Hormel’s Frank ‘n Stuff Hot Dogs
A Hot Dog with the chili or cheese built right in.
When I was a kid, "convenience foods" were an important staple in our house. If they were filling and affordable, we would stock up on them. This instilled in me an unhealthy affection for hot dogs that has kept me hooked throughout my entire life. While I enjoy a classic dog, over the years, novelty frankfurters and even hot dog buns have come in and out of my life.
Most of them are easy to forget, but more than a few still haunt my memories and make me wish they could make a comeback. One of my favorites was a wonderful Hormel product from around 1984, the Frank 'n Stuff Hot Dog.
The premise of this frankenfood was simple: we all love chili dogs, so what if there was a hot dog with the chili built right into it? That's right; inside each Frank 'n Stuff was a meaty reservoir of Hormel Chili. You'd bite it open, and it would start oozing out, which is either satisfying or terrifying depending on your feelings toward secret chili. For me, it was a positive experience.
A few reporters covered its release. The concept, as you might guess, received mixed reactions. One of the more interesting things I read, talked about how adding chili to a hot dog could potentially include less meat, which could lower its fat content, making it a “healthier” option. I don’t have a degree in nutrition, but I happily endorse anything that attempts to bring more chili into people’s diets.
After the initial success of the product, or perhaps because they already had it in the pipeline, they released a cheese version. I know what you're thinking, did they ever go for broke and release a version with both chili AND cheese? I am sad to say they didn't, although I imagine if Frank 'n Stuff had lasted longer, they might have given it a try.
What made the product so interesting, besides the mad food science around its premise, was the ad campaign Hormel ran in 1987. That year, they leaned heavily into the Frankenstein association. Most of the print advertising that I remember and have been able to track down featured Franky. The one television commercial that has survived doesn't have him, but instead features Doctor Frank 'n Stuff and his Igor-like sidekick revealing his magnificent creation.
Bringing out Frankenstein was a smart move, and they used him in a cash giveaway contest. By entering, you could win a grand prize of $10,000, one of five first prizes of $2,000, or one of fifteen second prizes of $1,000. No purchase was necessary; they had entry forms in the newspapers that you could cut out and send in to win. During this run, they also offered coupons for $1.25 off in each package you bought, which at the time would have gotten you your Frank 'n Stuffs less than half-price.
Unfortunately, after the contest was over, they went back to a more sedate, less monster-centric commercial the following year.
Want more real world frights? The product was involved in some food tampering controversy in 1986. Consumers in Minnesota reported finding razor blade pieces in Frank 'n Stuff Hot Dogs. I could only find a single mention of this, but it was in multiple newspapers. They implied that the food tampering might have been associated with striking Hormel workers at the time. Fortunately, the problem did not appear to be widespread.
I ate these a few times a year, and I remember that the package mentioned three ways to prepare them:
No matter which option you chose, you should remember that whatever filling is in your Frank 'n Stuff is going to be hotter than you expected. But if you decided to microwave it, that thing was going to be hotter than Hades. Even after you let it cool, you could take a bite and scald the inside of your mouth badly. My technique was to try to take the smallest bite possible to expose the insides and let them cool off a bit. It was tough to do; I just wanted to eat, but I got burned enough to know that slowing down was worth it.
The Frank 'n Stuff wasn't a flash in the pan. They continued to pop up on store shelves until 1996. For over a decade, people got to enjoy these tasty dogs. A generation came of age only knowing a world where they existed, and they are still hungry for them.
So, good people of Hormel, if you ever read this, please bring back the Frank 'n Stuff. Just think of all the other delicious things you could stuff into a hot dog that didn't exist a quarter of a century ago.
Perhaps, with the Frankenstein association, you could even make it a seasonal food and lean more heavily into that for advertising around Halloween. I don't want to tell you how to run your company, but I wouldn't mind having one more go at a Frank 'n Stuff hot dog. Oh, and if you could make a chili-cheese variety, that would be great.
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