Special Report

The Strangest Fair Foods Ever

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The first fair in the United States, in the sense that we understand the term today, was probably held in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1807; it’s still going strong, as the Berkshire County Fair. America’s first state fair was held in Syracuse, New York, in 1841. It and other state and county fairs that followed were originally conceived primarily as showcases for regional agricultural products. The history of such celebrations is fascinating.

Finished food came into the equation soon after fairs began proliferating, in the form of recipe judging — best cake, best pie, etc. The first butter sculpture — a feature particularly popular in dairy states, for obvious reasons — dates from 1903.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people wander state and county fairgrounds every year — the Minnesota State Fair, for instance, hosts at least 150,000 men, women, and children every day of its 12-day run — and of course they’ve got to eat.

Traditional carnival foods, like hot dogs, hamburgers, cotton candy, and funnel cakes have always been popular, and are still inevitably available. But for decades, food purveyors at these events have been attempting to draw customers (and attention) with evermore imaginative and frequently outlandish creations.

The key terms for modern-day fair food are “deep-fried” and “on a stick.” Many fair foods, in fact, are both at the same time. And the most common ingredient seems to be bacon. Bacon-wrapped something-or-other, plunged into hot fat and skewered, is thus the ultimate example of the genre.

Click here for the strangest fair foods ever.

Fairs in the South are also great places to sample the iconic Southern foods that everyone should try

(It should be noted that, while the foods on this list are or were served at the fairs mentioned, fair-food purveyors tend to think alike — or take inspiration from their peers — so many of these items have also found homes at other fairs around the country.) 

Are these strange fair foods healthy? Almost certainly not, though they’re probably no worse than the unhealthiest item in every fast food chain in America.

And are all these deep fried, on-a-stick foods actually good to eat? That depends. Some are and some aren’t. Some are brilliant juxtapositions of flavor and texture; others are simply not a good idea. One thing is sure, though: Every one of them is fun to try.

Source: Courtesy of Pamela M. via Yelp

Ants on a stick
> Wisconsin State Fair

There’s a Chinese dish called Ants Climbing a Tree (the “tree branches” are glass noodles; the “ants” are bits of ground pork), and there’s a 1950’s-era kids’ treat called Ants on a Log, made by spreading peanut butter, cream cheese, or some other sticky spread on celery and sprinkling raisins over the top. Don’t be fooled: This time the ants are real. This concoction is made by slathering marshmallow fluff over a large pretzel stick, then rolling it in… actual dead ants, which are said to have a sourish taste.


Source: Courtesy of Ashley J. via Yelp

Big Daddy Cheeto and Cheese
> Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

This is basically a corn dog, made with a pecan-smoked beef and pork sausage and almost as big as an actual canine. It’s fried in a crisp batter, then topped with cheddar and rolled in Flaming Hot Cheetos.

Source: Courtesy of Rose G. via Yelp

The Big Rib
> Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

This Texas-size hunk of meat is a two-pound beef rib on a 17-inch bone, slow-smoked and served with smoky or spicy barbecue sauce or garlic sauce.

Source: Courtesy of Lori B. via Yelp

Chicken and waffles pizza
> Florida State Fair

An actual pizza with a syrupy crust, this pizza is topped with pieces of fried chicken, waffle shards, bacon, mozzarella, and more syrup.


Source: David Berkowitz / Flickr

Chicken-fried bacon
> Maui County Fair (Hawaii)

Chicken-fried steak is a specialty of Texas and Oklahoma. But why mess around with a piece of pounded beef when you can chicken-fry smoky, salty bacon?

Source: medea_material / Flickr

Deep-fried beer
> State Fair of Texas

How do you deep-fry a liquid? Well, actually, modernist wizard chef Ferran Adrià  probably could have managed it — but this Texas version is a bit of a cheat. It isn’t actually the beer that’s deep fried: Beer is injected into ravioli-like pretzel-dough pockets and those are what goes into the oil. Call them alcoholic soup dumplings.

Source: Courtesy of Gangy J. via Yelp

Deep-fried bubblegum
> State Fair of Texas

In case you’re wondering how you’d eat bubblegum, deep fried or not, the answer is that you don’t. This isn’t actually bubble gum. It’s a marshmallow dipped in bubblegum-flavored extract, coated in bubblegum-flavored dough, deep fried, and then topped with blue icing and chiclets.

Source: Collin Harvey from Grand Prairie, Texas, USA/Wikimedia Commons

Deep-fried butter
> The Big E (multi-state New England fair)

This is another slightly misleading item. Of course, a stick of butter, battered and plunged into bubbling oil, would melt (or explode), so this is actually a ball of buttery dough with a little lake of butter inside, ready to dribble all over the eater’s chin.

