This essay (rant) will probably be the one that gets me canceled at last by Minnesotans, State Fair-goers, and tubular meat aficionados of all kinds, but here it is: I hate the abomination that is the Pronto Pup. For some reason, at the return of fair season each year, people get all kinds of excited to sink their teeth into what is, in my opinion, a dollar-store knock-off of something actually delightful: the humble corn dog.
As it turns out, they’re not knock-offs. The Pronto Pup actually came first, and bills itself as “the original corn dog”—I figured the corn dog begat the Pronto Pup because those squishy salt-bombs suck so bad. Just goes to show that the first iteration of something isn’t always the best—there’s a reason we don’t use first-gen Motorola Razrs or drive Model T Fords today. The Pup was invented in Oregon in the 1930s by a hot dog salesman whose rain-ruined buns prompted him to come up with a quick, portable solution when it came to putting something bready around his weenies.
I’ll give Mr. George M. Boyington credit for his deep-fried innovation, but my pats on the back end there.
Let’s start with my credentials: I’m a big fan of tubed meats, I have a hot dog tattoo, and I wrote a little something about how to creatively consume a whole lot of dawgs for this very publication last year. As a certified glizzy guzzler, my deep dive into corndoggery was prompted by a disappointingly limp, salt-bombed, mustard-choked Pronto Pup experience at the Great Minnesota Get-Together over the weekend.
Like many, I’d always heard that the difference between a corn dog and a Pronto Pup is the coating. Supposedly, a corn dog is made with cornmeal batter, while the Pronto Pup gets a coating of pancake batter. That’s not the case: According to a very cute article about the history of the Pronto Pup, the difference is actually sugar. Both the Pronto Pup and corn dog contain a certain percentage of cornmeal, but a “classic” corn dog has sugar, while a Pronto Pup does not. As MPR said a few years back, remember that “every Pronto Pup is a corn dog, but not every corn dog is a Pronto Pup.” And thank fuck for that.
In my unscientific estimation, the ratios of cornmeal have got to be very different based on the taste and texture of each impaled, batter-enrobed sausage. That difference was so stark that my initial assumption over the weekend was that I got “a bad one.” So, I took to the internet to do what any true researcher does: I made a poll.
When I asked the question on Instagram, 64% of people preferred the corndog. On Twitter, the Pronto Poop (yeah I said it) narrowly edged out the corndog with 52% of the vote. The margin was too slim for me. I needed science and a side-by-side comparison. Back to the fair I went, this time with a mission in mind.
After some wandering, we found a corridor on Carnes Avenue near the WCCO tent that had dueling doggies: a Pronto Pup and a Poncho Dog on opposite sides of the street, each slingin’ stick meats for $6 a pop. I sent my partner off with some cash to wait in the Pronto Pup line—which was much longer, for some reason—while I waited for a corn dog, syncing up my place in line so both would be fresh from the fryer. As a control, we dressed each version simply with mustard.
Things go downhill for the Pronto Pup right from the start: LET ME SAUCE MY OWN DOG! The Pronto Pup came dressed for me, with thick brushstrokes of mustard that could only have been applied with a paint roller. There was so much of it. The corn dog stand, on the other hand, allowed me to decide how many rivulets of golden mustard would be applied to my deep-fried delicacy.
I went in first on the Pronto Pup, hopeful my last experience was a fluke—could 52% of people be wrong? They fucking could!
Now, I know many of us go to the State Fair to test the limits of our stomach linings and blood pressure readings alike, but the amount of salt I could taste in my Pronto Pup seemed totally unnecessary. The only thing I could taste above the salt? The acidity of the mustard, which was overwhelmingly the second most-prominent flavor here. And the salt and mustard did not play together nicely. The batter was soft and fluffy and fried—but not crispy. The dog itself seemed firmer than the one inside of the corn dog, but I speculate that’s because of its contrast to the spongy batter of the Pronto Pup.
I had higher hopes for the corn dog and my beloved rose to those expectations. The batter was more textured, fragrant, and corny, and my first bite was much more rich and complex. I got a light sweetness, salt, and the right amount of mustard in each bite. The batter had some crunch to it, and although the dog in my cornyboi wasn’t as snappy as the one in the PP, it didn’t matter. Overall, it just tasted better.
All of this is to say: Pronto Pup? More like Pronto Suck! I think the only reason people like these things is because they can only get them once a year; scarcity and novelty makes them more appealing than they really are. Pronto Pup lovers, good for you. You can keep them. Pront-NO thank you. I’ll stick with a good old corndoggy forever.