Melissa Elsmo

Rains had gotten the better of us during a camping adventure and our group wisely opted to trade in campfire-fare and umbrellas for several seats in a warm and dry restaurant. As we perused the menu we came across an unexpected appetizer offering .

“Honestly, they sound a little freaky to me, but I’ll try anything once.” whispered my friend Amy upon reading the description of fried pickles on the restaurant’s limited menu.

Even though we’d all been enjoying loads of dubious delights like spray cheese, Frito pie in bag, and pounds of bacon back at camp without so much as a second thought, the idea horking down a plateful of fried pickles gave a few folks at our table reason to pause.  Thankfully we had a true southern girl in our midst and Penny set us straight about the many virtues of fried pickles.  We ordered three batches and hoped for the best.

While we waited for our order to arrive I did a quick bit of online research into our curious appetizers.  According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, controversy swirls around the true origins of the fried pickle, but the Austin family of Atkins, Arkansas swears they were the very first folks to dip a battered spear in bubbling oil in 1963 at the Duchess Drive-In.  Duchess owner, Bernell “Fatman” Austin, started by frying up pickle slices exchange for a few cents , but over time, began to favor frying up hardy pickle halves instead. In that instant an indulgent regional snack food was born.

Unfortunately, the fried pickles we ate in the restaurant were sliced rather than halved, but their crisp coating and piquant dipping sauce made me long to whip up a “Fatman” worthy batch in my own kitchen. 

I added yellow cornmeal to the breading to give them some textural interest and spiked it with a healthy dose of dill give the dish ever more bold pickle flavor. My dipping sauce is a sweet and spicy blend of horseradish, ketchup and savory Worcestershire sauce.  The resulting snack is a hot and salty revelation and one that could compete with the very best of bar-food fare.

Fried Pickles Spears with Peppy Dipping Sauce

Makes 6 appetizer servings

While fried pickles are excellent with little more than a cold beer and a hamburger, they also make an excellent garnish for barbecued pork sandwiches.

For the Pickles:

  • 1 dozen high-quality pickle spears
  • 1 Egg
  • ¼ Cup half-and-half
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • 1 ½ Cups all-purpose flour divided
  • 1 ½ Cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tablespoon dried dill weed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Dash of black pepper
  • Canola oil for frying

Drain the pickles and pat well with paper towels to dry any excess moisture.

In a shallow dish whisk together the egg, half-and-half and hot sauce; set aside. Place 3/4 Cup of the flour in a a second shallow bowl and season it with salt and pepper; set aside.  In a third shallow dish combine the remaining flour, cornmeal, dill weed, salt, onion powder, cayenne and pepper; set aside.

Pour the canola oil into a high-sided skillet to a depth of 3-inches and heat to 350 degrees or until a piece of bread sizzles on contact. 

While the oil is heating bread the pickles.  Toss a few pickle spears in the seasoned flour, shake off the excess and dip in the egg mixture.  Roll the coated pickles in the corn meal mixture and lower into the hot oil.  Allow the pickles to fry, in batches, for 4 minutes or until crisp and deep golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and serve the hot fried pickles with peppy dipping sauce (recipe follows).

Peppy Dipping Sauce:

  • ½ Cup Sour Cream
  • 2 Tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish, drained
  • ½ Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dried dill weed

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Sauce can be made one day ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

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