Source: Courtesy of Jucy M. via Yelp

Deep-fried chicken noodle soup on a stick
> State Fair of Texas

The solid ingredients in this soup (chicken, noodles) are compressed, shaped into balls, breaded, and fried. Then they’re impaled on skewers and perforated with small holes into which the broth is piped.

Source: Courtesy of Dan O. via Yelp

Deep-fried Starbucks coffee
> Orange County Fair (California)

Coffee beans are coffee, right? So technically, if you grind some up with chocolate and form them into balls to be fried, that’s fried coffee. And it’s served in one of those iconic Starbucks cups with — what else? — sugar and whipped cream on the side.

Source: Courtesy of Kim V. via Yelp

Deep-fried crème brûlée
> San Diego County Fair (California)

This one’s new for 2019 at this Southern California fair. The dense caramelized-sugar-topped custard is formed into balls and, well, deep fried.


Source: Courtesy of Julie P. via Yelp

Deep-fried Fruity Pebbles shrimp on a stick
> Los Angeles County Fair

This creation has really made the rounds, appearing not only in L.A. but at fairs in various other parts of California and in Houston and Tucson, among other places. It’s just what it sounds like: shrimp coated in a crust of multi-colored Fruity Pebbles cereal, then deep fried and mounted on a stick or placed on bread to make a po’boy sandwich.

Source: Courtesy of Mikey N. via Yelp

Deep-fried pecan pie on a stick
> Orange County Fair (California)

Take a slice of this classic holiday dessert, batter it, put it on a stick, then dip it in hot oil, and this is what you’ve got. A dusting of powdered sugar is added, just to make sure it’s sweet enough.

Source: Courtesy of Brian K. via Yelp

Dilly Dilly (pickle-stuffed) corn dog
> Miami-Dade County Youth Fair

Some people like pickles and/or pickle relish on their hot dogs. This creation puts the pickle inside the hot dog instead. A wiener is hollowed out, a dill pickle is inserted, then the dog is dipped in batter and fried to a golden-brown. As with all corn dogs, of course, it’s served on a stick.


Source: Minnesota State Fair

Fried tacos on a stick
> Minnesota State Fair

What would you do with two tortillas closed tightly and sealed around one of two different fillings — green chorizo with potatoes or black beans with corn — then fried, topped with crumbled white cheese, and drizzled with guacamole? If you’re at a fair, you put ’em on a stick, of course.

Source: george ruiz / Flickr

Krispy Kreme sloppy joes
> Virginia State Fair

A variation on the by-now-almost-commonplace Krispy Kreme burger — a burger, with various additions, with a glazed doughnut in place of a hamburger bun — this state fair creation involves a lightly-griddled doughnut “bun,” plenty of ground meat, sloppy joe sauce, and a sprinkling of cheese.


Source: Courtesy of Barn Town Brewing via Facebook

Pickle beer
> Iowa State Fair

If you’re a fan of the pickleback — a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice (or a bite of pickle) — but want to go easy on the alcohol, this one’s for you: a light ale brewed with pickle juice by West Des Moines’ Barn Town Brewing.

Source: Alien Ted / Flickr

Spaghetti ice cream
> California State Fair

This isn’t ice cream flavored with spaghetti — it’s ice cream processed into long, thin, noodle-like strips that only look like spaghetti. Strawberry ice cream is made to look like marinara sauce, and the whole thing is topped with a sprinkling of “parmesan” — actually white chocolate shavings.

Source: Courtesy of Kailey G. via Yelp

Surf & turf pierogi
> Erie County Fair (New York)

Pierogies are stuffed dumplings from Eastern and Central Europe. Traditional fillings include ground meat, cheese, potato, sauerkraut, or fruits such as cherries, strawberries, or prunes. This upstate New York fair improves (?) the recipe: the dumpling contains shaved beef, mushrooms, and onions. Then it’s topped with a grilled garlic shrimp and basil-parmesan sauce — Mitteleuropa meets the Mediterranean.


Source: Courtesy of Christina L. via Yelp

Twinx (Twix-stuffed bacon-wrapped Twinkie)
> North Carolina State Fair

Many fair foods build on commercial products — Cheetos, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and the like — but this one doubles up. A Trix bar is stuffed inside a Twinkie, then the whole thing is swaddled in bacon and deep fried. Powdered sugar is sprinkled on the top, of course.

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