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Food memories: Bristol wants the Bunting's Drug Store hot dog chili recipe

On Jan. 2, Donna Hill Buchanan shared her aunt's recipe for hot dog chili on the Bristol History Facebook page. People from Bristol, Tenn.-Va. went crazy. What could be so special about this recipe for hot dog chili sauce? Buchanan's aunt, Helen Violena Hill Morgan, worked at Bunting's Drug Store for many years, and this recipe was for the famous Bunting's hot dog chili! The treasure was found in her papers by her daughter-in-law, Vicki Morgan, after she passed away in 2013 at 93 years old.

Bristol residents fondly remember the Buntings hot dogs of years gone by. Here is how to make the very unique, thin chili sauce they used.
Bristol residents fondly remember the Buntings hot dogs of years gone by. Here is how to make the very unique, thin chili sauce they used.
Barbie Crafts
Bunting's hot dogs were a Bristol tradition. This chili recipe is very close.
Barbie Crafts

Every town has those special food memories that become part of the town's history. Bunting's Drug Store is one of those memories in the town of Bristol. In the 20th century, the historic drug store was known mainly for its hot dogs. Stepping into Bunting's was like going back in time. The soda fountain and the glass tables with merchandise displayed inside were etched into childhood and adolescent memories. The Bunting's hot dogs are a common thread that runs through the town's corporate memory.

Until it was torn down in the 1980s, there was probably not anyone in town who had never had a Bunting's hot dog. People still lament that it was the best hot dog they ever had.

The state line runs down the main thoroughfare, aptly named, State Street, and Bunting's Drug Store sat on the Tennessee side near the train station for over 100 years. Most estimates place it as becoming part of Bristol in the late 1800's, possibly during the Civil War, according to this article in the Tri-Cities Sitting close to the location of the first country music recording ever made, also demolished, the loss of Bunting's Drug Store was an equally egregious event in the life of Bristol.

At least, we can revisit the era with this hot dog chili recipe. The recipe posted on Facebook was for enough hot dog chili sauce to feed the entire town of Bristol, and if you let all these people know you are making Bunting's hot dog chili, they will come! There was another recipe posted on called B's Famous Chili. It was a direct 1/4 of the original recipe, and it is probably also from a former employee or relative who just took time to cut the recipe for her personal use.

In the attached video, the Knoxville Cooking Examiner prepares her slightly tweaked version of this recipe.


  • 1 pound hamburger
  • 2 $1.00 size containers chili powder
  • 1/2 of a 16 ounce box of corn starch
  • 1 gallon of water
  • Small amount of water to thin corn starch
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • LOTS of salt


  1. Crumble the hamburger into the gallon of water.
  2. Add chili powder and salt.
  3. Allow to cook on medium for 2 hours, stirring often.
  4. Mix cornstarch with enough water to make a thin paste.
  5. Turn off heat, and add cornstarch mixture with a whisk.
  6. Continue to stir chili while it thickens.
  7. Add plenty of salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of sugar
  8. If it does not thicken properly, you can place back on the heat for a while.

This is a chili sauce that was probably prepared in this way to make a large amount of chili for a small amount of money. It does not taste like the meaty, tomato-loaded chili we expect today on a hot dog. This was a dark, runny chili sauce that provides a smoky backdrop for the mustard, ketchup and onions, so you should expect a totally different experience.

It is also delicious with Coleslaw. If you would like another traditional Bristol recipe, you can make the Coleslaw from the Belle Meadows Baptist recipe. It is the best I have ever had, and I had to really beg to get the recipe. You can find that here.

Another part of the Buntings experience was the smell and flavor of the dehydrated onions soaking in small amounts of water. You can, of course, use fresh onions, but the dehydrated minced onions will complete the experience.

Bristol truly is a "Good Place to Live," like the sign says. Be sure and like the Bristol City Buzz Examiner on Facebook.

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