The Best Fair Foods of 2021

Feast your eyes on boozy hand pies, pickle pizza and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos funnel cake.

August 11, 2021

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

The fair spells fun whether it’s a local carnival, county or a big-deal state event. And while we love the jubilant vibes, crazy rides, live music and silly games, we’re really just here for the food. You can count on fair staples like funnel cakes, corn dogs, cotton candy and deep-fried everything, but each year vendors flex their culinary creativity trying to out-do themselves and win over fair-goers’ tastebuds for best-in-show bragging rights. And we are here for it!

This year, fair food vendors got really creative with funnel cake, garnishing the golden dough with toppings ranging from Fruity Pebbles to crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Vendors dabbled in clever mashups too, including a pretzel-everything-bagel hybrid, a pizza-burger masterpiece and a breakfast-ready cinnamon-roll-cheese-curds creation. There were more vegan options than ever, plus regional spins on comfort food classics, and plenty of sweet-savory combos to sate all your fair food cravings. Read on for the best new and quintessential fair foods of 2021!

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Atomic Strawberry Shortcake by Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers

We’ve got nothing but love for deep-fried Oreos, but sometimes dessert cravings skew on the fruitier side. The folks at Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers have Iowa State Fair goers covered with a shareable sensation called the Atomic Strawberry Shortcake. Their signature biscuit is layered in between hand-dipped ice cream, fresh strawberries and whipped cream, then wreathed with a cap of whipped cream and a whole strawberry garnish.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Indiana State Fair

Photo courtesy of Indiana State Fair

BBQ Suga (Sh-uga) Momma by Gobble Gobble Food Truck

Many Indiana State Fair guests are familiar with Gobble Gobble Food Truck’s Mac Daddy, in which their signature pulled barbecue turkey is served atop gooey mac and cheese. One year, the team came up with a fried egg roll version stuffed with the barbecue and mac and cheese! This year, the Gobble Gobble Food Truck debuted the BBQ Suga Momma, an irresistible, sweet-savory mash-up starring pulled barbecue turkey sandwiched between two fresh glazed doughnuts. Gobble gobble, indeed!

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Blue Raspberry Blitzed by Sara’s Tipsy Pies

At Stillwater, Minnesota bakery Sara’s Tipsy Pies, the "proof" is in the pie. At this year’s Minnesota State Fair, it’s giving the classic hand pie a boozy upgrade with a number they’re calling Blue Raspberry Blitzed. A tender pocket of dough is stuffed with a mix of raspberries, blueberries and apples that’s infused with UV Blue Vodka, baked till golden and sprinkled with cotton candy sugar. Other booze-infused pie staples you’ll find at their fair booth include a vegan Irish whiskey apple pie, a boozy blueberry-lemon creation and a savory brown ale, onion and Gouda pie.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Buffalo Chicken Doughscuit by The Blue Barn

We love a good food mashup, and the Buffalo Chicken Doughscuit by The Blue Barn hits the mark with a particularly clever combo. These flavor bombs, dropping at this year’s Minnesota State Fair, are anchored by their signature doughscuit, a cross between a doughnut and a biscuit. The batter is infused with spiced and shredded buffalo chicken that’s seasoned to "Minnesota spicy" (not too spicy), then fried in a broaster. Out of the fryer, the buffalo chicken doughscuits are glazed with a hot-sauce-laced vanilla icing then topped with toasted panko bread crumbs, bacon crumbles and a scattering of chopped parsley. Wash it down with a ginger shandy.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Fair

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Fair

Chicken Bacon Ranch Cheese Curd Taco by Richie’s Cheese Curd Tacos

Fried cheese curds — golden nuggets of deep-fried "squeaky" fresh cheese — are a staple at carnivals and fairs across the Midwest. At the Wisconsin State Fair, the curds even get the taco treatment. Richie’s Cheese Curd Tacos’ latest creation is a Chicken Bacon Ranch Cheese Curd Taco. It features a flour tortilla that’s stuffed with grilled chicken, bacon and lightly battered ranch-flavored cheese curds. The whole lot is fried until the shell is crispy and golden, then finished with a flurry of shredded iceberg lettuce and a drizzle of ranch dressing.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Chicken & Macaroni Nordic Waffle and I-Scream Waffle Sandwich by Nordic Waffles

Nordic Waffles’ owner Stine "Waffle Queen" Aasland continues to live up to her nickname with two all-new waffle wraps at this year’s Minnesota State fair. Chef Luis Carrillo is responsible for executing the dishes, including the savory Chicken & Macaroni Nordic Waffle, a riff on Southern chicken ‘n’ waffles in which a spicy fried chicken drumstick and cheesy macaroni are wrapped in a warm Nordic waffle and drizzled with local purveyor BARE honey. Sate your sweet tooth with an I-Scream Waffle Sandwich, where a whole ice cream sandwich is tucked into a Nordic waffle and topped with kettle corn, chocolate drizzle and sprinkles.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

