50 States of Fair Food
Fair food’s deep-fried reputation has gotten a makeover, thanks to food line-ups that highlight pride-of-state agriculture, regional foodways and local vendors. Fairgoers can sip California wine slushies in a wine garden, order a Nebraska beef Reuben burger from a chuck wagon or savor Vermont maple syrup soft serve in a sugar house. The fried goodies are here too, but even deep-fried fair classics like funnel cake, burgers and candy get the local treatment. Step right up to fair bites worthy of the blue ribbon.
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Florida: Strawberry Lemonade Sweetcake Sundae
Whimsical food creations are as common at fairs as oversized stuffed animals, but the Florida State Fair features a real showstopper from DeAnna’s Food. Owners Ryan and Shawna Hagy, aka the Sundae Squad, put their food truck on the culinary map with their inventive savory creations served in sundae cups. But at the Florida State Fair, they switch it up with the Strawberry Lemonade Sweetcake Sundae inspired by Florida’s peak strawberry season that coincides with the fair’s February calendar date. Each one starts with a homemade sweetcake that hits the pastry trifecta: it’s made from a biscuit-style dough, fried like a doughnut but eats like a flaky croissant. The Hagys coat fried sweetcake pieces in cinnamon sugar and drizzle them with lemonade buttercream, then pile on fresh Florida strawberry slices and homemade whipped cream. Lemon zest and a squirt of lemon juice add a bright finish.
Ohio: Deep-Fried Buckeyes
Ohio’s Buckeye State nickname is inspired by the state tree: the buckeye. The tree produces buckeye nuts, and though they’re inedible, they’ve inspired a namesake treat that’s made in chocolate shops and home kitchens statewide. To mimic the appearance of a buckeye nut, the confection’s peanut butter center is partially dipped in chocolate. And at the Ohio State Fair, this iconic treat gets the deep-fried treatment, thanks to the Bulk Candy Store. The buckeyes are battered, deep-fried, then drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It has become such a popular treat that the vendor travels to other state fairs to spread the buckeye love.
New Mexico: Green Chile Navajo Taco
The smoky scent of bonfires may mark the arrival of fall in other states, but in New Mexico, it’s the smell of roasting green chiles that heralds the change of season. Mounds of the freshly-roasted peppers beckon from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots, and they also get plenty of play at the New Mexico State Fair held in Albuquerque every September. For the quintessential New Mexico bite, opt for Navajo tacos topped with roasted, peeled and chopped green chiles. Made of Navajo fry bread, a fried round of dough that’s pillowy-soft inside and golden-crisp outside, the tacos come topped with seasoned ground beef, pinto beans, cheese, lettuce, onions, tomato and plenty of the spicy peppers. Look for Navajo fry bread and tacos in the Indian Village at vendors like Zina’s Blue Corn Café, Navajo Café, Native Café and Harvest Café.
Texas: Injectable Great Balls of BBQ
The "everything is bigger in Texas" motto rings true at the Lone Star State’s fair. Held for 24 consecutive days, the State Fair of Texas draws more than two million people annually and features a mascot known as Big Tex, a 55-foot talking cowboy who dons a 95-gallon cowboy hat and size 96 cowboy boots. The fair is also known for its outsize creativity, particularly showcased during the Big Tex Choice Awards food competition, which features such over-the-top treats as Injectable Great Balls of BBQ (a 2016 finalist). To make them, smoked-then-shredded beef brisket is mixed with bock barbecue sauce laced with a German-style lager. Once thoroughly drenched, the brisket is rolled in seasoned bread crumbs and deep-fried until golden, then served on a bed of coleslaw. The kicker? Each order comes with its own pipette of bock BBQ sauce to inject another blast of barbecue flavor.
For a sweet taste of Washington tradition, look no further than the Washington State Fair. Commonly known as the Puyallup Fair after its namesake town, it is one of the largest state fairs in the country. But more importantly for food-minded attendees, it also happens to have scones on lock. Fisher Scones have been a fair staple for more than 100 years, with more than one million sold annually over the course of the 20-day festivities. Served hot from the oven, each scone comes slathered with whipped sweet honey butter spread and raspberry jam.
Nevada: Basque Fries
Gardnerville is home to the Basque Fry, an annual festival that honors Nevada’s Basque heritage, concentrated in the northern part of the state. For a classic taste of Basque country, head to Liberty Food & Wine Exchange’s booth for a serving of Basque fries, also known as lamb testicles. The meat is thinly sliced and tenderized with a mallet, marinated in milk overnight, battered and dredged in lightly seasoned bread crumbs, then fried until golden. No ordinary ketchup will do for this delicacy. Instead, each order is accompanied by a Basque ketchup seasoned with smoked paprika and piment d'espelette. This classic dish not only nods to Basque tradition, it also reflects the whole animal philosophy of Mark Estee, chef and owner of Liberty Food. He puts it into practice at his brick-and-mortar spot in downtown Reno, which offers festival-ready Basque chorizo as part of its in-house charcuterie program.
