Sometimes Red Snappers are white fish; sometimes they’re red meat. In Maine, the latter is an iconic style of hot dog. Synonymous with family cookouts, camping trips, potlucks, gas stations, and even high school basketball tournaments, Red Snappers are as much a part of Maine’s food culture as lobster.
There’s only one purveyor of bright red hot dogs left in Maine, and it’s W.A. Bean & Sons. For over 150 years, five generations of the Bean family have produced millions upon millions of jarringly red hot dogs. Red #40 food dye saturates the sausage’s exterior, while the interior remains a standard pinkish color. Despite rumors that meat companies add dye to camouflage unsavory ingredients, Red Snappers are simply a successful marketing ploy. W.A. Bean representatives say they originally added the food coloring to help their hot dogs stand out.
The “snapper” name alludes to how these bright red sausages “snap” when bitten into. This is a result of W.A. Bean & Sons making their hot dogs the old-fashioned way—with natural lamb casing. Natural casing is taken from a part of the intestine composed of collagen, which gives the dog the snap that fans say sets it apart. (Most modern purveyors use artificial casing.) The sausage filling (called “meat batter”) is made from a mixture of pork and beef. Despite the integrity of its ingredients, Red Snappers still flaunt enough dye to appear nearly neon. Whatever the reason behind the redness, Mainers have been loyal to the Red Snapper for generations.
Need to Know
Red Snappers are sold in many Maine Grocery stores, and you can try Red Snappers during “Free Hot Dog Fridays” at W.A. Bean’s retail shop in Bangor, Maine. The dogs are also sold in pink and natural color, for those sensitive to food dye.
Not in Maine? Try ordering online from W.A. Bean & Sons' website. Or Kayem Foods in Chelsea, Massachusetts, sells similar dogs, although they don't call them Red Snappers.