ChoriPOP by Andy’s Garage

Since 2008, Andy’s Garage has served up American classics and Mexican comfort food at Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market. This year, father-son owners Frank and Icarus Chase will make their Minnesota State Fair debut with a vegan take on the typical meat-on-a-stick fare. The ChoriPOP features vegan chorizo made by local vegan butcher, The Herbivorous Butcher, that’s skewered on a stick, dipped in corndog batter and deep-fried. It’s finished with either a drizzle of avocado salsa or mole sauce, though you can also opt to order the sauce on the side — all the better to dunk the accompanying vegan Mexican BBQ chips into.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Fair

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Fair

Cinnamon Roll and Bacon Cheese Curds by Slim’s Lakefront Brew Pub & Eatery

Fresh cheese is a blank canvas, and the folks at Slim’s Lakefront Brew Pub & Eatery have taken this notion and run with it, dreaming up a clever sweet-savory riff on Wisconsin’s ubiquitous cheese curds. Their latest creation for the Wisconsin State Fair showcases curds that are dipped in a sweet beer batter studded with crispy bacon, dredged in a mix of flour, cinnamon and powdered sugar, then deep fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar. To gild the lily, the curds are drizzled with a lush cream cheese frosting and strewn with bacon crumbles. If you needed a reason to eat cheese curds for breakfast, this is your best excuse.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Kings Concessions

Photo courtesy of Kings Concessions

Coconut Crème Funnel Cake by King’s Food Service

At their Gourmet Funnel Cake Stand at the Indiana State Fair, King’s Food Service offers a wide range of fantastic flavor combinations. Think: red velvet, cookies and cream, and peanut butter cup. Their latest, Coconut Creme Funnel Cake, features funnel cake dusted with powdered sugar, drizzled with vanilla pudding, festooned with toasted coconut and dolloped with whipped cream. Wash it down with a cup of the fan-favorite, fresh-brewed sweet tea. You’ll also find the gourmet funnel cakes at the DuQuoin State Fair in Illinois and the State Fair of Texas.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Kevin Brown State Fair of Texas

Photo courtesy of Kevin Brown State Fair of Texas

Corny Dog by Fletcher’s Corny Dogs

The State Fair of Texas has earned a reputation for its Big Tex Choice Awards food contest, where wacky and whimsical dishes reign supreme. But it’s not a day at the fair without a corn dog — that is, a Fletcher’s Corny Dog. Fletcher’s Corny Dogs has been a fair fixture since 1942, when brothers Neil and Carl Fletcher invented and debuted their famous meal-on-a-stick. Each year, over 500,000 corny dogs — the equivalent of 60,000 pounds of hot dogs — are sold during the fair’s 24-day run. Fletcher’s has delighted celebs with their corny dogs, too, including Oprah Winfrey, the Jonas Brothers and Julia Child.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of New Mexico State Fair

Photo courtesy of New Mexico State Fair

Deep-Fried Green Chile Cheeseburger by Rex’s Hamburgers

At the New Mexico State Fair, anything with green chiles is bound to be a hit. When you add them to a burger and deep-fry it, it adds up to an irresistible fair food dish. Fairgoers can find the burger at Rex’s Hamburgers, a local institution that has sold their burgers at the fair for more than 50 years. Rex’s is no stranger to competition, either. In 2019, it entered the New Mexico State Fair’s Unique Foods Contest with a Chocolate Chip Green Chile Cheeseburger. As they say at the fair, anything goes!

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Fair

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State Fair

Deep-Fried Wisconsin Fish Fry by Water State Brewery

Vendors love putting a regional spin on fair food, and Water State Brewery is no exception. All the classic components of a classic Wisconsin fish fry are wrapped up into one delicious, deep-fried bite. German-style coleslaw and French fries are rolled inside North Atlantic cod filets, rolled in flour, then dipped in a caraway-rye-laced beer batter made with Water State Brewery Honey Lager Light. Each parcel is deep fried until golden brown and served with a side of lemon and house made tartar sauce.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State-Fair

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin State-Fair

Everything Brat-zel by Gertrude’s Fresh Pretzels

Hot dogs are classic carnival cuisine and bratwurst are a summertime grilling staple in Wisconsin. But Gertrude’s Fresh Pretzels cleverly ups the ante for the Wisconsin State Fair with the Everything Brat-zel, wrapping fresh pretzel dough around a 10-inch Johnsonville Bratwurst. The pretzel-dogs are baked till golden, then brushed with butter and sprinkled it with roasted garlic everything bagel seasoning. Think of it as a pretzel-meets-everything-bagel — it just might be your new fair-going breakfast of champions! Don’t forget to dunk each bite in a side of creamy Dusseldorf mustard.

