Strangest State Fair Food
Courtesy of Chef John of Chef du' Jour
deep-fried pig ears to mealworm-covered candied apples, odd fair food from
around the country.
lizard dipped in barbecue sauce. Deep-fried crickets. Fudge-covered scorpion.
Nope, these aren’t the latest exotic street food offerings from half a world
away. These multilegged dishes are prepared by a vendor known as Chef John at
State Fair, held every fall in Phoenix.
fairs, of course, are synonymous with fried foods. And while the usual staples
like funnel cakes remain, cooking up unusual options has become a sport in
itself. At fairs across the U.S., concessionaires delight in one-upping each
other with the strangest, fattiest, most questionably edible snacks, many of
which fall into one of two genres: “deep-fried” or “on a stick.” (Some are
both, like deep-fried M&Ms on a stick.)
want to be surprised and amazed,” says Sue Stoecklein, commercial exhibits
director for the Kansas State Fair, who’s looking forward to this year’s Krispy
Kreme burger, which sandwiches an all-beef patty, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and
mayo in between two glazed doughnuts.
booths at fairs emerged around 1900, mostly just selling local meats and baked
goods. But the introduction of such treats as waffle cones, cotton candy, hot
dogs, and Dr. Pepper at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis ushered in an unending
era of novelty foods. In 1942, Texas debuted the
foodsicle concept with the corn dog. And in the early ’80s, concessionaires set
out to prove that nearly everything—pickle juice included—could be served on a
the market for sticks and deep fryers remains strong. In Dallas, frying the
unfryable has become a personal challenge for Texas
State Fair concessionaire Abel Gonzales Jr., who’s made his home state
proud with creations like fried butter and fried Coke. The Minnesota
State Fair in St. Paul,
meanwhile, offers more than 70 foods on a stick, including Scotch
eggs—hard-boiled and wrapped in sausage meat and bread crumbs, then
deep-fried—and Key lime pie. Most concessionaires will go to great lengths to
get it right: Stoecklein points to her fried green tomato guy who drove
overnight to Missouri for better produce.
admirable attempts have been made to implement some healthier options—this year
the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines will feature salad on a stick—dieting isn’t
encouraged, and many salad and health-wrap stands aren’t invited back for a
check out these odd foods when you visit your next state fair. And if you end
up in Phoenix,
wondering how to eat that deep-fried scorpion, stick to Chef John’s advice: start
with the head.