Wisconsin: Original Cream Puffs
Food has become its own attraction at the Wisconsin State Fair, which draws more than one million attendees to West Allis every August. There are more than 200 food and drink vendors to choose from, but for a taste of Wisconsin’s best-known agricultural export, focus on dairy-inspired dishes like deep-fried cheese curds, grilled cheese sandwiches and buttery corn on the cob. An absolute must, though, is the Original Cream Puff. Created in 1924 by the Wisconsin Bakers Association to highlight the state’s wheat and dairy industries, the treat remains the longest continuously offered food item at the fair. Stop by the Original Cream Puff Pavilion to snag this pillowy pastry, which features a sweet, whipped cream center sandwiched between two pate a choux shells dusted with powdered sugar. The staff literally works 24/7 for two weeks to keep up with demand, dishing out 350,000-400,000 cream puffs annually.
South Carolina: Shrimp n Grits Sundae
Ryan Hagy, owner of DeAnna’s Food, was inspired to create his food truck’s signature dish so that he could enjoy two of his favorite offerings on the go. He loaded French fries and grilled sirloin steak into a sundae cup and a fair favorite was born — the dish has even been featured on Cooking Channel’s Carnival Eats. Hagy has given other classic meals this same treatment, even tackling that iconic Southern staple: shrimp and grits. Find his Shrimp n Grits Sundae at the South Carolina State Fair and the Coastal Carolina Fair. Hagy starts with local stone ground grits, which he soaks before cooking to ensure a creamy texture. He simmers them with crumbled bacon, cheddar, Gouda and cream cheese, then piles them in a sundae cup along with marinated white shrimp. As for the shrimp, Hagy sautees them with Cajun seasoning until the marinade reduces into a sauce. Order like a pro and ask for extra Cajun sauce, then add optional "sundae toppings" like garlic-butter mushrooms and grilled onions and peppers.
Arizona: Fry Bread
The Sunset State spares fairgoers from soaring summer temperatures by holding the Arizona State Fair in October, but you’ll still find plenty of sizzle at the food stands in the form of fry bread (aka Navajo bread). Typified by a texture that’s somewhere between a doughnut and a tortilla, this iconic treat features a simple dough made of flour and water. It’s fried in hot oil, then festooned with sweet toppings like powdered sugar and honey or a sundae-inspired medley of strawberries, ice cream and whipped cream. Fry bread can also go savory with taco-inspired fillings, in which case it’s known as a Navajo taco. Score classic and creative renditions of both preparations at the following stands: B&J Kokopeli, J&L Teepee Village, Maile & Son Indian Frybread, Navajo Taco Stand and MAE Indian Frybread.
Maine: Blueberry Crepe
The small town of Fryeburg put itself on the festival map back in 1851 when it started hosting the Fryeburg Fair. It’s a long-standing tradition for many Maine natives, including vendor Melanie Roy, who started her Crepe Bar business after years of attending the event as a regular fairgoer. She goes all out by stuffing her homemade crepes with gourmet fillings, such as spiced Maine blueberry compote and signature vanilla bean whipped cream. Get a taste of both with the Maine Blueberry Crepe, which also features fresh blueberries. Craving a classic? Stick with the Date Night Crepe, which brings together the traditional combination of Nutella, strawberries and whipped cream (albeit Roy’s vanilla bean version). While you wait for your order, grab a piece of chalk and add your artwork to the truck’s handwritten chalkboard menu.
California: Wine Slushie
For more than 160 years, the California State Fair has highlighted the state’s deep agricultural roots — there’s even a three-and-a-half acre working farm where attendees can visit stations and talk to farmers to learn about seasonal produce and earn a piece of farm-fresh fruit. For farm-to-glass refreshment, head to the Save Mart Wine Garden to sip on winning state wines from the California State Commercial Wine Competition. Anyone is welcome to enter the garden (though you must be 21 to consume) and it’s a particularly popular spot for its shade and cooling misters. The real refreshment, though, comes in the form of wine slushies, including WiLD Vines’ blackberry or strawberry and Madria Sangria Moscato, an icy white sangria with peach and apple notes.
Missouri: Black Walnut-Topped Salad
The Missouri State Fair prides itself on its deep agricultural roots and its commitment to Missouri-grown products. While all vendors are encouraged to source locally, perhaps no booth does it better than the AgriMissouri Bistro, a sit-down restaurant that serves farm-to-table breakfasts and lunches created in partnership with a local culinary school. Ingredients from more than 30 Missouri farmers and ranchers are transformed into fresh meals that go well beyond basic fair food. Case in point: the build-your-own Bistro salad gets a touch of bold, earthy flavor (and hearty crunch) from the American Black Walnut, which is the official tree nut of the state. Additional toppings for this popular salad include pulled pork, goat cheese and fresh blackberries. Fairgoers can also stock up on locally-made staples like jam, barbecue sauce, beef sticks and cheese from the adjacent AgriMissouri Market.