Photo by: Dick Patrick

Dick Patrick

Fernie’s Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake by Winter Family Concessions

The Big Tex® Choice Awards at the State Fair of Texas is the big leagues of fair food competition. This year marks the 17th annual contest and there are no shortage of clever, creative creations. In the sweet category, Winter Family Concessions has dreamed up Fernie’s Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake, a doughnut-coffee-cake mash-up. Pieces of lightly glazed, old fashioned cake donuts are combined with a velvety custard chockful of buttery English toffee baking morsels and crunchy almonds, then the bread-pudding-like mixture is set in ring molds. The cakes are dipped in an egg wash, covered with panko breadcrumbs and vanilla cookie crumbs, then fried till golden brown, yielding a crispy exterior and gooey, butter cake interior. The dessert is plated with a dusting of powdered sugar, sprinkled with toffee bits and a dollop of mocha whipped cream, a clever nod to the classic duo of doughnuts and coffee. For a final flourish, the cake is capped off with a miniature chocolate-covered toffee bar.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Funnel Cake by The Best Around Funnel Cake

There’s funnel cake, and then there’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Funnel Cake. The team at The Best Around Funnel Cake has outdone itself with this best-in-show contender at the Iowa State Fair. The mind-bending flavor combination soups up funnel cake mix with cornmeal, spices, fresh jalapenos and crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The mixture is fried until golden and crunchy, then the hot funnel cake is topped with nacho cheese and a Cheetos garnish.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Indiana State Fair

Photo courtesy of Indiana State Fair

Fruity Pebbles Funnel Cake by Monroe Concessions

A day at the fair means there aren’t really any set meal times, but Monroe Concessions makes the case for funnel cake for breakfast with its Fruity Pebbles Funnel Cake, debuting at the Indiana State Fair. Freshly made golden funnel cake is dusted with powdered sugar, drizzled with their signature icing, and scattered with an ample helping of Fruity Pebbles cereal. #BreakfastofChampions.

Mobile

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair

Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair

Gelato Nachos by Funky Flamingo

Nachos are a comfort food snack staple, and at this year’s Florida State Fair they got the Funky Flamingo treatment. The Gelato Nachos start with chips made from their proprietary Dutch stroopwafel recipe, followed by your choice of soft-serve gelato in flavors such as Salted Caramel, Tutti Fruitti, Espresso or Cheesecake, then finished with drizzles and sprinkles. The Funky Flamingo also offered a gelato taco version at the Florida State Fair.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Kerala Fried Chicken Kati Roll by Hot Indian

Hot Indian’s street-food-inspired fare has been a fan-favorite at the Minnesota State Fair’s Midtown Global Market booth. This year, you’ll find them in their new booth in the Food Building where they’ll unveil the Kerala Fried Chicken Kati Roll. The sandwich features chicken tenders that are marinated in a proprietary blend of spices, battered and fried, then tucked into paratha and topped with chutneys and slaw. Paneer Pakora served with tomato butter will also join the new menu line-up, alongside returning favorites such as Butter Chicken Samosas, Bhel Puri, Sweet Veg Samosas and Mango Lassi.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Indiana State Fair

Photo courtesy of Indiana State Fair

Loaded Brat by Black Leaf Vegan

Black Leaf Vegan, owned by Derrick and Taria Slack, is a popular, family-run vegan food truck in Indianapolis. At this year’s Indiana State Fair, they’re making history as the first all-vegan food vendor in the fair’s 165-year history. For their inaugural run, Black Leaf Vegan is serving a Loaded Brat. It stars vegan Beyond Sausage (which is also soy- and gluten-free) tucked into a vegan and nut-free bun and topped with grilled onions and peppers, coleslaw and vegan cheese. What really takes things to the next level are the house-made special sauces, which include vegan teriyaki BBQ and vegan ranch.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Peanut Butter and Fluff Cookie Dough by Dipped in Chocolate by Oasis Concessions

Forget the soft serve cone or standard slushie. For an ideal frozen sweet treat on a hot summer day at the fair, opt for a helping of Peanut Butter and Fluff Cookie Dough. Oasis Concessions is known for their dipped-in-chocolate creations, and their latest showcases cookie dough made with peanut butter, marshmallow fluff and puffed chocolate cereal that’s frozen on a stick and dipped-to-order in chocolate, forming a crisp shell around the frozen cookie dough. It all adds up to a sweet, creamy treat with a hint of texture from the crispy puffed cereal.

