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An Ode to the Joy of the Korean Corn Dog and the Smells of Summer

Korean corn dogs, photo by Bryan Preston.

What did you do during the pandemic?

Some people learned languages, others learned new skills, some got depressed, and some watched every single show on Netflix.

Remember when Tiger King was all we could talk about?

If I had to sit back and figure out what I did during the pandemic I’d probably settle on two things: nature/still photography and air fryer cooking.

I’m getting pretty decent at the first one, with my trusty Sony alphas.

Bike Farm, Austin. Photo by Bryan Preston.

This is Bike Farm in Austin, which has a massive bike culture.

Mayfly, photo by Bryan Preston.

I snapped this tiny mayfly in a local park.

Farmhouse table, photo by Bryan Preston.

This is a table setting in a living history museum near Austin. I snapped it with my a6300, the same camera I use for video productions and chats here.

The second one — air frying — has been full of surprises. Air frying wasn’t even on my radar until Kruiser, Green, and I launched the Five O’Clock Somewhere video chats last year.

Kruiser brought up all the miracles he was performing with his air fryer, he had the receipts in the form of mouth-watering pics, so, intrigued, when I saw an astounding deal on an air fryer in a local shop, I bought it. I figured, what’s the harm? I’m not out much for it, and if we don’t like it, I can put it away, give it away, or hawk it on craigslist or something.

What followed has been months of culinary delights. I’m not a whiz in the kitchen. If I’m not cooking over lump charcoal outside or in the microwave, I’m probably not cooking it at all.

The air fryer changed all that from the first batch of french fries I cooked just to test it. They came out so perfect, crunchy on the outside and still piping hot and tender within, that I was hooked. They were better than fries at most steakhouses and restaurants. My very skeptical wife soon learned what a miracle machine the air fryer is and started cooking all sorts of things in it. I cooked some pork riblets in ours this week that came out five-star restaurant good.

This morning she surprised me. There are two smells that I tend to associate with the best of summer. One is the sweet, salty, smoky smell of grilled corn-on-the-cob. I learned about this while I was stationed in Japan. Every summer for probably a thousand years, Japan has some of the best summer festivals you’ll find anywhere in the world. You’ve probably seen video of the dragon cart things — mikoshi — being run through city streets during danjiri matsuri. But you may not have seen or experienced the food. To me, one of the greatest Japanese summer festival foods is the grilled corn.

They take the sweetest corn-on-the-cob they have, slather it in soy sauce until it permeates all of the pores and grooves on the corn, and then grill it over Japanese charcoal until the soy sauce carmelizes and the corn gets a nice char here and there. The result is the best corn-on-the-cob I have ever had. It’s hot, it’s sweet, it’s salty, and it has that smoky flavor all at the same time. Now, every time I grill steaks, chicken, whatever, I’m also adding some soy-slathered corn to the mix. That’s a smell of summer to me and has been for more than 20 years now.

Another smell of summer for me is the sweet smell of carnival or fair food. That’s hard to get without going to a carnival, and now I have an unorthodox way of getting that smell, which brings me to the air fryer and the surprise this morning. While I was working on pieces here, the sweet smell of carnival corn dogs wafted into my office.

It turns out that my wife had air-fried some Korean corn dogs. Have you seen these things? They’re unbelievable.

I have no issues at all with the American original or its variants. But the Korean dog takes them to another level, with the panko crumbs and the gooey mozzarella cheese inside.

This photo really doesn’t do justice to them, not without the smell. They’re sweet, crunchy, and gooey. You can add sugar, mustard, or just about anything else you want to them.

Korean corn dogs, photo by Bryan Preston.

Add in the perfection that you can achieve in the air fryer, with the perfect crunch on the shell and furnace heat inside, and you get one of my new favorite foods, which you can eat any time of day. You don’t have to make them. If you have an Asian market near you, they probably stock them. Look for ones that say they have panko crumbs, those are the best ones.

Are Korean corn dogs healthy or keto-friendly? I’m betting they’re not. But they are awesome.