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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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Photo: Kristin Hagy of Kristin S

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.

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Photo: PHOTO: Courtesy Ohio State Fair

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.

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Photo: PHOTO: Courtesy New Mexico State

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.

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Photo: PHOTO: Courtesy State Fair of Te

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.

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