The history of county and state fairs date back more than 200 years. Agricultural societies sprang up to help promote local farmers and share ideas and methods for everyone's benefit. Fairs became a celebration of the end of the season at which farmers could show off what they had produced and enter into friendly competitions. In time, these evolved to include people from outside the agricultural community who had an interest in not just where their food came from, but the overall sense of fun and competition present. And where crowds went, so too did food.
In time, many fairs grew well past their agricultural roots, some barely even acknowledge it anymore, and they include things like rides and games to attract a family audience. But a staple across the country includes the incredible selection of foods you won't find anywhere else. It has become an unofficial purpose of any fair to produce the most over-the-top and unusual fried foods imaginable that either wow the crowds with their deliciousness or their brazen weirdness.
The best food items become staples at every fair while other unique offerings may only show up in one or two places thanks to their utter weirdness. If you're a true connoisseur of the fair food game, then why not see how many you can identify in our quiz?
The corn dog is such a popular fair food item, it's one of the few that transcends fairs and exists out in the normal world. Back in the day, they were often called "Korn Dogs" but they have basically followed the same recipe for the better part of a century.
Thank the Pennsylvania Dutch for giving us the recipe for funnel cakes which have become an indispensable part of any state fair. Rumor has it that recipe is very close to one that has existed since medieval times, making this one heck of a historical dessert.
Poutine is a staple of Canadian cuisine but has only really caught on in America in the last several years. There are literally hundreds of variations but at its core, poutine should be French fries covered in fresh cheese curds and then doused in brown gravy.
A deep-fried Twinkie is a food that doesn't need to exist because it's an unhealthy dessert already, but that doesn't mean it's not good. In fact, it's so popular, Walmart even sold frozen versions of it.
Deep-fried Coca Cola isn't as weird as it sounds once you know how it works. Basically, you just need to mix the Coke into the batter for what is essentially a donut and fry it up. It's often served with a Coca Cola syrup as well to enhance the flavor.
French fries are served in so many places, you could probably never list them all. As the most famous fried food in the world, they are, of course, available at pretty much every fair you'll ever come across. And why not? They've been around since the 1800s.
Pulled pork sandwiches can be found at county and state fairs all over the country and often BBQ pit masters will travel from fair to fair just to compete since BBQ and pulled pork competitions are big business.
The deep-fried Mars bar traces its roots back to the early '90s in Scotland of all places. It became famous when some locals called the newspaper in town to let them know a guy in a chip shop was deep-frying Mars bars. Slow news day or divine intervention?
Elephant ears are named for their large, floppy appearance which, of course, is similar to the ear of a real elephant. They're basically just pieces of fried dough that are often dusted with cinnamon or sugar and prove that sometimes, simple is still great.
Snow Cones are essentially just shaved ice with flavored syrup on top and when they were invented, they were pretty novel. Remember, ice wasn't always as readily available as it is today so when the technology was first made available, the snow cone was an incredible novelty.
Deep-fried Oreos have proven to be remarkably popular since they first hit the fair scene in 2002. Charlie Boghosian is credited with inventing them and several other foods. Each year, he attends various state fairs with new fried inventions.
The Coney Island hot dog comes in many different varieties but any version with chili is destined to be extra messy when you eat it. They used to just call these "Coney Islands" and not hot dogs because they weren't allowed to use the term "hot dog" when they were created for fear people would think they had real dog meat in them.
Deep-fried butter is not a trick, it's legitimately made from frozen chunks of butter that are then rolled in batter and popped into a deep fryer. Cooking them melts the butter chunk and infuses the little doughball with an intense butter flavor.
The Koolickle is what happens when dill pickles come together with Kool-Aid. The recipe for a Koolickle is pretty simple - you need a jar of dill pickles minus the pickles (so just the brine). Add a Kool-Aid pack and a cup of sugar, mix as you would normally, then put the pickles back in and wait about a week.
