Who said fairs only do food that’s crummy for you? Leave it to the Californians to give us some healthy fair foods, such as grilled Caesar salads and peaches with cottage cheese. That being said, news of the Big Beef Rib (24-ounce steak on a 17-inch cow’s rib) has traveled all the way to me in Minnesota. Gotta try that next time!
9: Cream Puffs, Wisconsin State Fair
It's said that the original cream puffs are the essential food at Wisconsin's state celebration. How can you argue with a mountain of sweet cream sandwiched in a puff shell? You can’t. I implore you to also eat a brat or 2, along with some cheese curds. ’Cause hey, you're in Wisconsin!
8: Fried EVERYTHING, State Fair of Texas
The State Fair of Texas is the largest state fair in the US when measured by annual attendance. And when it comes to foods, it’s all about the deep fryer. There’s deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fried cookie dough, fried peach cobbler on a stick, zesty fried guacamole bites, deep-fried lattes, fried chili Frito burritos, fried hot dogs, chicken fried bacon, fried banana splits, fried grilled-cheese sandwiches ... I could list about 100 more, but I am getting queasy just writing this down.
7: Sweet Martha's Cookies, Minnesota State Fair
I think I remember Martha telling me that they make a million cookies every day of the fair. This is a fair must and one of those food experiences that cannot be accurately replicated at home, even if the dough is available for purchase in your grocer's freezer. Few things can beat piping-hot, messy chocolate-chip cookies served with an enormous glass of milk. Martha (yes, Sweet Martha is a real person), I adore you!
6: Barbecue Chicken, Arizona State Fair
I am a self-proclaimed BBQ snob and was pleasantly surprised at the caliber of 'cue at the Arizona State Fair. From drummies and ribs to sliders and pizza (that only kind of counts), I'm a fan.
5: Kiwanis Strawberry Malt, Minnesota State Fair
There are a lot of great dairy items at the great Minnesota Get-Together. (Hello, we carve our fair princesses out of butter!) My favorite is the little stand run by the Kiwanis ladies adjacent to the Fine Arts Center. I have a hard time picking among chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, so I like to go with friends and order all 3. I’m not sure if this is actually the very best malt at the fair, but it’s been around since 1969, and I think some of the original folks are still employed. It's just a warm, fuzzy kind of place.
4: The Original Deep-Fried Cheese Curds, Minnesota State Fair
All curds are not created equal. Trust me, I have tried them all. My go-to Minnesota State Fair cheese curd purveyor has got to be the Original. Look for the bright yellow sign with the long, fast-moving line.
3: Navajo Tacos, Arizona State Fair
Think of this as a culinary lesson in cultural hybrids — traditional Navajo fry bread smothered in taco stuff, including ground beef, lettuce, cheese, beans and tomatoes. It's fantastic, and you can't really find it anywhere else.
2: Gizmo, Iowa State Fair
If I could pick only 1 state fair food, this would be it: ground beef and Italian sausage smothered in a secret sauce and seasonings, covered with melted mozzarella cheese and served on a delicious toasted Italian roll. It's like an Italian sandwich torpedo. I'm lucky enough that these guys hit both the Iowa and Minnesota state fairs, so sometimes I get to eat it twice a year.
1: About a Foot-Long Hot Dog, Minnesota State Fair
I love the classics, and it just doesn't get better than this one. I think this stand has been at the fair since the Stone Age, and simply put, it does a hot dog better than anyone else.