Vermont: Maple Creamee
With Vermont being the country’s largest producer of maple syrup, you can bet this sweet staple gets plenty of play at the state fair held in Rutland. In fact, the Vermont State Fair is home to the world’s largest working sugar house on any fairgrounds. It’s operated by the Rutland County Maple Producers, who turn out maple confections like maple peanut brittle, maple cotton candy and maple cream-glazed donuts. You can even get your licks of it in a frozen treat that also showcases the state’s top-notch dairy. The Maple Creamee is a vanilla-based soft serve blended with dark-grade, pure Vermont maple syrup. It seems like a simple combination, but many hours of recipe testing went into ensuring that the syrup’s robust maple flavor just overtakes the vanilla. Want to keep the maple magic going? Buy a bottle of syrup to take home; a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Foley Cancer Center.
Springfield, Illinois, may well be the original source of a beloved fair staple: the corn dog on a stick. The Cozy Dog Drive-In claims to have served the first one in 1946, thus setting the trend in motion. It’s fitting, then, that Springfield is also home to the Illinois State Fair where long-time vendor Vose’s Korndogs serves its take on the classic. The stand has been owned by the same family for more than 50 years, with three generations learning the secret to frying up a perfectly crisp corn dog. It all starts with making sure the hot dog is completely dry before dipping it in the signature batter. Once coated, the dog is fried for exactly three minutes to ensure just the right amount of crunch. Fairgoers aren’t the only ones who can’t get enough of this coveted treat — performers including Montgomery Gentry and Willie Nelson have requested Vose’s Korndogs by name.
Massachusetts: Pumpkin Whoopie Pie
Every fall, the Topsfield Fair hosts the All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, boasting winners that have weighed in at 2,000 pounds or more. Prefer a taste of fall tucked into a smaller package? Head to the cleverly named Whoopie Wagon, where local bakery Topsfield Bakeshop turns out a pumpkin-inspired treat so popular that it sells out daily. This pumpkin whoopie pie features a cream cheese-and-vanilla buttercream filling sandwiched by two pumpkin spiced cake rounds generously dusted with powdered sugar.
Idaho: Idaho Ice Cream Potato
With Idaho being one of the top-producing dairy states, ice cream is a no-brainer at summer fairs. But one booth at the Western Idaho Fair in Boise goes all out with a frozen treat inspired by the official state vegetable. The Idaho Ice Cream Potato is a sundae cleverly disguised as a baked potato: vanilla ice cream stands in for the potato, cocoa powder dusted on the outside mimics potato skin and a mound of whipped cream calls to mind sour cream. The ice cream potato comes perched on a slick of chocolate syrup and festooned with nuts and crushed Oreos, not to mention more chocolate sauce. Though it’s a longstanding fair tradition, the dish took home top honors at The Fair Food Showdown in 2017 for Best Sugar Rush and Best Crowd Pleaser. In addition to its annual appearance at the fair, this ice cream potato is available year-round at Westside Drive In.
New Hampshire: Lobster Roll
Reel in a restaurant-worthy taste of classic New England coastal cuisine at the Seacoast Extreme Country Fair, where Coast2Coast Caterers serves an impeccable lobster roll from Chef Dan Crook. The Maine native sticks close to tradition by tossing claw, tail and knuckle lobster meat with aioli, finely diced celery, parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice, then piling it all on a buttered, toasted hot dog bun. For a twist on the classic, ask to have your lobster meat tossed with Crook’s Asian-inspired sauce made with lemon grass, makrut lime, chili and fish sauce. Complete the New England experience by adding on a cup of Crook’s clam chowder featuring a creamy base festooned with Maine steamer clams, fresh thyme and dill, house-smoked slab bacon and a squirt of Tabasco sauce.
Indiana: Roasted Corn on the Cob
Located in the heart of the Corn Belt, Indiana produces nearly one billion bushels of corn annually, so it’s not surprising that corn on the cob is a common sight at the Indiana State Fair. Saying these ears are farm-fresh is no exaggeration, since most of the sweet corn served — to the tune of 100,000 ears — comes from a local farm that picks and delivers to the fair daily. Many of the vendors roast the corn in its husk to keep the kernels tender, then shuck the ears and dip them in butter while they’re still hot; fairgoers can customize them with garlic salt, lemon pepper, hot sauce, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and more. Find these golden cobs at booths operated by Carousel Foods Inc., Indianapolis Washington Township Lions Club, J. Wilson Group LLC and Wagner Food Service, among others.
