Your Deep-Fried, Butter-Sculpted, Rodeo Clowning State Fair Bucket List

Mark your calendars and ready your bellies for these 12 not-to-be-missed festivals.

Photo By: Alaska State Fair

Photo By: California State Fair

Photo By: Illinois State Fair

Photo By: Indiana State Fair

Photo By: Iowa State Fair

Photo By: Kansas State Fair

Photo By: Minnesota State Fair

Photo By: The Big E

Photo By: Michael J. Okoniewski-NYS Fair

Photo By: NC State Fair

Photo By: Ohio State Fair

Photo By: Wisconsin State Fair

Alaska

Produce is big in the 49th state — and by that we mean Guinness-World-Record-setting big, particularly at the annual Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off (where two leafy monsters have set international records). Several of this year’s contenders were large enough to serve as vegetal beanbag chairs. (Trend alert?)

Alaska State Fair (August/September 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Alaska’s Midnight Sun Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off

*Open-pit-prepared Alaskan salmon, reindeer dogs, buffalo bratwurst and caribou-steak sandwiches

*A seven-category kombucha-brewing throwdown

*Axe-throwing, water hauling, cross-cut saw and wood-splitting competitions

*A senior joke and storytelling contest

California

"Cork dorks" and oenophiles-to-be head to Sacramento for farm-to-glass exhibits, a wine slushie bar, tasting gardens with daily offerings from combatants in the annual (and fierce) Commercial Wine Competition...you get the idea. No need to use the spit buckets if you’re not a judge — but you’d be well-advised to budget for a few souvenir bottles from the winners’ tables.

The California State Fair (July 12-28, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*The Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals dachshund race

*The Best of California Brewfest

*The Expo Center’s "Silent Disco"

*Cap’n Crunch-encrusted chicken sandwiches

*A youth mariachi competition

Illinois

There’s a free concert stage in just about every direction at the Illinois State Fair, where you can try your luck at the annual karaoke competition or enjoy your favorite food-on-a-stick while watching ticketed grandstand acts like KISS (a fiery headliner of the 2016 festivities). The karaoke champion gets to open at the grandstand for one of the fair’s pros, while the winner of the annual fair-food contest receives a "Golden Abe" (an Abraham Lincoln bobblehead — you do you, Illinois).

The Illinois State Fair (August 8-18, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*A 500-pound butter cow sculpture (the fair’s unofficial mascot since the '20s)

*Hot beef sundaes

*An annual cornhole tournament

*A Husband Calling contest

*The Twilight Ballroom

Indiana

Since its debut in 2016, the Indiana State Fair’s Double Barrel Burger — featuring three glazed doughnuts, two burgers, bacon, cheese, macaroni and cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion — has been dominating Instagram and concerning local cardiologists ever since. Fans observe that a single order is more than enough to split with two friends, which sounds wise (and like something one might want to wear a poncho to attempt).

The Indiana State Fair (August 2-18, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Sarah "The Cheese Lady" Kaufmann’s half-ton dairy art

*A watermelon-seed-spitting contest

*Storytelling Arts of Indiana’s Liars Contest

*The Great American SPAM Championship

*Bison poutine

Iowa

This summer, the Iowa State Fair played host to more than 1.1 million visitors — and served them 82 diffferent kinds of food on a stick. Organizers pride themselves on the variety and portability of their food and, among other things, their something-for-everyone fair contests: Consider, for example, the ladies’ rubber-chicken-throwing competition. (Many contestants seem to favor an underhand toss, but the occasional football spiral does make an appearance.)

The Iowa State Fair (August 8-18, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*The Mr. Legs contest

*The heaviest-pigeon contest

*Outhouse races

*Pickle beer

*Cookie-dough spaghetti

Kansas

Have you ever suspected your child of having an as-yet-unheralded talent for clinging to the back of a trotting farm animal? Consider the Kansas State Fair’s annual Mutton Bustin Championship, where 50 helmeted youngsters under 60 pounds and between the ages of 3 and 6 (as of January 1st) are judged on the time, distance, and style of their sheep-riding. Waivers are required, and you should probably consider wool allergies in evaluating your potential athlete.

