My adolescent years owe much of their nourishment to the Hormel company of Austin, Minn. Being a child of working parents, I was often on my own and relied on prepared foods for my meals. These generally came in the form of frozen foods (Hot Pockets, Old El Paso burritos, Stouffer’s French bread pizza) or canned goods such as Hormel’s Dinty Moore beef stew, or the cornerstone of my diet, the king of processed foods, that company’s namesake chili, which I often upgraded with crushed saltines, shredded cheese and whatever I found in our spice rack.
I like to imagine Frank n’ Stuffs developed out of a marketing meeting at which Hormel’s product managers were challenged to brainstorm new ways to sell chili. Hormel’s chili needed a new vehicle, but what? Well, people like chili dogs, one enterprising product manager would note. Yes, but chili dogs are sloppy. They drip all over the place. And yet they can’t be sold in a can like chili or beef stew; they’d be too messy and gross. How to package a chili dog?
Hormel’s solution was novel: Put the chili inside the hot dog. The frankfurter would be a hollow tube and the chili would be the filling inside–the stuff in the Frank n’ Stuff, if you will.
Starting in 1986, Frank n’ Stuffs were available in the frozen foods aisle alongside the regular hot dogs, but with a savory surprise inside. To a chili freak with limited kitchen skills like me, Frank n’ Stuffs proved irresistible. Frank n’ Stuffs were also available with a filling of cheese instead of chili, but I avoided these. The cheese was a watery radioactive yellow scum that oozed out of the meat in a way I found unsettling.
It’s clear from this commercial that Hormel didn’t expect grown-ups to eat much Frank n’ Stuff, and that was okay by me. They’d corrupted one of the Great American Foods, the hot dog, in an unnatural way that guaranteed that my parents would let me eat it but never go near it themselves. This was food specifically designed for the teenager, perfect for boiling on the stove top between homework and One Day at a Time. I liked that.
Sadly, Frank n’ Stuffs were not long for this world, as Hormel discontinued the product in the 90’s. I guess humanity just wasn’t ready for a packaged chili dog.