Hawaii: Panko-Crusted Ahi Tuna Plate Lunch
The Hawaii State Farm Fair holds its annual festivities at Kualoa Ranch, an idyllic farm setting in Oahu’s Jurassic Valley that underscores the importance of agriculture in the Aloha State. The fair is also known for celebrating Hawaiian culture through its hyper-local food line-up — even burgers and chili are made with Kualoa Ranch beef. Land and sea are represented in equal measure, with a particular focus on fish plucked from the Pacific Ocean waters that surround this archipelago state. Get a taste of ahi tuna at Grandma G’s Ono Grindz, where owners Robyn and Eric Ishisaka serve it in five different preparations. The Panko Crusted Ahi with Sweet Wasabi Drizzle is the most-popular pick. To make it, the Ishisakas prepare a Hawaiian ahi filet katsu-syle by dipping it in flour, egg and Panko bread crumbs, then pan-frying it until the interior is medium-rare inside and golden-crisp outside. A splash of sweet wasabi sauce adds depth of flavor to this fried favorite. Each order comes served like a typical Hawaiian plate lunch with two scoops of rice and local greens. Round it out with a can of passion orange juice made in Hawaii.
North Dakota: Poutine
North Dakota may be known for its tater tot hotdish, but it’s a spud-centric dish of a different sort that has captured the spotlight at the North Dakota State Fair. Poutine, a Canadian dish of French fries topped with fresh cheese curds and brown gravy, is a fitting addition to the fair’s food lineup, given that the fairground’s Minot location is just a little more than 50 miles away from the Canadian border. Longtime fair vendor Walleye on a Stick won the annual Food Frenzy food contest in 2012 with its classic rendition, which has earned a loyal following among fair attendees.
Nebraska: Reuben Burger
Nebraska is known for its beef, so don’t miss out on the burgers at the Nebraska State Fair. Cactus Jack’s Chuck Wagon has earned a following for its roster of gourmet burgers, several of which deliver a double helping of beef. One standout is the Reuben Burger, which reimagines the Omaha-born sandwich as a seasoned steak burger topped with thickly-sliced smoked brisket, a gooey mound of white American cheese, a tangy heap of sauerkraut and a signature bistro sauce. First offered at the Nebraska State Fair in 2017, the top-selling dish has earned a permanent spot on Cactus Jack’s menu alongside another brisket-topped spin: the Cactus Jack Burger featuring melty smoked cheddar cheese, spicy jalapenos and sweet barbecue sauce.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cake
Pennsylvania has more than 100 agricultural fairs, but arguably no treat as iconic as the Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cake. Get a taste at The Great Allentown Fair. To make this traditional cake, a batter featuring a blend of flour, milk, eggs, sugar and baking powder is piped through a funnel into hot oil in a circular coil shape; the swirl is fried until golden-crisp, then served hot with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. The funnel cake earned its signature status thanks to a woman named Alice Reinert, who was a regular on the Eastern Pennsylvania fair circuit from the 1960s to the early ’90s. Known for her showmanship, she would narrate in her Pennsylvania Dutch accent while turning out her famous funnel cakes made from a family recipe.
Oklahoma: Indian Taco
Oklahoma is home to The National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, so it’s no surprise that Indian Tacos are one of the Oklahoma State Fair’s signature dishes — with an average of 45,000 to 50,000 sold annually. Indian tacos are made with fry bread, a traditional Native American staple used as the base of many meals. Typically, the fried round of dough is layered with standard taco toppings like seasoned ground beef, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, though you can also find versions made with brisket, steak and grilled or shredded chicken, as well as less common add-ons like sliced black olives, jalapenos and serrano chiles. Look for Indian tacos at vendors like Manny's Elephant Ear, Tad’s Indian Tacos and Dan’s Indian Tacos, where you can also order fry bread with sweet toppings like honey and powdered sugar.
Wyoming: Rotary Club Hamburger
Where’s the beef? It’s in Wyoming. Lasso plenty of beef-centric eats at the Wyoming State Fair, held every August in Douglas. The vendors keep it classic with BBQ beef sandwiches, prime rib sandwiches and steaks, but nothing quite satisfies on a summer day like a good old-fashioned burger. Follow the meat-loving herds to the Douglas Rotary Club booth, where volunteers serve the fan favorite: a grilled, locally-raised beef patty topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions on a bun.
