deep fry them. This created a convenient and easy to eat handheld meal for travelers along Route 66, which became popularly known as the “corn dog.”

The Route 66 claim persists today partly because it provides an intriguing narrative tying the corndog’s creation to America’s postwar car culture and the rise of fast roadside food. However, the evidence supporting Jenkins as the definitive inventor in 1946 is sparse. The story relies mainly on secondhand accounts and hearsay, making it difficult to conclusively verify.

Texas State Fair Claim

One popular claim is that the corndog was invented and first sold at the Texas State Fair in 1942. According to the fair’s official history, Carl and Neil Fletcher introduced the corndog that year. The Fletchers ran a food stand called The Crusty Cur and supposedly came up with the idea of deep frying a hot dog on a stick after dipping it in cornmeal batter. The fried corn batter added a crispy outer layer that complemented the juicy hotdog inside.

corndog inventor at texas state fair

The corndog quickly became a signature food item of the Texas State Fair. Today, over 500,000 corndogs are sold annually at the fair. In a TikTok video, popular food reviewer @zwhoeats calls the original corndog from the Texas State Fair “an absolute must try” and “a quintessential fair food.” Reviews on Abillion applaud the crunchy outer cornbread and hot juicy dog that characterize the Texas State Fair corndog.

Earliest Evidence

The earliest evidence of corndogs points to the Texas State Fair circa 1942. While claims have been made that corndogs originated along America’s famous Route 66, the first known printed advertisements and newspaper articles referencing corndogs are from the Texas State Fair in the early 1940s. Based on reviews, corndogs were extremely popular at the fair during this time period. One review in the October 3, 1942 edition of the San Antonio Light praised the new food item called “corny dogs” as “delicious” and described the process of deep frying hotdog wieners skewered on sticks after being dipped into a cornmeal batter.

earliest corndog advertisement from 1942

Corndog Popularity

Corndogs became immensely popular across the United States after World War II. As troops returned home from the war, many American families took to the open road and began traveling more frequently. The increase in road trips and vacations led to a rise in quick-service roadside restaurants along highways like the famous Route 66. These diners and drive-ins started serving corndogs as an easy-to-eat meal or snack on the go. The combination of a hot dog on a stick with cornbread batter was convenient, portable, and appealed to kids and adults alike.

The corndog was also a hit at county and state fairs across America in the 1940s and 1950s. The handheld, mess-free nature of corndogs made them an ideal fair food. Corndog stands and concessions started popping up at fairs everywhere from Texas to Minnesota to California. As more Americans attended and traveled to fairs, the corndog’s popularity grew exponentially. By the 1960s, corndogs had become a quintessential American food, eliciting nostalgia for road trips, diners, fairs, and fun.

corndogs at a county fair

According to The Corn Dog’s Origin – Who Invented It, sales of frozen corndogs really took off in the 1960s and 1970s as the corndog became a staple in supermarket freezer aisles. The corndog’s widespread availability and mass commercialization solidified it as an iconic American dish. While its exact origins are still debated, the corndog undoubtedly reached the height of its popularity nationwide in the postwar era.

Corndog Variations

There are many creative twists and variations on the classic corndog recipe and preparation. Some popular versions include:

Pigs in a Blanket: Mini hot dogs or sausages wrapped in pancake batter or dough on a stick, like mini corndogs. Often served as an appetizer. (Source 1)

Cornbrat: Bratwurst sausage dipped in pancake or cornmeal batter and fried on a stick. Especially popular in Wisconsin. (Source 2)

Korean-style: Korean corndogs use a rice flour batter coated in a range of crunchy toppings like potato, French fries, cheese, and sugar. They are a popular Korean street food. (Source 1)

Vegetarian: For vegetarian and vegan diners, meatless hot dogs or sausages can be used. Other fillings like cheese, veggies or textured vegetable protein are also options.

Breakfast: Pancake or waffle batter on a stick around breakfast sausage or bacon, served for breakfast or brunch.

There’s room for creativity, like gourmet flavored hot dogs in pretzel dough rather than cornbread batter. Chefs and home cooks alike have come up with innovative twists on the classic.

Corndog Culture

corndogs in american pop culture
Corn dogs have become an American cultural icon and staple at state fairs, carnivals, and festivals across the United States. They are especially popular as an easy, hand-held snack that can be eaten while walking around. Corn dogs have appeared in movies, TV shows, songs, and more over the years.

In movies and TV, corn dogs are often used as a comedic device or as a symbol of American culture. They have appeared in films like Eight Crazy Nights, The Smurfs 2, and Masterminds according to IMDB. In the TV show Glee, a corndog was used to represent Finn’s downward spiral into depression. The giant corn dogsat the Springfield carnival in The Simpsons also exemplify their place in Americana.

There are even songs written about corn dogs, such as “Corn Dog” by Snoop Dogg and “Corn Dog” by King Gordy. They evoke nostalgia for carnivals, fairs, and quintessential American childhood experiences. Eating a corn dog has become a right of passage in the U.S.

Beyond pop culture, the corn dog’s cuisine has also been celebrated at the State Fair of Texas’s annual “Corny Dog Eating Contest” since 2016. The corn dog has become tied to state fair identity and tradition across the country.

Corndog Industry Today

Corndogs remain a popular food in the United States today. According to industry research, Americans eat more than 650 million corndogs annually. The corndog is especially beloved at state and county fairs, carnivals, festivals, ballparks, and amusement parks across the nation. Vendors at these events rely heavily on corndog sales as a significant source of revenue.

The top hot dog manufacturers in the U.S., including Bar-S Foods, Carolina Packers, and John Morrell Food Group, have corndog products as part of their portfolio. These large companies supply corndogs on sticks to concession stands, retailers, restaurants and institutional foodservices. Some estimate the wholesale frozen corndog market to be worth over $100 million.

Trendy restaurants and food trucks now offer gourmet takes on the classic corndog, with artisanal meats, creative batters and toppings. Hip places like El Chato Taco in Los Angeles have menu items like crab cake corndogs. Despite these modern twists, traditional corndogs remain a dietary staple at fairs, carnivals and ballparks across America.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the origins of the corndog on a stick remain shrouded in some mystery. While claims have been made of its invention along Route 66 in the 1930s or at the Texas State Fair in the 1940s, the earliest definitive evidence dates back to a State Fair recipe book from 1969. What we do know for certain is that the pairing of a hotdog and cornbread batter became a quick, convenient, and delicious handheld snack. The portability of the corndog on a stick made it ideal for fairs, amusement parks, and street vendors. Over the years it has become an iconic American food, with regional variations and a unique place in popular culture. Though recipes and popularity have evolved, corndogs remain a staple American fair food and acherished, nostalgic treat.

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