The holidays are over, which means it’s just about time to chuck your poinsettia and pack up your highly flammable artificial Christmas tree. In other words, your home is about to get a lot more depressing, just in time for the true dead of winter. But what if you could maintain a certain level of holiday cheer year-round? What if you could brighten up your kitchen with cheerful shades of pink and red regardless of the season? What if you could enjoy... neon-colored weenies shipped from the great state of North Carolina?
I’m referring to the Carolina Bright Leaf hot dog, a glorious product that I’ve just discovered thanks to one helpful Takeout reader. First, some background. As you know, we here at The Takeout are committed to trawling the depths of hot dog culture. We’ve explored Detroit’s Coney Island dogs; we’ve unpacked the history of a Chicago staple; we’ve even assessed the elusive Sonoran hot dog. Most recently, I wrote about the Massachusetts-style hot dog—which is when I got this email from Takeout reader Neil L.:
“I thought I might pop you a quick note and see if you’re aware of the Carolina Dog. It’s something we eat here in NC—a dog on a bun with slaw, chili, onions and mustard. Pretty mundane, right?
Here’s where things get a little weird.
A truly authentic Carolina Dog will feature a specific kind of hotdog called a Carolina Bright Leaf Hot Dog. These aren’t especially unique in the taste department, but what they lack in flavor they make up for in color. These sausages are an eye-frying bright pinkish red color. Like, I think some animals use this color to warn predators that they’re poisonous and shouldn’t be eaten.”
Thank you, Neil! May the weenie gods rain endless hot dogs upon you and your family. Fascinated by Neil’s tip, I dug into what is undoubtedly the world’s most festive frank.
Origins of the Carolina Bright Leaf hot dog
Bright Leaf hot dogs are a proprietary product produced by one family-owned company: the Carolina Packers meat-processing plant located in Smithfield, North Carolina. Since 1941, these meat-loving angels have produced their signature Bright Leaf hot dogs, those stunning pork-and-beef franks that are, as Our State puts it, “bathed in the radiant red of a particularly rich sunset.”
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What’s the deal with the “Bright Leaf” moniker? Turns out that the factory is located along US Highway 301, otherwise known as “Brightleaf Boulevard.” The boulevard is named for a number of tobacco warehouses that handled the area’s signature crop around midcentury. “Many of our customers and suppliers grew tobacco as part of their farming operations, so we adopted this name, along with the tobacco leaf in our logo, to identify with our agricultural heritage,” the company’s website reads.
That’s not to say that North Carolina tobacco plants are pinkish-red in color. In fact, the “Bright Leaf” name has nothing whatsoever to do with the hot dogs’ hue. Instead, “brightleaf” tobacco refers to a particular type of flue-cured tobacco that originated in the region. No, the franks’ signature color comes from a proprietary spice blend that the company guards with a Willy Wonka-style fervor.
Where to find Carolina Bright Leaf hot dogs
If you live in North Carolina, these vibrant weenies are available at retailers like Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Piggly Wiggly. (You can scope out statewide Bright Leaf hot dog vendors on the company’s website.) If you live outside of the state, you can order a vacuum-sealed five-pound pack online for less than $35. This news is enough to revive my holiday spirit well into February.