Louisiana: Bayou Balls
Since its inception in 1906, the State Fair of Louisiana has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the state and neighboring Arkansas and Texas to the city of Shreveport. For a true taste of Louisiana, head to Ms. Piggy’s Catering, where owner Brenda Brown offers Cajun-inspired fare like the fan-favorite Bayou Balls. Coated in crisp Panko breadcrumbs and drizzled with Brown’s signature Good Times Cajun sauce, this deep-fried trio serves as a tempting introduction to regional flavors. Brown offers her take on a Southern Louisiana specialty with the Boudin Ball packed with ground pork sausage, liver, rice and the holy trinity (bell peppers, onions and celery), all laced with plenty of Cajun seasoning and cayenne. She showcases another state staple with the Crawfish Ball that combines tail meat and jus with the holy trinity and crawfish boil seasoning for added depth of flavor. The Gator Ball features yet another regional delicacy — alligator meat — which Brown mixes with mild-flavored Monterey cheese. Balance the rich savory flavors by tacking on a sweet option to your order. Brown reimagines bread pudding by delivering cinnamon-and-sugar-sweetened pieces of the classic dessert as a deep-fried ball drenched in Kentucky bourbon-spiked caramel sauce. Add to the decadence with an optional sprinkling of raisins and powdered sugar.
Minnesota: Sweet Martha’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Nearly two million people visit the Minnesota State Fair annually, so it’s no wonder a staggering amount of food is served by the 300-plus vendors on the premises. Case in point: Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar. Owner Martha Rossini Olson and her team bake 2,000 cookies per minute (yes, minute) to keep up with demand. Her signature warm chocolate chip cookies can be ordered by the cone or bucket. Want to supplement your sweet snack with more sustenance? The fair offers more than 500 different dishes, ranging from the typical deep-fried and on-a-stick bites to gluten-free, vegetarian and global foods.
North Carolina: Cheerwine Funnel Cake
The North Carolina State Fair turned 150 in 2017, the same year that local soda Cheerwine marked its 100th anniversary. To celebrate, longtime fair vendors Beth and Nancy Tapp created the Cheerwine Funnel Cake for their Beaver Concessions booth, where they’ve been turning out funnel cakes and deep-fried pies since their father started the business in the 1950s. This celebratory funnel cake features, you guessed it, Cheerwine as its special ingredient. The soda imparts a double dose of cherry cola flavor and pink tint to both the funnel cake batter and the buttercream icing. The sweet treat proved so popular that it’s earned a permanent spot on the Beaver Concessions menu.
Colorado: Deep-Fried Pueblo Chiles
Fair food is practically synonymous with fried fare, but none embody regional flavors and a sense of place quite like the deep-fried pueblo chiles served at the Colorado State Fair in the town of Pueblo. The pueblo chile (named for the town in which it grows) is a go-to ingredient across Southwestern Colorado, lending a zesty kick to dishes like eggs, burgers, pasta and salsa. But the regional staple gets star billing at the state fair, courtesy of the Chiles en Fuego booth, where local pueblo chiles are dipped in a signature batter created by owner Tom Giodone Sr.’s daughter, then fried until golden-crisp. The fiery chiles live up to the vendor’s name with a creeping, tangy heat, but you can counter the burn with a side of ranch or cheddar cheese dip.
Delaware: Scrapple Sandwich
Nestled between the Delaware shore and the capital city of Dover lies the quaint town of Harrington, where the Delaware State Fair draws more than 300,000 attendees annually. And the fair food that always attracts the biggest crowd is scrapple. While Delaware didn’t invent scrapple, a meatloaf-type dish made of pork and corn meal created by the Pennsylvania Dutch, it is the nation’s largest scrapple producer. Scrapple is commonly eaten for breakfast in many mid-Atlantic states, but in Delaware, it’s also a fixture on lunch and dinner menus, finding its way into tacos, burritos and sandwiches across the region. The Delaware State Fair is no exception, with Haass’ on the Go offering an exemplary take on the scrapple sandwich. Its version features scrapple from sister operation Haass’ Family Butcher Shop, where they make the delicacy with pork meat, water, flour, cornmeal, black pepper, salt and sage. They pass the mixture through a meat grinder, then form it into a loaf that’s chilled overnight. Opt for a scrapple sandwich at Haass’ food truck and they’ll thinly slice and fry the scrapple before placing it between slices of white bread. Customize it with condiments like mustard and mayo or sweet toppings like grape jelly and maple syrup.
Georgia: Black-Eyed Peas
The Granny’s Apple Dumplings booth has been a fixture at the North Georgia State Fair for more than 25 years, and while they’re known for their namesake sweet treat, it’s a savory dish that has become their sleeper hit: black-eyed peas. The dish was born out of necessity for owners Michelle and Joe Cornett, who needed a practical way to feed themselves during festivals (and later, their daughter, who helps run the covered wagon trailer). Little did they know their go-to meal made in a crockpot would attract so much attention, but word soon got out about their black-eyed peas simmered with bacon and served with chopped fresh onions and homemade cornbread muffins. After multiple requests, the Cornetts added the dish to their menu. Order the Sweetheart Special for a bowl of black-eyed peas served with two pieces of fluffy buttermilk cornbread, which are made with garlic salt instead of sugar for an added savory touch.