New Food

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair

Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair

Peanut Butter and Spicy Jelly Tater Tots by Swift Concessions Tots

File this one under: Don’t knock it till you try it. Peanut butter on top of burgers is nothing new, but Swift Concessions Tots has tested the boundaries of peanut butter in savory dishes with their latest creation. Their Peanut Butter and Spicy Jelly Tater Tots debuted at this year’s Florida State Fair to much fanfare. The fried golden nuggets were drizzled with peanut butter and spicy jelly, creating a messy but delicious, sweet-salty mouthful.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Peanut Butter Squealer by Waffle Chix

Waffle Chix has earned a reputation at the Iowa State Fair for their line of savory waffle dishes on a stick. Their latest reads like a gourmet brunch special, starring maple-infused breakfast sausage baked inside a sweet Belgian waffle and slathered with peanut butter topping. The portable breakfast treat hits the mark with a sweet-savory flavor profile and a dose of crunch, thanks to a generous coating of bacon crumbles.

Mobile

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair

Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair

Pickle Pizza by Angela’s Concessions

Pickle lovers, rejoice! No longer relegated to mere condiment, pickles took a starring turn as bona-fide topping on a pickle pizza at this year’s Florida State Fair. Angela’s Concessions’ pickle pizza starts with a white garlic sauce base topped with mozzarella and dill pickle slices. After the pie is pulled out of the oven, it’s garnished with a flurry of ranch and dill seasoning for an extra hit of pickle flair.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Pizza Lucy by Green Mill

Minnesota is known for the Juicy Lucy, a signature burger with a cheese-stuffed patty. For their latest Minnesota State Fair creation, Green Mill is flipping the switch with their Pizza Lucy. A sausage patty topped with pizza sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella is stuffed inside their homemade pizza dough and topped with Italian seasoning, cheese and crumbled pepperoni. The burger-pizza hybrid makes for a hearty, portable bite — and unlike the Juicy Lucy, there’s little chance you’ll burn your lips on the molten cheese.

Photo by: Dick Patrick

Dick Patrick

Pork Shots by Hans Mueller

At the State Fair of Texas, the competition is steep no matter the category. But in the realm of savory snacking sensations, Glen and Sherri Kusak, the duo behind vendor Hans Mueller, have come up with a bite-sized treat that packs a huge flavor wallop. Their Pork Shots start with a base of Texas smoked sausage that’s wrapped with hickory smoked bacon, forming a miniature bowl that gets filled with creamy mac and cheese. The Kusaks sprinkle the outside with a secret sweet-spicy BBQ rub that pulls all the savory flavors together into a knockout bite that reminds you that everything, including flavor, really is bigger in Texas. The pork shots are served as a shareable treat, but we won’t blame you if you keep the whole order for yourself.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of DeAnnas Steak Sundae Trailer

Photo courtesy of DeAnnas Steak Sundae Trailer

Surf ‘N’ Turf Sundae by DeAnna’s Steak Sundae Trailer

Brother-sister team Ryan and Shawna Hagy, aka The Sundae Squad, have made their name with inventive riffs on savory sundaes, like the namesake steak, or shrimp and grits. But their latest creation is so popular, fairgoers have been known to come back for seconds. The Surf ‘N’ Turf Sundae features a cup of freshly cut fries topped with cheese, bacon, sour cream, a duo of sauteed Cajun shrimp and sirloin steak, all pulled together with Cajun gravy. The Surf ‘N’ Turf Sundae debuted at the Florida State Fair but will be featured at other fairs across the country.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Tennessee Twinkies by Chicken City

True to its name, vendor Chicken City is known for its smoked chicken, be it chicken legs or its signature pulled chicken sandwich. At this year’s Iowa State Fair, the smoked chicken takes is showcased in a best new fair food contender called Tennessee Twinkies. Three smoked jalapenos are cored and stuffed with a mix of smoked chicken, pepper jack cheese and cream cheese, then wrapped in bacon and fried to crispy-spicy-savory delight.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Arizona State Fair

Photo courtesy of Arizona State Fair

Watermelon Dole Whip Tajin Taco by Dole Whip Nitro Stand

At the Arizona State Fair, even fruit gets the taco treatment. A jumbo slice of sugary-sweet watermelon is hollowed out like a taco shell and then filled with pineapple Dole whip, a dairy-free frozen soft-serve. To keep things from becoming cloying, the fruity sweet treat gets a dusting of Tajin, a zippy Mexican spice blend of mild dried chilies, dehydrated lime and sea salt. The whole thing is then garnished with a Tamarindo candy straw.

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