have been the go-to meat snack for bar patrons, convenience store customers, and teenagers for decades. Here’s everything you may not know about the spicy sausage sticks.
1. A HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT MADE SNACKING HISTORY.
Philadelphia’s Adolph “Al” Levis was just 16 when he dropped out of high school during the Great Depression and ended up scratching out a living selling groceries to delis and bars around his hometown. From his garage, Levis and his brother supplied bars with cabbage, pickles, pickled sausage, and even pickled pigs’ feet. As Levis gained more experience in the business, he noticed that his tavern-owning customers sold out of pepperoni especially quickly.
2. SLIM JIMS SET OUT TO FIX PEPPERONI'S PROBLEMS.
Bar patrons may have been plowing through the pepperonis Levis sold, but the meat had some shortcomings. Large logs of pepperoni were messy and difficult to eat, and curing the meat to create pepperoni could take weeks. Levis joined forces with Joseph Cherry and a Philadelphia meatpacker to concoct a compact snack that would be easier to eat and could be produced quickly.
3. THERE WAS NEVER A SLIM JIM.
Once Levis had his snack recipe perfected, he needed a name that would sway hungry customers from reaching for classic pepperoni. When Levis passed away in 2001, his Associated Press obituary noted that he originally called the meat sticks “Penn Rose,” but that name didn’t stick. The New York Times obituary for Levis described the marketing logic that Levis used to come up with the eventual Slim Jim label: “Hoping to create an elegant image, he used a man in a top hat and cane as his emblem and called him Slim Jim.”
4. THE SLIM JIM WAS ORIGINALLY A BAR FOOD.
When Cherry and Levis had Slim Jims ready to test, they didn’t start calling on supermarkets to land shelf space. Instead, they went back to the place Levis had first noticed pepperoni’s popularity: bars. To help drum up business in bars, the pair would eventually advertise the meat sticks on ashtrays that called Slim Jim “the Ready-to-Eat Spiced Sausage Treat” that will “Make Your Next Drink Taste Better.” Bartenders, who have long been fans of salty snacks that prompt drinkers to buy more thirst-quenching beer, were happy to sell Slim Jims.
5. THEY WEREN'T ALWAYS INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED.
Individual plastic wrappers are one of the calling cards of the modern Slim Jim, but when Levis and Cherry first started selling the snacks, things were decidedly more low-tech. Bartenders sold drinkers Slim Jims from large jars of vinegar that sat on the bar. When Levis and Cherry began individually wrapping the Slim Jims in cellophane in the 1950s, the newly portable snack enabled them to expand their geographic footprint.
6. LACTIC ACID IS A KEY INGREDIENT.
Part of the brilliance of Levis’s original recipe hinged on how he used lactic acid to ferment the sausage instead of waiting out a long curing process. When the New York Times got a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Slim Jim production process in 1996, the paper found that lactic acid starter went into a blend of meat and spices that were then left to ferment in an 85-degree room for 17 hours, “resulting in Jim's distinctive ‘bite.’”
7. SOME COOKS HAVE TRIED TO REPLICATE THAT BITE AT HOME ...
If you’re sick of forking over cash to the sausage-industrial complex, there are numerous recipes for homemade Slim Jims floating around on the Web, from ones created by gourmet chefs to amateur versions to sticks created by jerky experts. Some deer hunters even transform venison into leaner, gamier answers to Slim Jims.
8. ... WHILE OTHER COOKS HAVE EMBRACED SLIM JIMS AS AN INGREDIENT.
Even if you don’t want to make your own Slim Jims, you can find a place for Slim Jims in your kitchen. In 2013, George Duran of YouTube channel Hungry shared this video for “Slim Jim meatballs.” The idea sounds terrifying at first, but the reaction Duran gets from tasters is promising.
9. IT TOOK AWHILE FOR SLIM JOBS TO FIND THEIR TRUE MARKET.
Levis and Cherry sold their company to General Mills for $20 million in 1967, but Slim Jim was still years from reaching its full commercial potential. After decades as a bar snack and advertising featuring legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell, in 1989 then-owner GoodMark Foods did the first real market research on who actually liked Slim Jims. In retrospect, the findings made sense—teenage boys adored the spicy snacks. This epiphany led to edgier marketing and a further shift to selling in convenience stores, which account for over half of Slim Jim sales.
10. THE FOCUS ON TEENAGERS MADE FOR A LEGENDARILY MACHO CAMPAIGN POSSIBLE.
Now that Slim Jim wanted to reach rowdy teenagers with its marketing, it quickly signed up professional wrestling talent to hawk the sausage sticks. The company’s first wrestling-themed ad featured the muscle-bound Ultimate Warrior before transitioning into a long-running partnership with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, whose “Snap into a Slim Jim, oooooh yeah” catchphrase and appetite for mayhem are familiar to anyone who owned a television during the 1990s.