The Kansas State Fair (September 7-16, 2018)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Deep-fried pina coladas

*Lumberjack competitions

*A demolition derby

*Frozen pickle slushies with candy

*The Flapjack Flippin’ Contest

Minnesota

If you plan on entering the Minnesota State Fair’s insanely popular llama and alpaca costume contest, know that both you and your lama (note, per the organizers, that "lama is the correct spelling for the genus that includes llamas and alpacas") will be expected to suit up. Standout duos this year: A bar of soap / a loofah, a leprechaun / a pot of gold and a train / its conductor.

The Minnesota State Fair (August 22-September 2, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Smoked soft-serve ice cream

*Rainbow cloud rolls (three scoops of ice cream rolled in fruity cereal and wrapped with cotton candy)

*Pepperoni chips with queso

*The Unusual Vegetable Competition

*The Oink Booth (which distributes free pig-ear headbands)

New England

Held each year in western Massachusetts, "The Big E" represents all six of the states in New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). There’s lobster prepared in every manner you can imagine, of course, and seafood fans can also find New England clam chowder, shrimp, steamers, mussels, raw bars, smoked salmon and more. (For what one might suppose are safety reasons, given all that food, the fairgrounds’ annual 5K run is held before the eating begins.)

The Big E (September 14-30, 2018)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Deep-fried jelly beans

*The Eastern States Exposition Horse Show

*The Big E Paper Airplane Competition

*Drink Like a Pro four-course dinners with local spirit pairings

*The Cheese Cave

New York

Molecular gastronomy has made its way from New York City up to Syracuse, where state fairgoers enjoy dramatic bites of popcorn frozen with liquid nitrogen (above). This year’s first-ever "Fantastic Food" Contest’s top honors went to a lower-tech but no less showstopping (and possibly pulse-stopping?) offering: Fried Specialties’ "Heart Attack" consists of two "Hoffman hots" stuffed with chili, cheddar cheese and pickle, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried, topped with cheddar cheese and jalapenos, drizzled with chocolate sauce, garnished with a piece of Hershey chocolate...and served on a stick. What a world.

The Great New York State Fair (August 21-September 2, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*The Taste NY Food Truck Competition

*Nightly drone light shows and a drone film competition

*The Great New York Story Slam

*Stilt-walking animatronic Arch Dragons

*"Non-milk milkshakes" and vegan versions of sausage sandwiches, Buffalo Philly cheesesteaks and Korean BBQ sandwiches

North Carolina

North Carolina’s annual October festivities might well be considered the country’s most picturesque, thanks to the fairgrounds’ autumn-hued, lakeside Heritage Circle (above). Visitors to the Old Grist Mill — which is still operational — enjoy hush puppy samples, and a 10-day folk festival celebrates the state’s musical heritage with bluegrass, clogging and square dancing.

The North Carolina State Fair (October 11-21, 2018)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Cheerwine funnel cake

*Tobacco-stringing contest and mock auction

*Milk mustache contest

*Brewery, winery and cidery tastings at Our State Public House

*An ostrich rider

Ohio

This year’s Ohio State Fair had a sculpted-butter cow, to be sure, but its dairy-based homage to A Christmas Story (which was filmed in Cleveland 35 years ago) was the real crowd-pleaser: 2,200 pounds of the yellow stuff became Ralphie in his bunny suit, Flick and his frozen-pole "triple-dog-dare" (joined by a licking calf) and a certain "Major Award." Alas, the butter was past its expiration date long before it was shaped for the fair, so it won’t end up on breakfast tables — but it can be upcycled into products like tires and fuel.

The Ohio State Fair (July 24-August 4, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Deep-fried cream cheese larvettes

*Bacon-wrapped Oreos

*Old Familiar Beard Bash Competition

*Ohio’s Best Tattoo Competition

*Camel rides

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Fair’s Original Cream Puff (above) — which has been sold at the festival every year since 1924) — is considered a must-eat (around 350,000 of them are sold each year), but how does one choose among the 200 concession locations' other offerings? This year the organizers declared August 7th the day for Crazy Grazin', when 50-plus vendors offered eaters with eclectic appetites smaller, lower-priced versions of their items.

The Wisconsin State Fair (August 1-11, 2019)

Also keep your eyes peeled for...

*Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Contest

*All Things Jerky’s edible bugs

*Turducken on a stick

*World Cheese Curd Eating Championship

*Pig racing

Shop This Look