Best State Fair Foods, Ranked
There’s a lot to love about state fairs, from adrenaline-pumping rides to oversized stuffed-animal prizes. But let’s be real: The true highlight of any fair is the food, which can only be described as over-the-top and insanely indulgent.
How can you choose just one delicious dish when there are so many? To help you pick, we’ve ranked the most decadent and amazing state fair foods.
Healthy for you? Absolutely not. Worth it? You bet.
30. Deep-Fried Butter
Yes, deep-fried butter exists, and no, it’s definitely not good for your arteries.
First introduced at the Texas State Fair in 2009, where it won the "Most Creative Food" award, fried butter is also served at the Iowa State Fair with powdered sugar on top. (Go big or go home.)
29. Snow Cone
What's the difference between a snow cone and a snowball? A snow cone is made with coarser chopped ice, so it's a little bit crunchier than a snowball, which is made with smooth, shaved ice. And in our humble opinion, this difference in ice density makes snow cones the superior option, especially when topped with a rainbow selection of flavorings.
Fun fact: Snow cones were invented at the State Fair of Texas back in 1919, meaning they're over 100 years old now!
28. Bloomin’ Onion
Looks like a beautiful flower, tastes like a giant onion ring.
A bloomin' onion (made popular when Outback Steakhouse released it as an appetizer) is a whole onion that's cut into a sphere shape and then battered and deep-fried. You can eat it plain or dip each onion straw into a side of creamy ranch, which we highly recommend you do.
It’s healthy because it’s a vegetable, right?
27. Caramel Apple
Everyone's favorite fall fruit gets a sticky-sweet upgrade when it’s coated in a thick layer of rich caramel. Even better is when it’s then dusted with toppings ranging from crushed nuts to sprinkles to chocolate chips. Still not satisfied? Try the next-level caramel apple sundae at the Minnesota State Fair, which is every bit as satisfying as it sounds.
You might see this treat around Halloween — National Caramel Apple Day just happens to be Oct. 31.
Pardon the obvious joke, but people tend to go, well, nuts for nuts at the fair. Because these just aren't the boring plain peanuts you see at the grocery store — these are all different types of nuts (almonds! peanuts! cashews!) roasted in bold spices and seasonings. You can get them sweet with sugar, cinnamon or honey; or go savory with salt, butter or chili powder.
For our money, cinnamon-roasted almonds are the best of the best — sweet, but not too sweet. And who doesn’t love licking cinnamon off their fingers?
25. Deep-Fried Candy Bars
As if Twix or Snickers weren’t rich enough on their own, some state fairs have taken it a step further by deep-frying popular candy bars and dusting them with a healthy helping of powdered sugar.
You’ll see lots of deep-fried foods on this list (but of course), and this one is arguably the most absurdly indulgent of them all. Bustle even named fried Snickers among the most unhealthy things you can eat at the fair, even with some seriously stiff competition.
It might be best to eat this at state fairs only, but an easy way to try the treat at home is by wrapping your favorite bar in an egg roll wrapper before you fry it on the stove.
24. Soft Serve Ice Cream
Gone are the days when you could only get soft serve ice cream in vanilla, chocolate or swirl. Now there are hundreds of flavors of the creamy treat — pineapple, chocolate cheesecake, bubblegum, you name it — which is "softer" than regular ice cream because of the air it's whipped in while it's being frozen.
If you're looking for a lighter dessert, you're in luck, as soft-serve ice cream has less fat than regular ice cream. If you want an adult version, you’re in luck, too; the New York State Fair serves the cheekily named Hard Soft Serve Ice Cream, infused with a touch of alcohol. Bottoms up.
23. Turkey Legs
Carnivores rejoice! The drumsticks served at state fairs and Renaissance festivals across the country aren't your average puny chicken legs.
No, these massive turkey legs, which are often smoked for hours and seasoned to an inch of their tasty lives, can weigh up to 2 pounds apiece and have over 1,000 calories each.
22. Mini Donuts
For anyone with a sweet tooth, the mini-donut stand is a must-visit. There, you'll find bite-sized cake donuts that are fried to fluffy perfection and dusted with cinnamon sugar — and that are best enjoyed while they're still warm and sticky.