Get a free(!) taste of tradition at the Mississippi State Fair, which boasts bragging rights as one of the oldest fairs in the South. Founded in 1859, the fair kicks off in the capital city of Jackson every October (on the third Wednesday of the month, to be exact). And since 1983, employees from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the Mississippi Fair Commission have been treating attendees to a Southern specialty at no charge. They knead, roll, cut and bake fluffy Southern-style biscuits, then drench them in sweet syrup and serve while still warm. An average of 100,000 biscuits are made and given away to fairgoers every year. Hundreds of gallons of buttermilk, pounds of shortening, cases of syrup and thousands of pounds of flour are donated every year so that the free treat can continue to be a fair tradition.
Virginia: Butt Fries
Virginia has a strong history of pork production, so it’s no wonder the prized meat is on prominent display at the state fair. Pork is a menu mainstay at various food booths sprawled throughout Meadow Event Park, home to the annual Virginia State Fair and a landmark in its own right as the birthplace of the Triple Crown-winning racehorse Secretariat. If shredded pork’s your thing, head to Hog Wild BBQ and order the Butt Fries. Hickory-smoked-then-shredded pork comes heaped on a pile of French fries, along with sour cream, cheese sauce, barbecue sauce and green onions. Fry toppings go beyond pork, with options that include the brisket-laden Bull Fries.
Arkansas: Peanut Patties
Take a sweet bite out of Arkansas at the Four States Fair in Texarkana, where Elve’s Candy peddles a special state-shaped version of its peanut patties. Fans across all four states repped at the fair — Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana — make a beeline for the Elve’s booth to score this Southern specialty that looks like peanut brittle but eats like a praline. The confectioner has been making its peanut patties since 1956, following a recipe developed by original owner Elve Otwell. The ingredients are simple — sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and red-skinned Spanish peanuts — but the recipe and time-tested technique are a well-guarded secret known only to three people, including owner Shelly Hickey (even her husband isn’t privy). The diminutive confections are typically round, but for the Four States Fair, Hickey crafts them into the shape of the Natural State. The candies are sold at fairs across Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, and also available online.
Iowa: Pork Chop on a Stick
Iowa may be nicknamed the Corn State, but grain isn’t its only game. Case in point: Iowa is the top pork producer in the country. Look no further than the Iowa State Fair’s Pork Tent, where local pork farmers show their chops, literally. The nine-ounce, Frenched bone-in chops are cooked on rotisserie grills, so that they slowly cook in their own juices to tender, juicy effect; optional salt, pepper and barbecue sauce are available for seasoning. The bone acts as a built-in stick, making for a portable porky snack that’s become as much a tradition as the fair itself — 50,000 to 60,000 pork chops on a stick are sold every year.
New Jersey: Meatball and Mozzarella Bread Cone
With Italian-American food being one of New Jersey’s most-famous cuisines, it’s practically a prerequisite to sample a meatball or two at the New Jersey State Fair/ Sussex County Farm and Horse Show. Get your fill at Cone-Utopia, where owner William Grzybowski simmers beef meatballs in a rich, homemade marinara sauce, then piles them into a steamed Italian bread cone and tops them with shredded mozzarella. Comfort foods are a favorite inspiration for Grzybowski, who also offers cones stuffed with pulled pork topped with coleslaw, bacon mac 'n' cheese, and shrimp po’ boy fixings.
Oregon: Hemp Burger
Every July, approximately 45,000 visitors gather on 500 wooded acres outside Veneta to attend the Oregon Country Fair. This rustic-meets-artsy event features 19 stages for entertainment acts that range from vaudeville to spoken word, as well as a one-of-a-kind craft fair and more than 80 food vendors catering to a diverse range of tastes. A tempting array of global cuisines and local favorites beckon from vibrantly adorned wooden booths, with options that include gluten-free, raw and vegan. One standout is the vegan-friendly hemp burger served at the Hemp House Grill (hemp production is legal in Oregon). The organic patty’s signature ingredient is the hemp nut (the diminutive nut left after de-shelling hemp seeds), which is combined with quinoa, garbanzo beans and fresh herbs to ensure a tender texture that mimics a well-cooked burger. The burger’s earthy-nutty flavors are complemented by a sweet-spicy hemp sauce bolstered with garlic and basil. Go all in by pairing your burger with a hemp nut milkshake (available in tropical or strawberry flavors).
