Sure, there’s other seasonal food that we get just as excited about, but our special passion for state fair food bafflingly supersedes some of our most basic instincts like imminent health ramifications and guaranteed next-day bathroom liveliness.
So what makes for exciting state fair food? Inventiveness for starters. A pleasing or intriguing appearance is always appealing. Taste, obviously. Bragging rights and the downright bizarre appeal to a certain demographic and blood-alcohol level. Last, pretty much anything on a stick will open wallets—the less suitable a food is for stick delivery, the better.
Below is a selection of some favorites from all these criteria, including a few new items for 2014.
Though legacy tempted us to feature the Wisconsin State Fair’s (Wisconsin State Fair Park, West Allis, July 31-Aug. 10) famous freshly made cream puffs, the 2014 debut of the Peanut Butter Bacon Bison Burger changed our minds on the strength of the photo alone. A 1/3 lb. bison patty is topped with pit-smoked bacon and creamy peanut butter, and served on Texas Toast.Wisconsin State Fair
Winner of the “Most Creative” category of the 2013 Big Tex Choice Awards, this State Fair of Texas (Fair Park, Dallas, Sept. 26-Oct. 19) dish features all the components of a Thanksgiving dinner, including stuffing, turkey and creamed corn, rolled into a ball and deep-fried, then served with cranberry and giblet gravy dipping sauce.Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas
Served at the venerable Ole and Lena’s food stand at the Minnesota State Fair (Minnesota State Fairgrounds, St. Paul, Aug. 21-Sept. 1), Hotdish on a Stick is both ingenious and quintessentially Minnesotan. Tater tots and meat are skewered, dipped in cornmeal batter, fried and served with cream of mushroom and hamburger gravy.the queen of subtle/Flickr
Minnesota craft brewery Lift Bridge is responsible for this fair-inspired creation: a malty, sweet, modestly hoppy beer served in a glass rimmed with cinnamon and sugar, just like a mini donut, except with 5 percent alcohol. The taste similarity to Tom Thumb mini donuts is downright uncanny.Minnesota State Fair
This classed-up, down-home creation is all goodness. Battered meatloaf and tater tots, fried and skewered, with a glaze of red pepper and Minnesota-made wine.Minnesota State Fair
Amazingly, state fair food can be healthy. Answering the call for something that isn’t an immediate health concern, Iowa’s Salad Bowl developed this kabob-style Salad on a Stick at the Iowa State Fair (Iowa State Fairgrounds, Des Moines, Aug. 7-17), made up of iceberg lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, red and green peppers and tomatoes, served with dressing.Iowa State Fair
This dish is decidedly not Minnesotan, but oh-so intriguing. Baskets of battered and fried alligator (sourced from Florida) charmingly come with alligator-shaped fries. Amazingly, each serving is only 217 calories.rachelkramerbussel.com/Flickr
More of a dare than something one might savor, the Maggot Melt at the Colorado State Fair (Colorado State Fairgrounds, Pueblo, Aug. 22-Sept. 1), made at Jungle George’s, has also been seen at the Arizona and California state fairs. It’s essentially a grilled cheese sandwich topped with a handful of freeze-dried maggots that give it a (dis)satisfying crunch.bayareabrats/Flickr
Also a previous “Most Creative” award winner at the Big Tex Choice Awards, this diabolically tempting and unhealthy treat consists of deep-fried Coca-Cola-flavored batter sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, drizzled with Coke syrup and topped with whipped cream and a cherry.krystal.pritchett/Flickr
Texas just keeps on giving in the “I Can’t Believe It’s Fried!” culinary arena. This concoction is actually a marshmallow dipped/infused with bubblegum extract, then fried and topped with blue icing and Chiclets.Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas
Debuted in 2013, deep-fried gummy bears were the talk of the Ohio State Fair (Ohio Expo Center, Columbus, July 23-Aug. 3). A 5-inch cherry gummy bear is deep-fried in one’s choice of vanilla or chocolate batter, then dusted with powered sugar.Ohio State Fair
It was an inevitable pairing, right? Starting in 2014, Mancini’s Al Fresco will be making their rich, smooth and creamy beer gelato fresh daily, on-site no less, blended with Minnesota craft beer.Minnesota State Fair
New to the 2014 menu, the Sandwich Stop has concocted what many of us have dreamily wished for during the bus ride to work. (Though probably only once a week, for our health.) American and Swiss cheeses, a sausage patty, an egg and Canadian bacon are sandwiched between two pancakes, dipped in a light, sweet batter, skewered onto a stick and deep-fried.Minnesota State Fair
Making its debut in 2014, Dipped in Chocolate will be selling this figurative and literal mouthful of an item, which really needs no further elaboration.Iowa State Fair
Leif Pettersen is a freelance writer, humorist, world traveler and “wine enthusiast” from Minneapolis, Minn. He has been a juggler since he was 12 years old, types with exactly four fingers and has not vomited since 1993, making him a consummate travel journalist and excellent party guest. Follow him on Twitter @leifpettersen.
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