The prototype for me is what I've had at Hot Dog on a Stick (HDOAS). I even had a similarly good corn dog in Mammoth Lakes at the Vons. So here's my criterial for what makes a good one:
- Should have an fairly prominent corn flavor, and it should be fairly sweet
- Corn coating is not too thick, no more than 1/4" in thickness
- Outer crust is crispy, and a little chewy; some pull but not much
- Fried batter should not be gritty, gummy, gooey or overly thick
- Fried batter shouldn't be too airy/light, or too heavy; but, erring on lightness is better.
I chose 2 that I were substantially different enough to suggest the right direction to go. Here's what I found out for making a pretty traditional corn dog:
- More flour less corn: I think the right proportion is around 100:66 flour-to-cornmeal. The one I made with 100:200 flour-to-cornmeal tasted gritty, and not as "corny" to my palate as the one with less corn...yes a bit strange I know! See #2 for more related info.
- Sugar: more appears is better
- Liquid: buttermilk seems to be best. Milk's 2nd best. HDOAS uses dried milk powder and hydrates with water.
- Egg: 1 egg appears universal for 1 cup.
- Leavening: depends on the liquid you're using. Baking powder + a bit of soda is good when using buttermilk; but this makes it pretty fluffy though, good if you want it really light, but . HDOAS only uses baking powder.
- Oil: maybe 2 tablespoons, I think that's plenty. 4 tablespoos (1/4 cup) just makes the batter taste too oily. You're deepfrying these guys, for chrissakes, why would you need to add that much oil!!
- Weird stuff: if you want to get crazy, try adding some dextrose for sweetening, in addition to sugar; also a small amount of rice flour (maybe 2-4 tbsp per cup of flour?)
I think the leavening and liquid are the main things to tweak. Sugar and flour percentages seem pretty consistent. Based on my tests, I'll take my fave recipe, decrease leavening a slight bit and increase the liquid a tiny bit.
Speaking of scaling, the 1 cup flour quantities really make a ridiculous amount of batter...unless you're making a whole pack of corn dogs for the party, you need barely half.
AND I really like the idea of cutting hot dogs in half for this. AND be sure to use sticks...I like popsicle sticks. It actually make them easier to dip and handle, which is critical when dealing with hot oil.
One last comment: the meat! Of course the hot dog itself is important. HDOAS uses a turkey dog, which is a good option. I really like the relatively new Oscar Mayer Selects Premium uncured hot dogs with no nitrates, nitrites or preservatives. Flavor is great, and I don't have to worry about extra garbage in my hot dogs.
Now go forth and make corn dogs!