State fairs are one of America’s favorite past times and are worth going to at least once in your lifetime.
So what makes these fairs so great? The rides? The music? The contests?
All good guesses, and they do contribute to the enjoyment of state fairs, but the best part is, hands down, all the amazing food you can get.
While most of this food isn’t the most healthy, we can all agree that no one goes to a state fair to lose weight; it’s all about deep-frying foods you didn’t know could be deep-fried and stuffing yourself with sweets until you can’t walk.
Best State Fair Foods
If you find yourself walking the fairgrounds with too many options to choose from, these are the 21 of the best foods you can get at a state fair.
Messy, doughy, and sweet; that’s what I expect carnival food to be like and perfectly describes the funnel cake.
What funnel cake makes up for in its unsophisticated appearance (let’s be honest, it looks like deep-fried spaghetti) is its deliciously sugary taste.
The texture is slightly crispy with a bit of chew, and it’s a great way to end your day at the fair.
You may be reluctant when it’s haphazardly thrown on a paper plate and dusted with an obscene amount of powdered sugar, but once you take a bite, you’ll be in pure bliss.
You can never go wrong with cheese, nor can you ever go wrong with deep frying. So does that make cheese curds doubly right?
Cheese curds have a crunchy exterior with gooey, cheesy insides. They make a sublime snack, but they’re filling enough to be a meal.
Personally, I can’t get enough of them, no matter how many I eat.
Bacon and chocolate are two of America’s favorite junk foods, so some ingenious individual thought it might be a good idea to put them together.
Well, whoever it was, they were right.
What many people consider an offensive combination that puts even pineapple on pizza to shame is actually a delicious salty and sweet treat.
The savory chew of the bacon works wonders with the chocolate as it melts in your mouth and creates a fusion you never thought possible.
And I’m not even going to begin to try to explain chocolate-covered deep-fried bacon.
The humble corn dog is something we all know but often take for granted. After all, a hot dog encased in cornmeal dough on a stick is as simple as it gets.
I’m here to tell you that sometimes simple is all you need.
The outside is fluffy and slightly sweet, while the dog hidden inside provides a springy snap and an array of savory goodness.
Once you bite into one of these, you’ll wonder why you don’t order corn dogs more often.
Eat them with ketchup, mustard, mayo, nacho cheese, or any other condiment under the sun; you can’t go wrong with a corn dog.
If you hate pickles, you can skip right to the next entry.
Now that the pickle-challenged individuals are gone, we can discuss the national treasure that is deep-fried pickles.
Most people are initially skeptical since pickles are usually eaten with burgers or sandwiches. I, too, once thought like this.
Of course, after trying just one crispy, tangy saucer, I became a lifelong fan.
There’s just something so satisfying about the bite-sized crisps and the smokey dipping sauce that makes you keep coming back for more.
If you’re at a state fair and you don’t get deep-fried Oreos, you’re doing something wrong.
We here in the United States have many liberties. One of those liberties is the freedom to take an Oreo, cover it with batter, deep fry it, and then smother it in powdered sugar.
And the result? Well, let’s say it’s something that’s sweet (but surprisingly not too sweet) and fulfilling.
The cooking process softens the cookie, so you’re left with a velvety interior while the outside gets nice and crispy.
It’s a fan favorite and for pretty good reason.
After a long day of stuffing your face with fried foods, you’ll need something refreshing to wash it all down.
Lemonade does this job perfectly and, for some reason, tastes so much better when you’re at a state or county fair.
I recommend always going for lemonade that’s freshly squeezed and served ice cold in a perspiring cup. Trust me; it’s just better this way.
Just because the day is hot, that doesn’t mean you have to be; remember to cool down with a revitalizing glass of lemonade!
Let’s clear the elephant in the room. Elephant ears aren’t actually made from elephants.
Puns aside, elephant ears are lumps of deep-fried dough found at almost every state fair.
