The Untold Truth Of Slim Jim

If you've ever taken a road trip, or even stepped foot into a gas station, you've likely seen the fiery Slim Jim packaging trying to taunt you. Chances are the curiosity won and you've given them a taste.

The meaty snack has been around since 1928 but it has taken years to perfect that bold, smoky flavor, according to The New York Times. In fact, the Slim Jim you grab today will differ greatly from the one you would have grabbed 50 years ago — but that doesn't mean it's any less tasty. While you may not really want to know how these savory sticks are made, you can't deny the result is pretty delicious.

The mini sausages, which are smoked for 20 hours, were the perfect grab-and-go snack in the 20th century and still are today. The details of the recipe are sworn to secrecy, and Lon Adams, the developer of the Slim Jim recipe, devoted his years to keeping it classified.

Slim Jims have been a popular staple in American pantries and convenience stores

Adolph Levis, the inventor of Slim Jim, worked closely with delicatessens from the early age of 16 when he used to sell snacks out of his garage during the Depression (via The Chicago Tribune). Levis noted the lack of convenience when it came to snacks — specifically bar snacks. Pickled eggs and nuts weren't substantial enough, and frankly, weren't the tastiest. Since pepperoni was a popular snack, he came to the rescue with a smaller meat stick that was easy to grab and eat.

As far as flavor goes, it wasn't until Lon Adams stepped onto the scene that the recipe was perfected. Adams dedicated his career to Slim Jim — The New York Times even nicknamed him a "towering figure in Jimology" back in 1996. Adams worked at a pork production plant before being welcomed to the Slim Jim crew over at Goodmark. He then became Goodmark Foods' director of meat technology, which his colleagues often referred to as "Principal Scientist."

It took decades to perfect the signature Slim Jim smoky flavor

Eleanor Harrington, Lon Adams' daughter, tells The New York Times that her father would bring home endless boxes of Slim Jims. Harrington and her brother would taste wacky new flavors and help give their father pointers. "They went through barbecue flavor and Italian seasoning and pizza flavor and lots of different ones that never made it to market. I did not like them. I think it was all the testing I had to do as a kid," she shares.

It didn't take long for the snack to be found behind most bars, although not in the packaging we see today. Slim Jims were stored resting in vinegar in glass jars until the late '60s, says Thrillist. Once Slim Jims got their signature packaging, they went from bar snack to any-time-of-day snack. Between updated highway systems and beat literature-inspired road trips, grabbing these smoky sticks became a given when hitting the road.

Slim Jim marketing campaigns were one of a kind

This nationwide favorite has not only morphed in flavor over the years, but in branding and target audience as well. Adolph Levis hoped to add a sophisticated element with his marketing, which is when Slim Jim — the jazzy top hat, cane sporting gentleman — was introduced (via Snack History). Slim Jim's style changed with the times but he was eventually eliminated completed from the packaging.

When it was found that Slim Jims weren't grabbing the attention of health fanatics, the marketing team started advertising the meat stick as a protein-packed snack (which it is). This seemed to appeal to a particular crowd, thanks to Macho Man Randy Savage (via The Atlantic). The pro wrestler was the face of Slim Jim for a huge chunk of the '90s and exclaimed his love for the salty nibble by causing mayhem in TV commercials, the article continues.

Slim Jims may be tasty, but they aren't the healthiest

Something was clearly working — The Atlantic reports that the savory morsel moved on to net hundreds of millions of dollars in sales in the '90s. But what's really in a Slim Jim that makes people love it so much?

For what resembles something as simple as a pepperoni stick, there sure are a lot of ingredients in a Slim Jim. Some may argue that the recipe uses meat products that would otherwise be tossed, and we would never see this price point if the product was organic, which is clear with the introduction of fancy Slim Jim counterparts, The Atlantic tells us. It's unlikely any of the ingredients on your Slim Jim wrapper ring a bell, with additives that hardly sound edible, such as sodium nitrite and dextrose. As Wired says, "It's real meat, all right. But it ain't Kobe." 

New Slim Jim products continue to be released in hopes of reaching new consumers

Once people became more and more health-conscious, there was fear for the future of snack foods like Slim Jims. Processed foods were being left on the shelves, while nutrient-packed veggies were snatched up quickly.

Between a fatal explosion at the only Slim Jim factory in 2009 and powering through a health-focused media world, the snack surprisingly persevered, according to MEL Magazine. The Slim Jim marketing team hopped on the fad, expanding their products to add healthier choices. Today, Slim Jim offers a premium line that advertises the high protein content, full-bodied flavors, and conscious, healthier elements. Slim Jim brand director Spencer Fivelson tells the mag: "One of our most recent initiatives is the introduction of Slim Jim Premium, a meat snack that appeals to a slightly older male consumer."

Not losing touch with their '90s extreme persona, Slim Jim still reels consumers in with product details like: "Whether you're hunting down the elusive Sasquatch, scaling the side of the Empire State Building, lurking around a dark lagoon, morphing your body into a human-sized housefly, or taking an anthropological field trip into the old tombs of a haunted mummy queen, these handy on-the-go snacks can go with you anytime, anywhere," (via Conagra).