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State Fair Favorites

State fairs are where tradition meets culinary innovation, satisfying appetites across America

By John Salloum

Graphic By Ellie McCarron

State fairs bring about a sense of wacky fun for a community. These events have grown more and more popular over the years. If you ask anyone about their favorite part of a fair, nine times out of ten, they will mention the food in their response. The first foods that come to mind are the classics – corn dogs, fried Oreos, funnel cakes; the list goes on. Name any food, and chances are you’ll find it battered and deep-fried at the fair. Cotton candy and homegrown pickles are also guaranteed to be sold. 

Although state fairs have their iconic staples, they have also been the birthplace of the most unique and crazy creations to date. What we should really talk about are the more innovative items folks have come up with over the years. Every state fair seems to have its own staple, be it pickle pizza from Indiana or rainbow kettle corn from New Jersey. After some extensive research, I have found what I consider to be the weirdest, wackiest foods our state fairs have to offer.

The motto goes that everything is bigger in Texas, and that motto rings true especially when the fair comes to town. Almost two million people don cowboy hats and boots annually to enjoy the festivities. So, what has Texas cooked up in recent years? In 2016, they unveiled one of their most cutting-edge creations yet: Injectable Great Balls of BBQ. Smoked and shredded beef brisket is mixed with BBQ sauce and German-style lager before it is breaded, fried, and laid upon a bed of coleslaw. The main star, a pipet filled with BBQ sauce, is given to you to inject into each ball — definitely a fun way to eat a Texas classic.

Sometimes, the best things in life are the simple things, and Minnesota is a prime example. Their best dish doesn’t look to reinvent. In Minnesota, they give you more of what you love. Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar, owned by Martha Rossini Olson and her crew of bakers, is a well-known staple in Minnesota. Their signature dish (you guessed it) is cookies. They make a lot of them, about 2,000 per minute. If you’re looking for just one or two, you’ll have to look elsewhere, as this place serves them by the cone or bucket. There’s something quite special about carrying a bucket of cookies around a fair.

Finally, we will end with Illinois and their take on food on a stick. In every state fair, we see some variation of food on a stick. Whether it be chocolate-covered bacon on a stick or donuts on a stick, stick-based food is a major hit in the fair food scene. What does Illinois bring to the mix? Alligator. Alligators have their own show at the State Fair of Illinois – a live performance. After their antics, people can sample the entertainment. Like almost every other food at a fair, the alligator meat is battered and fried before being placed on a stick to enjoy. My father tried it when he first came to America and recalls the taste being similar to chicken, just a bit more fishy and rubbery.

Fair food, by nature of the experience, brings some of the more fun and creative ideas to the table. If you are looking for a unique experience or some plain old-fashioned fun, be on the lookout for when your state’s fair opens during the summer.


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