WSIU InFocus: Corn Dogs Still One of the Most Popular Fair Treats

Oct 16, 2017

If you were at a fair or festival this year, there’s one thing that’s usually present: corn dogs.

Shorter days and colder nights signal the beginning of Fall.

The county fairs are over, but there are still a few fall festivals out there.

One of the most common things you’ll see at these places is a treat that’s been around for more than 90 years -- the corn dog.

Multiple people claim to have invented or popularized it in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s in different parts of the country. Most of those occurred at state fairs, where they’re still one of the most popular items on everyone’s menu.

However, there is a U.S. patent filed in 1927 for dipping various types of food impaled on a stick and in self-rising flour and deep-frying it.

Everywhere you go, they're all made the same way.

“They’re hand dipped, we stick the stick in them, we get our mix from Glister Mary Lee, we mix it up dip them in there and fry our self fresh.”

The only difference is where they buy the ingredients.

“We use Gilster Mary Lee like I said from Gilster’s there so we’ve been sticking with that for I guess about 23 years so we found the kind we like and we just hang with it.”

Charlie Bishop’s been making corn dogs for 23 years,

“My mom and dad did it, they got me into it and it gets in your blood.”

He owns Bishop’s Outdoor Foods and travels around Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky from April through October.

During that time he goes through a lot of corn dogs.                                                                                                    

“I’d say close to a hundred cases, 80 dogs in a case, we sell a lot of them - I mean all we’ve got is corn dogs and funnel cakes and if you're going to the fair, everybody want a corn dog you know, that’s just the tradition way.”

“ Are you personally tired of eating corn dogs?”

“I eat one about once a week when I’m out here doing this, you got to make they taste good so you can keep the quality up.”

As Bishop was busy making corn dogs at this year’s Murphysboro Apple Festival, I talked to some of his customers both young and old.

“How often do you eat corn dogs?”

“Ummm, to a million

“What do you like about corn dogs?”

“Just about everything, the hotdog, the corn around it, I like it.

And there’s the debate between ketchup and mustard.

“I like the ketchup. You like ketchup? Yup.”

“Mustard, you got to have mustard.”

“Have you ever tried it with ketchup?”

“Ah yes it’s not bad but I prefer mustard.”

No matter what you dip it in the stick keeps your hands from being messy.

You can thank the Cozy Dog Drive In on Route 66 in Springfield for making the stick popular in the Midwest.

Josh Waldmire runs the cozy dog that his grandfather started in the mid 1940’s.

“We are one of them, during that time there were numerous people doing it across the U.S., but my grandfather was one of the first people to kind of really get out there and do the networking and advertising, so I would say like closer in the Midwest were probably one of the first ones.”

Originally the corn dog was baked in batter and would take over 20 minutes to cook.

Ed Waldmire described these to his friend from college whose father was in the bakery business.

Five years later Ed was in the air force in Texas and received a letter from his friend Don Strand who developed a recipe for batter that would stick to the hotdog.

“They sent samples back and fourth and he tested it out on the GI’s in the mess hall there and it was a big hit so when he got out around 45 to 46 he started selling them in Springfield IL.”

To decrease the cooking time Ed dipped them into frying oil for a few minutes instead of baking and started using a stick and came up with a special device for cooking them.

“We call them cozy racks, they’re a little device where you can stick the Popsicle stick in there and you can cook them vertically so you can cook more dogs at once in the deep fryer.”

And not much has changed in the last 70 years at cozy dog.

“It’s the same recipe my grandfather came up with, it’s locked away.”

But people keep coming to the cozy dog for this crunchy treat.

“In the summer months we sell between 600 to 800 a day and the winter months we do 300 to 400.”

But there’s one thing the cozy will do for customers that a lot of places don’t.

“We do allow people to bring in their own hotdogs and we’ll dip them for them, so if someone has a or wants a vegan dog or if they just have a certain hotdog brand they like they’re more than welcome to bring it in and we’ll put it on a stick and deep fry it for them.”