You can get them at the drive-in or the freezer section of your local grocery store. Bars serve up mini, un-skewered versions to munch on during the game, if that’s your thing. You can even get them meatless to heat in the microwave (heaven help us all). But true aficionados and fans know to wait for the genuine article: a deeply golden, crackling-crusted corn dog pulled up from a vat of bubbling oil at the local fair. Enjoyed in the heat of the day with an earthy whiff from a nearby livestock barn, is there anything more satisfying or reminiscent of the carefree summers of our youth?
My own favorites—the ones I bank my year’s corn dog calories on—come from the Giant Corn Dog Factory, a garish, blue and-pink stand along the Indiana State Fair’s Main Street with blinking theater bulbs and a staff so blasé about the superior quality of their crispy, tangy corn dogs with a pillow-soft interior that they roll their eyes at my glee when I take a first bite. You don’t have to tell them their corn dogs are the best on the planet.
It’s fitting that most records point to corn dogs first being cooked up at state fairs, likely by German-American sausage makers hoping to make their wursts and franks more appealing to their customers. The most convincing claim attests that brothers Carl and Neil Fletcher made a stick-less version at the Texas State Fair in the last 1930s, though a patent for a corn dog-battering device had been granted as early as 1929. Cozy Dog Drive-in in Springfield, Illinois, is famous for having first inserted the iconic skewer, and it’s worth the drive to our neighbor’s state capital to try them out.
“My favorite corn dog stand is the one closest to the entrance I use that day,” says self-proclaimed corn dog and fair food devotee Eddie Sahm, who has served a number of straight-up or gilded versions at his Big Lug and Sahm’s restaurants, including a gut-busting corn dog poutine. “My first real memory of the fair was with a couple of friends in grade school after a baseball game. I am pretty sure I ate three [corn dogs], paving the way for a rocky battle with obesity in high school, but also paving the way for embodying my current culinary interest of Midwest gluttony.”
For Sahm’s classic corn dogs, he recommends an overnight resting or aging of the batter for better flavor, though you can use yours after a couple of hours if you’re in a hurry. “Some cornmeal is slightly more absorbent than others. If you find that happening, add a little bit more milk. It should be like a cake batter thickness, not dripping but thin enough to coat the hot dog without needing to rub it all over.” Rest assured that the process is far easier than it seems (it’s as far from haute cuisine as you can get, after all), and even a slightly doughy or unevenly battered corn dog is a fantastic warm-weather treat.
Sahm’s one orthodoxy? “There is truly only one rule with corn dogs, and that is that you absolutely cannot ever use ketchup and be taken seriously. Buy some tater tots and dip those in ketchup. Corn dogs are for people with taste, and mustard is the perfect tang and sharpness to balance out the sweetness. I cannot stress this enough. Ketchup on corn dogs is the 11th commandment Moses dropped on accident.”
State Fair Corn Dogs
You can use the batter after a short rest in the fridge, but you’ll get better results and a more flavorful crust if you chill it overnight. Buttermilk adds an additional tang, though you may need to thin the batter with an additional tablespoon of water if using.
- 8 jumbo or regular (not bun-length) all-beef hot dogs, preferably local such as Turchetti’s all-beef franks, Goose the Market’s Wagyu dogs, or King David hot dogs
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup baking powder
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups milk or buttermilk (or half each)
- 4 cups canola, peanut, or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup cornstarch or additional flour
- 8 thick wooden skewers
- Whisk cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix eggs and milk or buttermilk together in a small bowl. Make a well in the middle of the cornmeal mixture and add milk or buttermilk. Continue whisking until batter is smooth and the consistency of thick cake batter, making sure to leave no dry batter at the bottom of the bowl. If batter seems too dry or whisk struggles to mix batter smoothly, add an additional tablespoon or two milk or water. The finished batter should cling but not run. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.
- Heat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with paper towels or parchment. Place a cooling rack inside of pan and place in oven. Place Dutch oven or other heavy-bottom large saucepan on stove over high heat. Add oil to a minimum depth of 5 inches and heat to 300 degrees if using jumbo dogs or up to 350 degrees if using standard hot dogs. (If you do not have a candy or fryer thermometer, place the blunt end of a wooden skewer into the oil. If oil bubbles vigorously around end of skewer, oil should be hot enough.)
- Carefully insert skewers into hot dogs, making sure to keep the skewer centered in the hot dog, leaving a handle of at least two inches. Place cornstarch or flour in a shallow dish or plate. Roll skewered hot dogs in cornstarch or flour to coat. Tap gently to remove excess cornstarch or flour.
- Pour a generous amount of batter into a tall, slender pitcher, jar, or iced-tea glass. Plunge hot dogs into batter, twirling until they are covered completely with batter and no cornstarch or flour is showing. If any thick spots do cling to the hotdog, gently shake or use a thin spatula to even out batter.
- Holding one battered corn dog by the skewer end, place the corn dog into the hot oil, making sure not to touch the bottom of the pan. Rotate gently and hold in oil, being careful not to burn yourself, for 45 seconds or until crust begins to set. Release corn dog into oil. Repeat with three more corn dogs. Fry until corn dogs are deep golden brown but not dark, about four minutes, moving corn dogs gently with tongs while frying. Remove with tongs, letting oil drain from corn dog, then place on rack in oven. Repeat process with remaining hotdogs, adding more batter to container as needed. Wrap skewer end in waxed paper or parchment, if desired. Serve warm, with yellow mustard (unless you’re a barbarian).