The Craziest Foods You’ll Find At Fairs
As a kid you probably thought that the best things about the fair were the spin-til-you-puke rides and spending roughly one zillion of your parent’s dollars trying to win a ginormous dragon. But as an adult, you’d rather poke yourself in the eye than do either of those things, which leaves the farm animals and the concession stands to fill your time. As cute as those baby cows might be, we’re obviously in it for the food.
Over the years, fair food has gone from the standard cotton candy and corn dog offerings to innovative, wacky, and sometimes downright questionable eats. As each new fair season dawns, you never know what kind of deep-fried delight you’ll encounter, or what unexpected mashups the vendors have dreamed up. Sometimes the oddball combinations work, like unicorn bacon, and sometimes they don’t, like deep-fried bubble gum. But whether delectable or disgusting, one thing’s for sure: These crazy fair foods (and drinks) are definitely Instagram-worthy.
The classic corn dog is a staple at any fair, but let’s be honest — these days a plain ol’ corn dog just seems a little tame compared to all the imaginative eats being offered on the midway. Sure, it checks many of the requisite fair food boxes: Battered? Yep. Deep-fried? Of course. Portable? Duh, it’s on a stick. Delicious? Absolutely. But there’s got to be a way to make it even better, right? That’s where the pickle dog comes in.
This food-in-a-food looks like a typical corn dog, but one bite reveals its secret: There’s a giant dill pickle inside. That’s right… someone (who may or may not be a legitimate genius for introducing the world to the pickle dog) figured out that the way to make a corn dog even better was to stuff the hot dog inside a dill pickle before battering and deep-frying it as usual. And to that person we say, "thank you." We are forever in your debt.
Corn Dog Ale
As long as we’re on the topic of corn dogs and how to make the fair staple even better than is already is, allow us to introduce you to corn dog beer.
Revolver Brewing, a Texas-based craft brewery, created their Corn Dog Ale for the 2018 State Fair of Texas. Head brewer Grant Wood told GuideLive that he wanted to create a beer with a flavor that was "quintessentially State Fair," and landed on corn dogs (of course). But if the thought of hot dogs bobbing in beer tanks makes you want to gag, don’t worry: "No hot dogs were harmed in the making of this beer," Wood says. The corn dog flavor in this pale amber comes from smoked and caramel malts along with a blend of "mystery spices," which obviously includes brown mustard powder. Even with the mustard powder though, Wood says the final product seemed to be lacking a little something. He solved that problem with — what else? — a bit of yellow mustard on the rim of the glass, creating what is, quite possibly, the best ever riff on a corn dog.
Deep-fried green Jell-O
Utahans really love Jell-O. Not only do they eat more Jell-O per capita than any other state in the country, they also celebrate Jell-O Week statewide. It would stand to reason then that the Utah State Fair needed an homage to this beloved food. Enter Deep Fried Guy.
In 2012, Jon Searle (aka Deep Fry Guy), filled the state fair’s Jell-O void with — you guessed it — deep-fried green Jell-O. How in the world do you deep-fry Jell-O? He explained on Facebook, "We take our DELICIOUS Deep Fried Batter and add into it LARGE amounts of chilled Jello Concentrate, fire it up into ‘Fried Jello Sticks’ and top it of with MORE jello on top!! DELICIOUS!!" If we didn’t know any better, we’d say it looks a lot like Jell-O-infused funnel cake batter, which doesn’t sound so bad, really. But how does it taste? "The Jell-O melts and softens inside the batter," Searle told The Salt Lake Tribune. "It’s intoxicating: a once in a lifetime original for Utah."
Cookie dough spaghetti
Who needs savory spaghetti and meatballs when you can eat sweet spaghetti and meatballs? This sugar-lovers dream, which would surely get five stars from Buddy the Elf, debuted at the 2018 Iowa State Fair. The over-the-top dessert is made up of cookie dough "pasta," a Ferrero Rocher "meatball," and a generous topping of strawberry "marinara" sauce.
So what’s the verdict on flavor? One Instagrammer noted, "It tasted just like what it was — a pile of cookie dough with a Ferrero Rocher on top. The sauce was odd, but not bad. I was expecting to be grossed out but it was actually pretty tasty. (Glad not to eat a whole plate by myself, though.)" While not exactly a rave review, the novelty has to count for something, right?
Our only complaint is that the single meatball makes it awfully difficult to share. Nobody wants half a meatball, whether it’s made of candy meat or actual meat.
Another jaw-dropping fair food to come out of Iowa? Fried butter on-a-stick. Although these days you can find the highly caloric treat in various forms at fairs around the country, fried butter on-a-stick debuted at the Iowa State Fair in 2011 as a way to celebrate 100 years of the Butter Cow. Because how else would you celebrate such an occasion? Of course, they can’t really claim the first Butter Cow (the Ohio State Fair started that bizarre tradition) and they likely can’t claim the first deep-fried butter, either — but who are we to rain on their parade?
According to its creator, Iowa entrepreneur Larry Fyfe, who has been involved in the carnival treat business for decades, the almost-frozen half stick of butter (yes, you’re eating two ounces of pure butter here) is dipped in cinnamon-spiced funnel cake batter and deep-fried for 60 to 90 seconds before being drizzled with a honey glaze. Fyfe told The New York Times that the first year of sales far exceeded expectations, with 8,000 units sold in 2011, and from the look of the #deepfriedbutter hashtag on Instagram, its popularity hasn’t died down. Paula Deen would be so proud.
Cotton candy taco
At the State Fair of Texas, food and beverage concessionaires create unique and creative recipes with one thing in mind: the Big Tex Choice Awards. The foodie competition awards top honors in three categories each year: Best Taste — Sweet, Best Taste — Savory, and Most Creative. Past winners have included creations like deep-fried beer, fried banana split, and fried Thanksgiving dinner. In 2018, cotton candy tacos took home the prize for Most Creative.