Michigan: Chocolate Covered Cherry Scone
A major player on the country’s agricultural scene, Michigan reps its farmlands hard at the annual Michigan State Fair that takes place every Labor Day weekend. Farmers show off the fruits of their labor, literally, with rows upon rows of apples, blueberries and more. Don’t miss out on the cherries, which show up in a number of treats, including the Michigan cherry scone offered at The Great Foodini booth. Owner Renee Chodkowsi studs her flaky-crumbly pastries with dried Michigan cherries and dark chocolate chips, then finishes them with a decadent chocolate drizzle.
Montana: The Viking
Every year, more than 70,000 people descend on Great Falls to attend the Montana State Fair, and for many of them, a trip wouldn’t be complete without the Viking. This meatball on a stick draws the crowds to the Sons of Norway booth, which packs Nordic-inspired flavors into the deep-fried snack. It starts with a ball of ground beef that’s bound with egg and oatmeal, seasoned with onions and a signature Scandinavian spice blend, then dipped in batter and deep-fried. This portable snack has proven to be so popular that some fairgoers order the Viking by the dozen to take home.
Utah: French Fry-Stuffed Burger
Many a concession stand operator embraces the deep-fried side of fair foods, but Rocky Mountain Concessions celebrates on the next level with its French-Fry Stuffed Burger offered at the Utah State Fair. Owner Ken Copeland creates an all-in-one portable treat by stuffing a cooked hamburger patty piled with shredded cheddar-jack cheese, pickles and pre-cooked fries into a scratch-made dough. He crimps the edges to ensure the fillings stay inside, then deep-fries the dough until it’s golden-brown. Ketchup, mustard and mayo are served for dipping. Or you can make your own version of Utah’s famous Fry Sauce (which is practically the state’s official dip) by mixing ketchup and mayo together.
New York: Buffalo Wing Sauce
One of the highlights of The Great New York State Fair is Taste NY, where fairgoers can sample and take home some of the top food products made in the Empire State. Vendors change daily throughout the 13-day fair, but for a taste of one of New York’s great food exports — Buffalo wing sauce — stop by Abigails Restaurant’s booth to sample Chef Marshall Grady’s Bleu Bayou sauce. Wings are swapped for tortilla chips due to fair restrictions, but this Louisiana-style hot pepper sauce blended with bleu cheese and fresh celery can hold its own against any snack. The sauce comes in mild, medium and hot; the secret to the hot version’s fiery flair is the addition of locally-grown jalapeno, ghost and scotch bonnet peppers.
Though Pelham’s Oak Mountain State Fair is one of the new fairs on the block (it launched in 2012), it’s already earned a reputation for its live music and family-friendly atmosphere. But even with all the entertainment on offer, the main attraction for some fairgoers is the Mi’ Pueblo food stand. Fans line up for the locally-famous esquites (a creamy corn salad), tacos and tamales. Made fresh daily from a family recipe, the tamales feature homemade masa wrapped around one of two equally enticing fillings: shredded pork with red salsa or shredded chicken with tomatillo salsa. Once assembled inside individual corn husks, the tamales are evenly stacked and steamed in a large pot for two hours and served warm. They’re great for eating on the go; just peel back the corn husk and add toppings like hot or mild salsa, sour cream and guacamole. Pair with an agua fresca (try the lemonade or horchata) or a freshly-cracked coconut, served with a straw for sipping, and you’ve got the perfect portable meal for exploring the fairgrounds.
Maryland: Crabby Patty
Horse racing may be a major attraction at the Maryland State Fair, but we’d rather place our bets on the regionally-inspired crab cakes. Get a taste at the Maryland Foods Pavilion, which turns out the Crabby Patty. To make this sea-kissed sandwich, a no-filler crab cake and a fried soft-shell crab are piled onto a roll with lettuce and tomato. Round out the meal with other locally-accented fair favorites, including a corn on the cob dusted with Old Bay and a peach sundae featuring slices of fresh Maryland peaches and whipped cream perched on a mound of yogurt.
South Dakota: Smoked Roast Beef Sandwich
To say that South Dakota is a state that likes beef is an understatement: cows outnumber people by nearly five to one. To wit, one of the most sought-after dishes at the South Dakota State Fair is a smoked roast beef sandwich. The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association has been serving its signature creation at the Huron-based fair for more than 15 years, to the tune of one thousand sandwiches per day. Locally-raised beef is seasoned with a top-secret rub and slowly roasted on a hickory wood-fired pellet grill for eight hours. Sandwiches are made to order, so still-warm slices of the beef served au jus are tucked into a bun right before being handed over to the customer. You can customize your sandwich with pickles, barbecue sauce, ketchup or mustard, or upgrade to a Beef Melt that brings roast beef together with sautéed peppers, onions and cheese, all piled onto a hoagie bun.