Interestingly, these treats faced a bit of controversy a few years back when the Minnesota State Fair announced it would be selling injectable mini donuts with fillings added via syringe. A petition protesting the item’s wastefulness and glorification of drug culture led to it being pulled from the fair.
For a healthier version at home, you can bake your donuts instead of frying them a la this recipe.
21. Fried Cheese Curds
You can find fried cheese curds at many state fairs — but they're most famous in Wisconsin, the state best known for its love of all things dairy. Crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, the Midwest delicacy is reminiscent of mozzarella sticks and is made by deep-frying cheese-curd nuggets dipped in batter.
If you’re feeling like something that’s not fried, regular old cheese curds are excellent, too. But only the fried version is over-the-top indulgent enough to make our list.
If you've never had a churro, what exactly have you been doing with your life?
A traditional Mexican dessert, churros are sticks of deep-fried dough that are coated in a fine layer of cinnamon sugar. However, savory churros exist, too — like at the North Carolina State Fair, where cheese churros are served with bacon and parsley on top.
Dare we say these are even better than the sweet version?
No Midwest state fair is complete without giant ears of roasted sweet corn dipped in butter. Whether you get them plain or Mexican-style (with cotija cheese, a drizzle of mayo and chili powder), these dripping, juicy husks are not to be missed.
In fact, at the Minnesota State Fair, a single booth can sell upwards of 225,000 ears of corn in just 12 days!
18. Cotton Candy
Here’s an ironic fact: Cotton candy was invented by a dentist. When it was first sold at the World Fair in 1904, it even went by the delightful name “Fairy Floss.” (This is still what it’s called in Australia, and in Great Britain and India, it goes by “candy floss.“)
Ever since that auspicious debut, the fluffy treat has been a favorite among people of all ages. Considering it’s essentially just sugar that’s slowly melted as it's spun around a bowl, we can understand why.
Warning: Don’t give this to little ones unless you’re ready for a wild time.
Nothing beats an ice-cold lemonade after a long day of hitting the rides and walking around the fairground in sweltering temps. And many fairs are getting artfully creative with their versions, like lavender lemonade.
The trick to making state-fair-worthy lemonade at home is using freshly squeezed lemons (no bottled lemon juice here!) and plenty of sugar to make it sweet instead of sour. Then, be sure to shake it all up with ice for the most refreshing sip.
16. Fried Mac and Cheese
The only thing better than regular macaroni and cheese? Macaroni and cheese that's been scooped into bite-sized balls, breaded and deep-fried. It's the perfect balance of crispy and creamy (so much melted cheese!) and is often served with a side of ranch dressing or barbecue sauce for dipping.
Bustle named this the single most unhealthy thing you can order at a state fair, but trust us: It’s worth it.
15. Frito Pie
Everything's bigger in Texas — including the Frito pie. In 2012, the State Fair of Texas created the largest Frito pie in the world, weighing in at over 1,300 pounds. (Yes, you read that right.)
The popular Southwestern dish starts with a bed of crunchy corn chips, which are then smothered with meaty chili, shredded cheese and chopped raw onion. Some places add other garnishes, too, including salsa, sliced jalapenos or sour cream.
14. Deep-Fried Avocado
There are so many delicious ways to eat avocados: mashed up in guacamole, smeared on toast, blended in smoothies ... and, apparently, fried. While deep-frying anything doesn't exactly scream nutritious, you don't have to feel too bad eating deep-fried avocados. After all, the trendy green fruit has a lot of health benefits, like good-for-you fats and important vitamins.
Not everyone is a fan, though. When the dish debuted at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair, the Star Tribune griped, “Can we blame this culinary travesty on millennials?”
But we think it’s just weird enough to work.
13. Dippin Dots
The cup of tiny ice cream balls that you love to dig into at the fair was invented in 1988 inside the garage of microbiologist Curt Jones when he experimented with freezing vanilla ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Now, more than 30 years later, Dippin' Dots touts 30 different flavors, with the most popular being cookies n' cream.
Is it really the ice cream of the future? Clearly not. But it’s a fun oddity to try when state-fair season rolls around.
12. French Fries
Everyone's favorite fast-food order tastes just as good — if not better — at the state fair. Thick, fresh-cut french fries are enjoyed hot and crispy out of the fryer, then sprinkled with salt or smothered in melted cheese. And while Belgium is actually the country that consumes the most fries, Americans still love them, with each of us eating an average of 30 pounds per year.