The sweet treat is made up of a graham cracker waffle cone "taco shell" that’s coated with a marshmallow glaze and then stuffed with chocolate, toasted marshmallow, and cotton candy. For good measure it gets topped with chocolate cookie crumbles and two chocolate cream-covered biscuit sticks with marshmallows.
Not everyone was quite so impressed. One Instagrammer complained, "Caught a case of DIE-AHH-BEAT-US after eating this, not worth it though."
Unicorn Pineapple Bomb
If your goal is to seek out the most Instagrammable foods out there, head to the Orange County Fair in Southern California and track down a Unicorn Pineapple Bomb from Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic cocktail.
The too-cute piña colada (or raspberry lemonade for a non-alcoholic version) looks like it came straight from a Rainbow Brite cartoon, and is served in a hollowed out pineapple topped with whipped cream and jam-packed with colorful garnishes. A rainbow sour ribbon? Check. A Rice Krispies Treat covered in frosting and sprinkles? Check. A handful of Froot Loops cereal? Check. A candy-coated marshmallow? Check. What more could you want? It’s not often that a drink comes complete with an entire rainbow-themed meal.
The Los Angeles Times confirmed that the Unicorn Pineapple Bomb garnered more attention than any other fair offering they sampled (not surprising), and deemed it a "delightful sip."
If you consider yourself an adventurous eater and deep-fried butter just isn’t getting it done for you, head to Jungle George’s Exotic Meats and Bugs at the California State Fair and grab a Maggot Melt Sandwich.
Say what? It’s exactly what it sounds like: A grilled cheese sandwich with a heaping helping of maggot larvae inside. Mmm?
The Travel Channel got reactions from two fair-goers who tried the culinary delight, and surprisingly the reviews weren’t horrible. One taste-tester seemed unfazed, saying, "It just tastes like a regular grilled cheese sandwich with a little bit of bacon crumbs on there, that’s about it." The second taste-tester noted an unappealing side effect, saying, "Crunchy, and a little nutty… not too much flavor but I’m getting a lot of shell in my teeth right now." All in all, not too bad for maggots.
If creepy crawlies aren’t your thing, Jungle George offers an array of other delicacies, like kangaroo sausage, beaver on a stick, and alligator corn dogs.
Deep-fried bubble gum
Deep-fried bubble gum sounds like a choking hazard waiting to happen, but it’s not exactly what you think it is.
According to one Instagrammer, this questionable State Fair of Texas treat is best explained by Big Tex: "You’ll swear it’s bubblegum! A light as a feather bubble gum flavored marshmallow is dipped in batter and lightly fried to perfection. Decorated with a swirl of icing. A final sprinkling of powdered sugar completes this treat! It will blow you away." While we’re glad to hear it doesn’t contain any actual gum, we can’t say that it sounds like something that would "blow us away." And apparently we’re not wrong in our assumptions…
Serious Eats ventured to the fair to give deep-fried bubble gum a whirl, and in a completely unsurprising turn of events, their taste test ended with a team member scraping his tongue clean with a paper towel. We’re guessing that’s probably not the reaction Big Tex was hoping for.
Krispy Kreme ice cream chicken sandwich
The Orange County Fair strikes again with this sweet-and-savory mashup from Chicken Charlie’s.
Charlie Boghosian (AKA Chicken Charlie) told the Los Angeles Times that when it comes to his crazy concoctions, he strives to outdo himself year after year. "I’m just trying to do a good job in the sense of giving people something wild and crazy when they come to the fair," he said. "It’s a rare opportunity for people to indulge and eat without worrying about calories. The fair is the best place for that."
One of his recent creations is the Krispy Kreme ice cream chicken sandwich: A massive piece of fried chicken topped with vanilla ice cream that’s sandwiched between two glazed, jelly-filled doughnuts. And for good measure, some rainbow-colored cereal on top. LA Times writer Luke Money deemed it the "best thing I ate [at the fair] all day." High praise, indeed.
Wondering about the dearth of bacon on this crazy fair foods list? Wonder no more. Unicorn bacon is here to prove that here in America we’re still in the midst of a serious love affair with the salty pork product.
"But bacon can’t be made better," you say. "Bacon — pure, unadulterated bacon — is the world’s most perfect food," you say. Those things may be true, but when it comes to fair eats, there are no foods left unadulterated. Come on, we’re even deep-frying sticks of butter, for goodness sake.
What exactly is unicorn bacon? According to one Instagrammer, it’s "bacon on a stick, coated in frosting, drizzled in marshmallow fluff, and sprinkled with fruity pebbles." And what about the flavor? "I can’t believe I am saying this, but it was really good!" they exclaimed.
Plain ol’ bacon will always be the best (obviously), but maybe there’s room in our lives for a candy-coated version after all.
We all know what happens when we flick a little water into oil to test the temperature. If it’s hot enough, even a tiny drop snaps, crackles, and pops. Now imagine throwing a big wedge of watermelon, which happens to be 92 percent water, into a bubbling oil bath.
According to Tony Cardinali of Cardinali Family Concessions, inventor of the popular deep-fried treat, it took several tries and many hot oil-watermelon explosions to get the batter just right. When they finally landed on the right ingredients, the end result was cool, fresh watermelon on the inside, with a "cookie shell on the outside." A KTAR News correspondent deemed the deep-fried watermelon on a stick, which gets topped with strawberry syrup and powdered sugar, the "showstopper" of the Arizona State Fair, and promised that it will give your "taste buds a thrillingly-strange treat."
Just how popular is this taste bud tingler? Localish reports that Cardinali’s goes through an astounding 40,000 pounds of watermelon at each fair.