The fried bread is often covered in sugar and tastes pretty similar to funnel cake, though it has a bit more body to its structure.
In short, elephant ears are chewy, oily, and sweet; what more could you ask for?
Boiled peanuts are a classic. They’re so unadorned, yet they’re one of the oldest fair foods on the list.
So what’s their secret to having lasted so long as a cultural staple?
It’s because they’re delicious. Plain and simple.
Boiled peanuts are served hot and salted in their shells. You might get them in a basket, but you’ll more than likely get them in a foam cup.
You want to know what else? Aside from the potentially high sodium levels, boiled peanuts are quite nutritious, contrary to everything else on this list.
On the surface, the blooming onion doesn’t seem all that appealing. After all, it’s just a deep-fried onion.
Well, the same could be said about onion rings, and they’re widely regarded as tasty appetizers. But the blooming onion is more than just a glorified onion ring.
The batter imparts a savory crunch which takes the soft onion petals to a whole new level, while the sauce adds a tasteful creaminess. The design is both a work of art and convenient for sharing.
It’s a fiesta in your mouth your stomach might not forgive you for, but your tastebuds sure will.
What melts in your mouth at the touch of your tongue and leaves behind a sweet raspberry aftertaste? Cotton candy, of course!
Some call it fairy floss, while others call it sugar floss; cotton candy is just a puffball of sweet string that can come in pink or blue.
It’s a giant cotton swab you can eat and is always ready to please those with an unrelenting sweet tooth.
Fun to make and even more fun to eat, the best way I can describe it is as a cloud of dreams children and adults alike can enjoy.
Perhaps one of the best foods to descend from our northern neighbors, poutine perfectly encapsulates the American dream.
If you’re out of the loop, poutine is a glorious dish of golden brown french fries smothered in gravy and topped with cheese curds.
Sometimes meat is added, too, like brisket, pulled pork, and chicken.
It’s a hearty comfort meal beloved by millions and has solidified its delicious stay at every state fair.
There’s a bit of controversy surrounding the whoopie pie. People can’t seem to agree if it’s a cake, pie, cookie, or sandwich.
I say it doesn’t matter. What’s important is the taste. It’s like a warm ice cream sandwich with a creamy filling and soft outer layer.
It’s cakey and sweet but also easy to eat since it holds like a sandwich.
It combines everything that makes cakes, pies, cookies, and sandwiches great. After all, these components are what create the quintessential whoopie pie.
Deep-fried candy bars
If you were to ask me what deep-fried candy bars are like, here’s what I would tell you:
They’re ooey, gooey pockets of nuts, chocolate, and nougat. After you sink your teeth through the flakey golden crust, the conglomerate of whatever candy bar you chose oozes out into your mouth in an act of fondant glory.
Next, you might ask, “which candy bar is best deep-fried?” Well, that’s up to you and what you prefer.
Whether you choose Twix, Three Musketeers, or a Hershey bar is completely on you and should be what you like best.
If you haven’t tried one of these alluring confections, then it should be first on your list at the next fair you attend.
Churros are crusty sticks of fried dough coated in cinnamon and sugar.
You may find this description similar to other deep-fried dough dishes on this list, but I can guarantee you these Mexican desserts are a whole different beast.
You can hear the crispness from every bite you take, yet the fritter becomes chewy once it’s in your mouth.
If the grainy sugar coat wasn’t enough, its cinnamon partner spices things up and introduces you to a world of new and exciting flavors.
Here’s a tip: one of the best ways to eat them is piping hot and dipped in liquid chocolate, although eating them on their own is usually more than enough.
I often wonder what state fairs would be like without churros. Probably a lot more bland and uneventful.
You said what now!? Deep fried butter?? Preposterous!
This is what any non-American would say when they hear about deep-fried butter, but we Americans know best what can and cannot be deep-fried.
For example: Is it edible? If yes, then it can be deep fried.
