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.
And that’s the best thing about corny dogs; no matter how old you are they always make you feel like you’re a kid again.
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dredging
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons safflower oil, plus more for frying
14 hot dogs
Thin sticks with pointy ends (some people use chopsticks, I used sticks designated for candy apples.)
Mustard, for serving
Whisk together the cornmeal, the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together the egg with the buttermilk the pour it along with the oil into the dry ingredients. Stir until smooth then pour the batter into a tall glass or quart-sized jar.
Pour 4 inches of oil into a skillet and heat on medium high to 325°F, about 10 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the temperature by sticking a wooden spoon into the oil. If it bubbles around the spoon, it should be ready for frying.
Gently poke the sticks into the hot dogs about halfway, leaving enough sticking out to be a suitable handle. Line a sheet pan with paper towels. Sprinkle flour onto a plate and roll each hot dog in the flour until it’s coated.
Dip the hot dog into the batter and then add to the oil. While turning the corny dogs with tongs a couple of times, cook until golden brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on the paper towels.
While frying, keep an eye on the oil. If it gets too hot, either turn down the heat or add more oil to the skillet. If the oil rises above 375°F, the batter will cook to fast and may burn on the outside while remaining raw on the inside. will be raw in the middle.
Serve warm with mustard.
14 corny dogs