Sounds about right.
11. Chocolate Bacon
Bacon + chocolate = the ultimate dream team. And you can get it at the state fair, where some vendors have started offering chocolate-covered bacon on a stick.
Strips of the breakfast meat are dipped in a cocoa coating and then frozen into a snack that will satisfy your craving for something sweet and salty at the same time.
10. Homemade Pie
Pro tip: Every state fair has some type of "best pie" competition (from apple to pumpkin to blueberry), and many contestants will let you sample their baked goods after prizes have been awarded.
Find out when the judging is going down and then head over for a slice of the best pie you’ve ever eaten. If you’re lucky, you may even get to try something a little wild, like orange-juice apple pie or strawberry marshmallow pie.
9. Wavy Chips
Butterfly potatoes, spiral-cut chips, tornado potatoes, wavy chips ... this savory, starchy snack goes by a bunch of different names. But no matter what you call it, there's no denying how delicious it is.
It all starts with a single potato, which is then masterfully cut into one long ribbon before it's deep-fried. Top yours with sea salt, ketchup or a splash of malt vinegar.
The dish got its start on the streets of Seoul, South Korea, before making its debut in the U.S. at the Minnesota State Fair a decade ago. It’s been a state fair legend ever since.
8. Elephant Ears
Don't be fooled by the not-so-appetizing name — elephant ears are actually slabs of fried dough that are covered in melted butter and cinnamon sugar. The pastries got their name because they're so massive and floppy, just like the ears of your favorite zoo animal.
You'll need both hands to hold one, the measure of a truly great state fair treat.
7. Fried Pickles
Fried pickles are nothing new, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve a spot among the top 10 all-time-best state fair foods. When spears, slices or whole koshers are battered and deep-fried, they turn golden brown on the outside and warm and juicy on the inside. Perfection.
If you want to make your own, you can use an air fryer or bake them in the oven for a lighter snack. Don't forget the ranch!
6. Meat on a Stick
You can get anything on a stick at the fair — but if you have to choose, choose meat. Whether you go for steak, lamb, chicken, pork or even alligator, meaty skewers are the answer to your carnivorous prayers. You can usually find them fried, roasted or smoked, and in flavors ranging from sweet (like honey or bourbon) to spicy (like jalapeno or chili-crusted).
The Minnesota State Fair serves what we’re going to say is the best meat on a stick you’ll ever try: famously spicy and flavor-loaded hot chicken. This one’s not for the faint of heart!
5. Kettle Corn
Popcorn, but make it dessert. That's what you'll get with kettle corn, which is coated in a sugary syrup like honey or molasses and is traditionally cooked in large cast-iron kettles (hence the name).
No matter which type you prefer, people are obsessed with popcorn — the average American eats 70 quarts of it per year!
4. Donut Burger
A donut burger sounds like a bizarre combination, but don't knock it 'til you try it. Beefy patties and glazed donuts balance each other out surprisingly well, making for a mouthwatering dish that's not too sweet or too salty.
The only downside to the indulgent treat? One donut burger alone can have as many as 1,500 calories. Then again, it’s a scientific fact that at state fairs, calories don’t count.
3. Deep-Fried Oreos
We’re going to make a bold statement here: Of all the fried foods you can eat at the fair, deep-fried Oreos are the best.
Bite into one and savor how the crispy batter coating gives way to the soft chocolate cookie underneath. The highlight of the experience, though, is how the heat of the frying process warms the cream so that it melts in your mouth.
2. Corn Dog
It doesn't get more quintessential state fair than a juicy corn dog dunked in mustard. In case you don’t know (and you definitely do know), corn dogs are hot dogs covered in cornbread batter and deep-fried on a stick.
It's no surprise that they're especially beloved in Texas, where the annual state fair sells about 630,000 corn dogs every season.
1. Funnel Cake
Who among us can resist a hot pile of fried dough buried beneath a mountain of powdered sugar? This decadent dessert got its name because of how it's made — the batter is poured through a funnel into hot oil, which creates those thin ribbons that make up the base of the cake.
While funnel cake was invented by the Pennsylvania Dutch, similar dishes were made in the Middle East and Europe centuries ago. Among all the wild innovations introduced at state fairs, the best dish of all is an old-fashioned classic.