I recently ran across some information that stated that “fried dill pickles” were invented in Arkansas. As a native Arkansan and a fried pickle lover, I had to find out if this was true, so I started digging.
It’s turns out that it’s true! Bernell “Fatman” Austin invented fried dill pickles in Atkins, Arkansas.
I posted about it on my @allaboutarkansas Facebook page and folks went crazy over it.
Then, Fatman’s grandson, Richard Austin, commented and offered to tell me the whole story about his grandfather and how he invented fried dill pickles in Arkansas.
Y’all, you’re going to love this story!
Fried Dill Pickles Were Invented in Arkansas in 1963
Fried dill pickles were invented during the summer of 1963 by Bernell “Fatman” Austin, the owner of a local drive-in called “The Duchess.”
It was located across the street from the pickle plant in Atkins, Arkansas.
The pickles were sliced lengthwise and fried in a secret family recipe. FYI: The fried hamburger pickles you’ve had at restaurants are all fakes.
About The Inventor: Bernell “Fatman” Austin
Bernell Austin, known by everyone as “Fatman,” was called “Fatboy” as a kid. As he grew up his name naturally evolved to “Fatman.”
Fatman was born and raised there in Atkins.
When he was young, he was a cook in the Navy and that’s where he became an expert in the kitchen.
He opened his first restaurant in 1956.
In fact, Fatman Austin owned various restaurants for most of his adult life from 1956 through the 1990s.
The great Bernell “Fatman” Austin closed his last restaurant in 1994. He passed away in September of 1999.
After the passing of Fatman, his son David Austin, carried on the fried dill pickle tradition from 1999-2016.
From 2016 to now, Fatman’s grandson, Richard Austin, and his family have continued providing Arkansas with the best and original fried dill pickles.
How Fried Dill Pickles Were Invented
It was way back in 1960-1961 that Bernell “Fatman” Austin first started slicing dill pickles and experimenting with frying them at his drive-in named “The Duchess.”
He had a bunch of pickles in his restaurant and thought that surely he could use them to drum up business.
He started with hamburger slices but he didn’t like the pickle-to-breading ratio.
After disliking fried dill hamburger pickles, Fatman started experimenting with slicing them lengthwise.
In the summer of 1963 at The Duchess drive-in, Bernell “Fatman” Austin first sliced dill pickles lengthwise and deep fried them.
And it was a hit!
He deep fried them in a secret family recipe and the rest is history. The price? .15 cents an order!
To this day, any fried dill pickle that you buy from the Austin family is hand sliced with a manual slicer, breaded and fried in that secret family recipe.
People have approached the Austin family and asked to buy the fried pickle recipe with no luck. Others have tried to claim that they invented fried pickles (Mississippi, we’re looking at you) but it’s just not true.
People Came From All Over to Buy Fried Dill Pickles
Back when the drive-in was open, people would stop by on their way to and from Razorback games just to buy those delicious fried pickles. In fact, some people would buy multiple orders at a time just so they would have some to take home (if they could resist eating them that long).
One customer bought several orders then flew to Colorado with them for a relative!
If you attend Pickle Fest or Frosty Fest and buy several orders of Fatman’s Original Fried Dill Pickles, the word on the street is that they reheat beautifully in an air fryer.
Fun Fried Dill Pickle Facts
- The Duchess drive-in in Atkins, Arkansas opened in April of 1960 and closed in September 1968. Fatman Austin leased the property from Griffin Oil for $10 a month.
- Fatman Austin built “The Loner” drive-in closer to the interstate in 1968. It closed in 1978.
- The Austin family still serves the pickles at Frosty Fest in December and Pickle Fest in May.
- During Pickle Fest 2023, the Austin family will celebrate 60 years of fried dill pickles!
- Pickle Fest in Atkins, Arkansas started in 1992.
- In 2013, the Austin family went through 75 gallons of pickles for a 2 day festival.
- Fatman’s famous fried pickles are now made and sold by 4th generation pickle fryers!
Comments About Fatman’s Fried Dill Pickles
After I shared this on Facebook, so many people started sharing their memories. Here are a few that really caught my eye:
- “We used to stop at the drive-in in Atkins and get them back in the 70s. It was the only place you could get them back then.”
- “When my sisters and I were ‘encouraged’ to help my grandparents run their 64 galore sale at their house, we would walk across the street for lunch to go buy those pickles (also at Pickle Fest, of course). I’m not sure if they still sell them during 64 galore or not as my grand parents no longer participate, but that’s a fun memory.”
- “I grew up in Atkins eating fried dill pickles! Good ole days!”
- “Those pickles are worth every penny and are the best with some fresh squeezed lemonade.”
Fried Dill Pickles in Arkansas
During my phone conversation with Fatman’s grandson, the one quote that kept ringing in my head was, “The legends may be gone but the traditions still live.”
That quote is printed on a plaque that hangs in the Austin home.
I think it truly encompasses who Arkansans really are. We have a firm grip on traditions and we honor those who created them, yet always looking forward to the future.
*A special thank you to the Austin Family for spending your time sharing this story with me.