The Fletcher's Corny Dog, first sold at Fair Park by brothers Carl and Neil Fletcher in 1942, is undoubtedly one of the most iconic pieces of the State Fair of Texas' history — next to Big Tex, of course. The Fletcher brothers claimed to be the inventors of the modern corn dog, and although a few other businesses say they came up with the idea first, it's hard to beat the original corny dog's fame. Julia Child, Oprah and Mikhail Gorbachev have all taken a bite.
To create the granddaddy of fairground food, you start with a stick. "One of the secrets to the corny dog's success, believe it or not, is the stick … you can eat it as you go," says Bill Fletcher, co-owner of the iconic Fletcher's stands found only on the grounds of the State Fair. Plus, Fletcher says, they hand-select each weiner. Try finding another vendor who takes that much care with their tube meats.
After the original Fletcher brothers died in the 1980s, Neil's sons, Skip and Bill, took over the family business. Both brothers are dedicated to doing things at Fletcher's pretty much the same way their father and uncle did. "We've tried to follow dad's philosophy — if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and it damn sure wasn't broke when my brother and I took it over," Bill says.
Each year, the fair's other vendors compete to batter and fry an increasingly ridiculous assortment of foods, from jelly beans to guacamole — and each year, Fletcher's quietly outsells them with a recipe that essentially hasn't changed for more than 70 years.
According to Bill Fletcher, that recipe isn't easy to find. He says the family's secret formula for corny dog batter is locked away in a safe at the Morrison Milling Company in Denton — perhaps better known as the site of the town's iconic "Morrison's Corn-Kits" sign. Considering that a single Fletcher's stand can sell nearly 400,000 corny dogs over the course of the fair, it makes sense that the family would guard their original recipe like a military secret.
But that doesn't mean they're completely opposed to change. About a decade ago, Skip and Bill decided to add a jalapeño cheese corny dog to the menu, and an option made with turkey dogs is also available. "Man, the jalapeño dog — that sucker rivals the original corny dog. I'm torn between the two. They're both fabulous," Bill says.
The Fletchers plan to keep their dog dynasty a family business for the foreseeable future. After a failed attempt to open several Fletcher's franchise locations in Texas and a few other states in the 1980s, Bill says the family also decided to keep their corny dogs within view of Big Tex from here on out. "They don't quite taste the same if you're not on the fairgrounds," he says.
Thankfully, we've only got 77 more days to go till Fletcher's fires up the deep-fryers for the 2014 State Fair season.