Once upon a time, Disneyland invented the most talked-about hot dog in all the land. But it wasn’t just an ordinary hot dog, nor even an ordinary corn dog. It was an offering so strange, so divisive, that word of the creation spread far and wide, across the internet landscape. In the years since its debut, its legend has only grown, and now Trader Joe’s is here to capitalize on it.
The corn dog in question is actually a Pickle Dog, and it’s still available at the Blue Ribbon Corn Dog stand at Downtown Disney, the shopping and dining district outside Disneyland. The Pickle Dog ($14.50) is a hot dog on a stick nestled inside a hollowed-out pickle, dipped in cornmeal batter and rolled in panko before being deep fried. If that weren’t controversial enough, the pickle dog comes with a side of peanut butter for dipping.
As soon as it became available in 2021, I got in the car and drove immediately to Disneyland. I had to taste this thing for myself. As it turned out, the Pickle Dog... really isn’t bad at all. To me, it mostly tastes like fried pickles, a food I enjoy quite a lot. The hot dog, never my favorite, is a mildly salty addition that I can enjoy because there’s so much pickle surrounding it. The peanut butter adds an interesting textural enhancement that I didn’t find nearly as distracting as I thought I would, but ultimately I enjoyed the Pickle Dog more without it.
The biggest problem with the pickle dog—if you can set aside the controversial image of a hot dog shoved into a pickle shoved into fried cornbread—is that you can’t get it anywhere except a single kiosk in Anaheim, California. That’s where Trader Joe’s comes in: The grocery store chain released its own box of miniature Pickle Dog dupes earlier this year, called Perfectly Pickled Pups.
“These teeny wieners,” as TJ’s describes them, “are infused with dill-pickle flavor, by way of popular brining ingredients such as sea salt, sugar, onion, garlic, vinegar, and dill weed. The pickle-flavored Pups are then coated in a mixture of batter and breadcrumbs that’s seasoned with even more particularly pickley ingredients.”
I had to know: do these store-bought weenies hold up to the original? And is peanut butter really the best condiment choice for such a concoction? Off to Trader Joe’s I went.
TJ’s recommends preparing Perfectly Pickled Pups in the air fryer, which I don’t have, so I went with a conventional oven. While the Pups were cooking, I pulled every possible condiment from my fridge: ketchup, two kinds of mustard, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, buffalo ranch, Frank’s RedHot, and sriracha. And, of course, I grabbed the peanut butter.
Unlike Blue Ribbon’s Pickle Dog, the Trader Joe’s product contains no actual pickle, just pickle-inspired flavoring. The Pups looked promisingly golden brown coming out of the oven; I let them cool for a moment and then took a bite. I tasted a lot more hot dog than pickle, and more breading than anything else. Far from imitating the original product, this is more like an extra-savory corn dog just with a hint of dill and pickle brine flavor on the finish.
The first few bites had me disappointed in the lack of actual pickle, and these Pups, despite their fine enough flavor, are dry on their own. Good thing I had all those condiments at the ready to see what might improve them.
Here are the results of my taste test:
- Ketchup: The sweetness of the ketchup killed all the pickle flavor. It gave “hot dog on stale bun,” too, although I use ketchup maybe four times a year, so keep that in mind when I’m knocking it. 2/10
- Frank’s RedHot: Really good! The vinegar of the hot sauce kicked up the pickle flavor, and the mild spice was a nice complement. 6/10
- Sriracha: Also tasty, but overpowering. All I could taste was garlic and chili. 4/10
- Ranch: Pairing the Pups with ranch sort of creates the same effect as a fried pickle, but that just made me miss the pickleness of the Blue Ribbon original, highlighting the flaws in Trader Joe’s execution. 4/10
- Peanut Butter: No. The only reason the peanut butter works with the Blue Ribbon Pickle Dog is because the real pickle has lots of sharp brine. Without that, this was just peanut butter on a hot dog. No one wants that. Not even Elvis. 1/10
- English Mustard: English mustard is a little bit sweet, with a sharp horseradish kick. It’s really good on Scotch eggs, which are hard-boiled eggs crusted in sausage; this was sort of the same idea. I don’t love sweet mustard in most applications, but this was good. 5/10
- Barbecue sauce: The smoke flavors were a nice complement to the savory hot dog, but the sauce ultimately had the same overpowering effect as ketchup, eliminating the Pups’ faint pickle essence. 4/10
- Dijon Mustard: I’m a mustard-on-hot-dogs person, so this was the kind of flavor profile I was looking for. This was delicious—but I still believed I could do better. 6/10
- Buffalo Ranch: This was not better. The flavor should, in theory, be right at home on the Pickled Pups, but Hidden Valley Buffalo Ranch on its own just doesn’t taste very good. It was time to get creative. 3/10
- Frank’s RedHot and Ranch: This combination, devised by me, was the winner. Cool creaminess from the ranch, flavorful heat from the Frank’s. The pickle notes even came through a little, as did the hot dog. The Pups will never be impressive, but this condiment combo brings out the best in them. 8/10
Then again, maybe Trader Joe’s failure to live up to Disneyland’s Blue Ribbon is a good thing. The original Pickle Dog, especially when paired with peanut butter, is a menu item that strikes fear in many people’s hearts. The Perfectly Pickled Pups, without the crunch of an actual pickle, might just appeal to a broader swath of customers. If you try a box of these teeny weenies, pick up some RedHot and ranch to go with them.