On my way to the swamps, I stopped at Kinlaw’s Supermarket andWelcome Grill in Fayetteville. I was there to get a quick lunch at the grill and to load up on provisions for a canoe trip, but what caught my eye was the cases of Bright Leaf brand hot dogs. Kinlaw’s is one of those places near I-95 where people stock up on Bright Leaf dogs on their trips home, yearning to carry a taste of eastern North Carolina to their new homes, wherever they may be.
I can hardly overstate how deeply Bright Leaf brand hot dogs have been tangled in the eating habits in Johnston, Sampson, Harnett, and a smattering of other Tobacco Belt counties. Since Carolina Packers first began to make the fire engine red skinless dogs in 1941, they’ve been so popular that I don’t think a lot of my friends in that part of the state know there is another kind of hot dog.
Made out of chicken, beef, and pork in Johnston County, they’re the hot dog of choice for Boy Scout camping trips, backyard wiener roasts, and ball games. If you go to your favorite soda shop (some place like the wonderful Sherry’s Bakery in Dunn or the venerable Norris Frozen Custard, also in Dunn), you’ll find only Bright Leafs. If you go to a diner that’s the same one that was your granddad’s favorite when he was a kid (some place like City Lunch in Franklinton, which has been in business since 1949, or George’s Grill in Goldsboro, which is nearly as old), they’ll serve only Bright Leafs. If you go to one of the region’s legendary hot dog joints (some place like the Cricket Grill in Smithfield or Thornton’s in Four Oaks), same thing.
Of course everybody has a favorite way to cook a Bright Leaf. An awful lot of people, though, think that they’re at their finest when they’re roasted over a fire until they’re just a little charred. Except, of course, for all the folks that want to fry, grill, or boil them. And then there’s plenty of people that believe you can’t do better than chop them up and mix them with baked beans or Kraft macaroni and cheese.
And you can’t put a number to all the farm hands who have sat in the shade next to a crop field and eaten a cold Bright Leaf dog for their lunch, usually just wrapped in a piece of white bread.
I’ve also noticed that they’re very popular with fishermen on the swampy rivers and millponds east of Fayetteville, like I’m headed to. I see fishermen eat them for lunch or supper, but, as just about everybody around here knows, you also can’t beat a Bright Leaf hot dog for catfish bait.