It's an unwritten rule at the State Fair of Texas: Never, ever put ketchup on your Fletcher's corny dog.
Plenty of fair-goers do use ketchup on their corny dogs, albeit often with scorn from nearby mustard rule-enforcers. Fletcher's goes through 1,500 gallons of mustard each season, but they only use 800 gallons of ketchup, said Aaron Fletcher, co-owner and general manager of Fletcher's Original State Fair Corny Dogs.
It's definitely not the worst flavor combination at the fair, yet many corny dog fanatics consider it a cardinal sin to put the red stuff on your battered and fried dog.
"I'm a mustard guy, definitely," Fletcher said. "I like to think that's a rule. You know, some people will disagree, but to me, mustard's the way to go."
Whether you dip it, spread it or drizzle it, there's a million ways to dress a corny dog, and that's OK with Fletcher.
"It's just as unique as a snowflake the way these people do their mustard and their ketchup," Fletcher said. "As long as they're eating a corny dog, I'm happy."
All about the dog
The center of the corny dog debate is at the center of the corny dog itself: the dog.
Eric Mittenthal, president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (yes, that's a very real job at a very real thing), said their rules of hot dog etiquette (also a real thing) see no bounds when it comes to how the dog is served — in a bun or batter. One of the main rules: no ketchup.
"The bread is irrelevant," he said. "Same rules apply."
Plus, Mittenthal said, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry railed against ketchup on a hot dog, and if Dirty Harry says it, you'd best listen. (Strong language warning.)
Dallas chef, native Chicagoan and hot-dog guru Brian Luscher has had some serious thoughts about hot dogs and ketchup, but he said the corny dog is a unique circumstance.
"I think all bets are off on a corn dog. I don't think it's a proper hot dog," Luscher said. "Put it on a [ketchup] pumper and pump away. Who cares what you put on a corn dog?"
He also said hard-and-fast rules common among Chicago eateries are more about protecting tradition than dissuading others from their own taste preferences.
"I don't think you should tell me what I should put on my hot dog," he said.
That especially goes for fair food, Luscher said, where the point is to relax and have fun.
The State Fair of Texas is no place for aggressive culinary etiquette, Luscher said.
"If someone feels compelled to tell another adult, 'Don't put that on your corn dog,' who are you to tell me?" he said. "Just have a hot dog. Have fun. Who cares? Enjoy yourself."
Sweet, sweet sauce
One of the main flavor-based arguments against ketchup on dogs is that the sweetness is too much. Luscher said it's like putting ketchup on a fine steak. The meat of a good sausage, or hot dog or corny dog, should not hidden behind a layer of sugary ketchup.
Especially with the sweet batter of a corny dog, the sweetness in ketchup can be overwhelming to a mature palate, Mittenthal said.
"You're adding another layer of sweetness that's not necessary," Mittenthal said.
The kids are all right
Mittenthal said there is one exception for the no-ketchup rule: kids.
An undeveloped palate that craves ketchup is understandable, he said, and the hot dog group writes an exception for children into their rules of hot dog etiquette.
"For the kids out there enjoying the fair, if they want to put ketchup on their corn dogs, go for it," Mittenthal said. "Once you hit 18, it's time to enjoy your hot dog like an adult."
It's immature to eat hot dogs with ketchup, so the rule goes. The only reason to have ketchup is for younger fairgoers.
"I think the kids use ketchup because it's sweet," said Jeff Fields of Dallas. On his Fletcher's corny dog, he put just "good ol' yellow mustard. It's the classic, it feels perfect. Like a fine wine with a good steak."
The pro-ketchup lobby
Yet, go to the State Fair and you'll see plenty of Texans putting ketchup on their corny dogs. Some say they like that sweetness. Kennedy Diaz of Rockwall said he used to use mustard on his corny dogs, but recently tried the ketchup and hasn't looked back.
"It's just a better taste with it," he said. "It's more of a savory taste for me."
Others say the perfect balance is a mix of mustard and ketchup. As Jessica Wolking of Keller dressed three corny dogs with ketchup, she made sure to add mustard on her own.
"Reliving my middle school days," she said "I just like it. I like the sweet and the tangy."
Even Fletcher himself said he'll occasionally do a mix of the two, but never ketchup on its own.
"By itself, there's something about our mustard, the way it mixes with the batter and the meat, it all goes well together," he said. "Can't transfer that over to the ketchup."
What do you think?