So what does deep-fried butter taste like? Well, it’s kind of like an elephant ear or some other deep-fried bread confection if it were smothered in butter.
Yep, you heard right. It’s an overly-buttered deep-fried dinner roll.
All jokes aside, it’s actually pretty good. The light saltiness and savory notes of butter melt into the batter and create a fluffy brown confection of succulent flavors and regret.
It’s something you should try at least once in your lifetime, but for the sake of your heart, only once.
Caramel & Candy Apples
The United States has found so many ways to make apples bad for you, and it’s not even funny.
One of the best ways state fairs and Halloween enthusiasts have countered the healthy benefits of the fruit is through caramel and candy apples.
Caramel apples are dipped in liquid caramel and sometimes coated in crushed peanuts or other toppings. Candy apples, on the other hand, are dipped in a liquid candy concoction.
This sugary coat hardens and creates a crystal case around the apple.
The main difference between the two is taste and texture. Caramel apples taste like, well, caramel, while candy apples are more like apple lollipops.
Caramel apples are soft and gooey when you bite into them, and candy apples provide a crunch.
Regardless of which you prefer, both are spectacular desserts on a stick and can brighten anyone’s day.
Just make sure to brush your teeth after eating one of these babies, or you’re bound to get a cavity.
Fried Mac N Cheese
If boiled peanuts are a state fair classic and poutine is the American dream, then fried mac n cheese balls must be the king of all fair foods.
Chewy macaroni carpeted in a creamy blend of various kinds of cheese is an exceptional course on its own.
Of course, what do you think happens when you lightly bread balls of it and deep-fry them? Something amazing.
Now, they’re bite-sized and portable, which makes them ideal for walking around the fair while eating them.
Plus, the oils impart a whole new flavor to mingle with the cheese and make the balls incredibly crispy.
If you couldn’t tell from the entries on this list, crispy is always better.
Make sure to always get extra if you’re with friends and family.
Most of the world’s problems could be solved if they were as uncomplicated as shaved ice.
Unfortunately, they’re not, but there’s one undeniable fact that always stands true: shaved ice makes any scorching day at the fair 10x better.
It may not be as high demand as ice cream, but supple snow drizzled in the syrup color of your choice is a nice way to change things up once in a while.
After all, you can have ice cream any day. Shaved ice is exclusive to carnivals, fairs, and boardwalks unless you have a snow cone machine, that is.
There’s just something about shaved ice that makes grown-ups feel like kids, and kids feel like, well, still kids, but happy kids.
And last but not least, I’d like to give a hearty shoutout to everyone’s favorite movie snack, popcorn.
Of course, popcorn doesn’t just have to be enjoyed at the theaters; freshly popped corn enveloped in hot butter also makes a considerable walking-around snack at the state fair and is one of the best foods for sharing.
You also can’t forget all the subcategories of popcorn: kettle corn, caramel corn, cajun corn, chocolate popcorn, and a bunch of other compelling flavors.
Best State Fair Foods
- Funnel Cake
- Cheese Curds
- Chocolate-Covered Bacon
- Corn Dog
- Fried pickles
- Deep-Fried Oreos
- Elephant Ears
- Boiled Peanuts
- Blooming Onion
- Cotton Candy
- Whoopie Pie
- Deep-fried candy bars
- Deep-Fried Butter
- Caramel & Candy Apples
- Fried Mac N Cheese
- Shaved Ice
State fairs are wondrous places brimming with exciting thrills, oily aromas, and no shortage of deep-fried confections.
If you haven’t tried some of the foods on this list, I highly recommend you get out there and try them as soon as possible. They may be terrible for your health, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a little every once in a while.
Remember, if you can imagine it, then it’s probably in a deep-fryer somewhere at the fair.
Is there a food you love but wasn’t on the list? Comment down below!
Check out other unique foods to try, like the strangest ice cream flavors we’ve heard of.
This page may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we'll earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you.