When Emily Hui opened the Korean corn dog spot Stix in San Francisco in late 2019, she wasn’t sure how long the snack would hold people’s interest. She’d seen more and more Korean corn dogs in mukbangs, the video format started by Korean streamers in which they talk and eat on camera, and she’d tried them on a trip abroad. But although Korean corn dogs had gained popularity across Asia, the trend was still untapped stateside. When Stix opened, it was the first Korean corn dog shop in San Francisco. As of this summer, though, the trend was going strong, according to Hui. “I really have to give credit to Instagram and social media,” she says.
On TikTok, the number of videos featuring Korean corn dogs rose all year, according to a representative for the platform, with #koreancorndog hitting peak usage in June and July after creator @dee.045’s taste-test videos went viral. The snack seems engineered for exactly this kind of video success. The state fair-style corn dog is fun, sure, but Korean corn dog shops offer a plethora of options. Start with a core, whether it’s all sausage, half-sausage and half-cheese, all cheese, two kinds of cheese, half-fish cake and half-cheese, and so on. Dip that filling in batter and then roll it in breadcrumbs or toppings like diced French fries, crushed ramen noodles, or crispy rice before hitting the fryer. The result is so crispy that you can hear the coating shatter with each bite, and the dairy-filled varieties offer classic social-media bait: the cheese pull.
As influencers on Instagram and TikTok posted videos of themselves trying Korean corn dogs, they got customers in the doors of places like Stix. Yet Hui’s previous skepticism made sense. Viral food trends are almost inescapable, but also fleeting: Dalgona coffee, though ubiquitous at the start of the pandemic, dropped off the radar in favor of the now-also-passé cloud bread and feta pasta. Unlike these DIY trends, which relied on home cooks’ fickle interest, the Korean corn dog can be a ready-to-eat meal—especially appealing for people who fear the fryer or enjoy the novelty of buying meat-on-sticks somewhere. They’ve staked greater permanence over 2021 as they’ve inspired a new niche of shops across the United States. The heyday of Korean corn dogs on TikTok may be fading, but their brick-and-mortar boom shows their potential to become a longer-lasting feature of the American snack canon.
Corn dogs gained popularity as a Korean street food in the 1980s, but the current corn dog trend—which sees more than just hot dogs coated in more than just cornmeal batter—is generally credited to Myungrang Hot Dog, a chain that started in a market near Busan in 2016. In just three years, Myungrang amassed 650 stores in Korea, taking corn dogs from a street-vendor staple to a franchise darling. As social media grew the trend’s global appeal, the company began its U.S. expansion in Georgia in 2018, and when it arrived in Los Angeles’s Koreatown the following year, the location imposed a limit of five corn dogs per person just to keep the lines in check. Interest in Korean corn dogs in the U.S. has been steadily building since then, with a huge spike in Google Search interest in early 2021.