“What? They fry PICKLES now? What’ll they think of next!”
~Bar Patrons In, Like, 2001
People from other countries like to make fun of America for frying all their food, but that’s like making fun of someone for having a hot wife. Oh, what’s that, French tourists, all of our food is fried, making it taste a million times better? Real sick burn there, froggy! Yes, we fry everything, because yes, everything tastes better fried. We’ve gone over this in pretty exhaustive detail, so there’s no need to rehash things here.
Now, if you’re anything like our staff, you’re drunk right now, maybe take a bit of a nap to sleep things off and get back to this article in a few hours. But also, you eat lots of fried food, especially bar fried food. You have probably ordered many a chicken strip, mozzarella stick, or even fried mushroom if you’re into that sort of thing while downing a high gravity pint. But for our readers who don’t reside in the Southern area of our nation, the last fifteen years or so has brought a relatively novel fried item to many of your bar menus.
Fried pickles. It’s that dish that (again, for you southerners, you all grew up with these) at first blush seems strange. “Wait, so like…a dill pickle? Fried?” many a Yankee has mumbled while looking over the menu at the Wood-n-Tap. Yes, pickles, deep fried. You’ll order them for the novelty, but be surprised to find they’re delicious. Juicy and bursting, salty and greasy, it’s the best kind of bar appetizer because it’s truly awful for you, but you can technically say you’ve eaten your vegetables that day. Gaming the system.
So with that in mind, we’re going to take a moment to tell you about the history of fried pickles, because now we get to list all of our bar tabs as tax write-offs.
The History of Fried Pickles
We all know what a pickle is. It’s a brined cucumber that looks more like a dick than a regular cucumber. It can be made sweet or salty (or, like, with Kool-Aid) but if we’re really being honest with ourselves, dill pickles are the GOAT pickle. You can get your bread and butter pickles out of here.
Now, the kosher dill pickle as we know it has been around since at least 1899, where it was served in Jewish Delis in New York City, but it took us over half a century before we decided to fry those suckers. It makes sense, honestly—pickles don’t exactly scream “fry me!” at first glance. Pickles are, well, wet. If you tried to slice and fry it like you would a potato, all that juicy goodness would react pretty violently with the oil and, probably, scald the chef pretty badly. Of course, we get around that by breading it before we fry it, but it took until the 1960s for us to come to that realization.
The first recipe for a fried pickle appeared in a 1962 issue of the Oakland Tribune, calling for sweet pickle slices and pancake mix, which does not sound like a very good fried pickle if you ask us. Because that is bad and gross sounding, we’ll instead give credit to Bernell “Fatman” Austin, who helped popularize the dish when he started serving them in 1963 at his restaurant, the Duchess Drive, In Atkins, Arkansas. This drive-in restaurant was across the street from the Atkins Pickle Plant, which was apparently prodigious enough in their pickle production that Atkins became known as the “Pickle Capital of the World.”
Do not listen to your uncle who says that HE is the pickle capital of the world, it is a trap
This must have given Fatman an idea, and he started frying hamburger slices of pickles and selling them for a penny a pop in 1963. Soon, restaurants around the south began to try their hand at their own variations. While Fatman passed away in 1999, you can still get his original recipe…once a year, at the annual Picklefest that’s held in Atkins each May.
The fried pickle slowly began to spread. In 1969, The Hollywood Café opened in Robinsonville, Mississippi, who now market themselves as the “Home of the Fried Dill Pickle” because they are fucking liars. Texas eventually embraced them (not surprisingly, at state fairs) though it never really became a staple until the 1980s. With the spread of regional cuisines thanks to the internet, and the general trend of bars serving better and more varied food, by the late 2000s and early 2010s, the fried pickle had become a nationally recognized bar food. And a delicious one at that.
Because, let’s be honest, sometimes you want to eat something at the bar, but you don’t feel like a burger, and you’d rather just get something the whole table can nibble on. And that’s when you can thank Fatman himself for bringing the fried pickle into your life.