Tennessee: Deep-Fried Goo Goo Cluster
Since its beginnings in 1855, the Tennessee State Fair has drawn crowds to Music City’s historic fairgrounds, hosting such acts as Sonny & Cher and ZZ Top. But locals sing the loudest praises for the Goo Goo Cluster, a Nashville-made confection invented in 1912 that features a cluster of roasted peanuts, marshmallow nougat and caramel enrobed in milk chocolate. While you can find the chocolate confection statewide, you can only get them deep-fried at the fair. So beloved is the Deep-Fried Goo Goo Cluster that is has earned the title of Official Tennessee State Fair Treat. Head to Strickland's Funnel Cakes where Goo Goo Clusters are frozen, dipped in batter and deep-fried, then dusted with powdered sugar and served on a stick.
Connecticut: Lime Rickey
The Durham Fair is not only Connecticut’s largest agricultural fair, it is also one of the largest all-volunteer fairs in the country. And the 60-strong team of United Churches of Durham volunteers may have the most-rewarding task of all, making and selling a sought-after treat for their annual fundraiser. They combine freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup and seltzer to create a tart, refreshing Lime Rickey mocktail. Each drink comes served in a custom 30-ounce cup that’s refilled at a discount year after year, a tradition that has turned the tumblers into collectors’ items — and kept the dollars pouring in. The United Churches of Durham raised more than $26,000 from drink sales in 2017 alone.
West Virginia: Country Ham Sandwich
Fair tradition runs deep in Lewisburg, which first stirred up carnival fever with the Greenbrier Industrial Exhibition back in the 1800s. Now known as the State Fair of West Virginia, the ten-day festival features the usual carnival rides, along with horse shows, harness racing and livestock exhibits. The fair’s deep agricultural roots are underscored by its signature dish, a country ham sandwich that’s prepared by volunteers to support the Greenbrier East High School chapter of the Future Farmers of America. A quarter-inch-thick slice of ham is cooked on a grill, then tucked into a warm hamburger bun and topped with lettuce and mayo.
Alaska: Deep-Fried Halibut
With rugged mountains like the Twin Peaks serving as its backdrop, it’s fitting that the Alaska State Fair puts a rustic spin on its food stands. Log cabin booths house vendors hawking local delicacies: Pristine Products serves Prince William Sound oysters, Indian Valley Meats slings spicy reindeer sausages and Seafood Alaska features the fan-favorite: deep-fried halibut. Seafood Alaska’s owner Annie Ernst sources the fish straight from the shores of the Kenai Peninsula, then dredges it in a scratch-made tempura batter and fries it to order. Get the filet with a side of French fries (aka fish and chips), or tucked into a pita pocket for a lighter take, but don’t miss the homemade tartar sauce.
Kentucky: BBQ Porkchop Sandwich
When it comes to pork-centric food options, the Kentucky State Fair is spoiled for choice. One pigout-worthy option is the pork chop sandwich that’s served at eight different booths operated by the Kentucky Pork Producers Association. Typically, the butterflied, boneless eight-ounce pork chops are grilled low and slow over charcoal and basted in a vinegar-based barbeque sauce, then placed between two halves of a pretzel bun. But when demand reaches peak heights, the chops are also prepared using a shortcut method that involves 500-degree automatic cookers and takes less than an hour. Offered for more than 35 years, this sandwich has reached icon status, with approximately 40,000 made throughout the duration of the fair. Taste it for yourself, but be sure to add a side of coleslaw and baked beans for a truly Southern culinary experience.
Every September, people from across the Sunflower State travel to Hutchinson, or Hutch as it’s locally known, to attend the Kansas State Fair. For a taste of best-in-show local food, head to the Kansas Kitchen & Bakery serving breakfast and lunch in the Pride of Kansas Building. Operated by the crew from local restaurant Wheatfield Bakery, this sit-down cafe has been a fair fixture for more than 20 years. Crowd favorites include cinnamon rolls, biscuits and gravy, and roast beef sandwiches, but if it’s a taste of Kansas’ culinary heritage you’re after, opt for the bierock. First introduced to the state by German and Eastern European immigrants, this baked meat pie comes crammed with savory fillings enveloped in a golden dough. At Kansas Kitchen, they stick close to tradition by stuffing the same sweet dough used for their cinnamon rolls with a mix of ground beef, cabbage, onions and carrots, but veer slightly from the standard by adding grated cheddar cheese before folding and sealing the dough. Other non-conventional additions include the option of nacho cheese on the side or a ladleful of gravy on top.
Rhode Island: Seafood Chowder
Richmond’s Washington County Fair has a few claims to fame, among them being Rhode Island’s biggest agricultural event and home to New England’s largest traveling roller coaster. The fair’s food lineup is distinct in and of itself: all fair food booths are owned and operated by non-profit organizations, with proceeds benefiting their missions and community causes. For a taste of the Ocean State, head to the South Kingstown High School Athletic Booster’s tent for a bowl of seafood chowder made with local clams, mussels, lobster and fish.