Utah Eats: Mitt Romney’s unusual food habits — hot dogs, Twinkies, and salmon with ketchup

Americans haven’t just debated the Utah senator’s politics, but also the things he eats.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Mitt Romney cuts into a massive stack of pancakes at Sill's Cafe in Layton during his 2018 campaign for the U.S. Senate. Sitting next to him is his wife, Ann Romney.

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When Sen. Mitt Romney announced he would not be seeking reelection in 2024, many pundits wrote about his stance as a Republican moderate, his courage in voting to convict President Donald Trump in his impeachment trials, and the rejection he faced from his own party

And a reminder of one of Romney’s more baffling traits: His odd relationship with food.

The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins — in an excerpt released last week from his upcoming biography, “Romney: A Reckoning” — recounted what Utah’s junior senator would often have for dinner when eating alone in his Washington townhouse.

“On the day of my first visit, he showed me his freezer, which was full of salmon filets that had been given to him by Lisa Murkowski, the senator from Alaska,” Coppins wrote. “He didn’t especially like salmon but found that if he put it on a hamburger bun and smothered it in ketchup, it made for a serviceable meal.”

Many seafood lovers wondered who would do that to a nice piece of fish. Sen. Murkowski, in a post on X (formerly Twitter) praising Romney for his Senate service, added “even if he’s wrong about salmon!”

Luke Winkie, a staff writer for Slate, tried Romney’s recipe — though not without opposition in his own house. “‘I can’t watch you do this,’ said my girlfriend, who was sitting at the kitchen table and trying to get some work done. ‘Like, I genuinely think I might throw up,’” Winkie wrote.

Winkie’s verdict: “It somehow tasted worse than I expected. … The gobs of ketchup did not obfuscate the fish; instead, it robbed the salmon of all of its wonderful qualities — the oiliness, the seaborne tartness, the lean fat — leaving only a pellet of dank ocean funk encased in slimy, vibeless, tomato product. It felt like eating a lunchable.”

In 2018, when Romney was running for the U.S. Senate, he told a group of Utah supporters what meat he preferred to salmon.

“My favorite meat is hot dog, by the way. That is my favorite meat,” he said, according to a report in the Washington Examiner at the time. “My second favorite meat is hamburger. And, everyone says, oh, don’t you prefer steak? It’s like, I know steaks are great, but I like hot dog best, and I like hamburger next best.”

In July 2021, Romney doubled down on his hot dog love, bringing Jayson Edwards, the owner of Provo-based J.Dawgs, to D.C. to feed a group of Republican senators. Romney also provided other Utah-based foods: Pioneer Chips (including the Funeral Potatoes flavor), Perry’s Ice Cream (the Graham Canyon flavor), chocolate milk from the Brigham Young University Creamery, and a goodie bag that included Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, honey, Utah Truffles, Apple Beer and Montie’s chocolate-covered dried tart cherries.

Another favorite food of Romney’s is Twinkies — in 2019, his staff made a birthday cake of Twinkies for the senator. The event drew commentary for the nontraditional way Romney blew out the candles, by plucking the candles out and blowing on each one individually. (To be fair, Romney later said he had a cold and didn’t want to spread it.)

Presidential campaigns are known for food-centered moments, and Romney’s 2012 run produced some notable culinary gaffes:

At a stop in Pennsylvania, Romney made a joke that insulted a local bakery’s cookies. “I’m not sure about these cookies,” he said. “They don’t look like you made them. No, no. They came from the 7-Eleven bakery, or whatever.” The bakery held a “CookieGate” sale that raised weekly sales 132%; the local office of Barack Obama’s campaign reportedly bought five orders.

Also in Pennsylvania, Romney ordered a “sub” at a Wawa convenience store — offending people in a part of the country where such a sandwich is called a “hoagie.”

Campaigning in Mississippi, Romney told a crowd he “got started this morning right with a biscuit and cheesy grits.” Commentators noted that, down South, they’re called “cheese grits.”

On a stop in Iowa, Romney asked an aide, “Would you see that one of those chocolate uhh ahm … chocolate goodies finds its way on our ride?” Romney seemed to forget the word “doughnut.”

Also during that 2012 campaign, The New York Times reported, Romney’s wife, Ann, gave away the secret recipe to another of her husband’s favorite foods: Meatloaf cakes, small round units of cooked hamburger in a sweet sauce.

“The reason he likes it,” Ann Romney said, laughing, “it’s brown sugar and ketchup.”