Fairs don't always forget their agricultural roots, especially across states like Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois where a lot of the nation's corn is grown. A cob of roasted corn is standard at those kinds of fairs and it would likely be considered pretty unusual to not find people walking around enjoying these.
Indian tacos, sometimes called Navajo Tacos, are staples at any fair where Native Americans have a presence, and also at events like Pow Wows. Essentially, it's all the toppings you'd find on a typical taco but instead of a tortilla its on a piece of fry bread.
Candy apples and toffee apples have been around since the beginning of the 1900s. They've been attributed to a Newark candy-maker who made them on a whim and then sold them for 5 cents each.
Smoked, barbecued or fried, turkey legs have become a fair staple because of both their size, which is like an over the top chicken drumstick, their portability and the fact they're not particularly messy for a handheld snack.
Deep-fried cookie dough isn't a treat for everyone - a lot of food safety advocates suggest eating raw cookie dough can be extremely unhealthy if there are uncooked eggs in it, but that hasn't stopped cookie dough from being so popular we put it in ice cream or deep fry it at the fair.
Frozen cheesecake on a stick is the simple idea of putting an item that normally isn't handheld onto a stick so it becomes handheld. Freezing it makes it easier to handle and also allows for it to be dipped in chocolate or other coatings. There's nothing but upsides to cheesecake on a stick.
Fried cheese could technically be made many ways, but if you want proper fair-style fried cheese, you need fresh cheese curds dipped in a beer batter and then fried. There are lots of other methods, but this way should make a soft, sticky, cheesy mess which is. of course, the best kind.
It may not look very pie-like, but Frito Pie can be found at many state fairs and are served right in the bag of Fritos itself. What exactly is a Frito pie? A bag of Fritos into which is poured hot chili and then cheese. Add a fork and go to town.
Deep-fried Kool-Aid is one of those dishes that sounds so weird people have to try it, which is how it caught on and became a perennial favorite. Essentially, it's the same as deep-fried Coca-Cola and requires the creation of a donut batter into which you mix Kool-Aid.
The hot dog has long been the base on which greater food is built and the bacon dog is one of the best examples of that. Like the corn dog, it just takes a plain hot dog and elevates it by wrapping it up in flavor, in this case, slices of crispy, fried bacon. It's simple, yet incredibly tasty at the same time.
Deep-fried pizza is one of those items that someone was destined to invent after the deep-fried trend really took off. It's a simple slice of pizza that you batter dip and toss in the fryer to add an extra layer of crunch and a lot more calories.
Chocolate-covered pork rinds are definitely an acquired taste since pork rinds themselves are definitely not everyone's favorite. A pork rind is, after all, simply a deep-fried, crunchy piece of pig skin.
Corn has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years and popcorn was discovered in our distant past as well. It has persevered thanks to the fact it's simple, cheap and plentiful and we can spice it up many different ways to keep it interesting.
Fried mashed potatoes on a stick is one of those items that sounds incomprehensible at first, but then makes total sense when you see the recipe. How do you get mashed potatoes on a stick? Easy, you form them into balls then freeze them solid. After that, you just batter dip and fry them.
Tamales were first invented several thousands of years ago. Aztec and Olmec cultures made them and they likely worked as a simple road snack for when you went out traveling or hunting. They traveled well and are pretty tasty, which is why you can still pick them up everywhere today.
Deep-fried macaroni and cheese is so popular now, you can find it as an appetizer at a number of restaurants. It takes a bit of effort to prep as you need to make a macaroni and cheese casserole then let it sit overnight in the refrigerator so it can be cut up, batter-dipped and then fried.
Chicken and waffles is a classic combo that has been a cornerstone of soul food menus for years. Because it's crunchy, sweet, salty and fried it also checks every box of fair food menus and can often be found alongside corn dogs and everything else.
Chocolate-covered bacon has been making appearances at state fairs since the early 2000s when there was a curious obsession with all things bacon spreading across the country. At the Minnesota state fair, they sold it under the name "Pig Lickers."
Dippin' Dots were first created in the 1980s and have been a staple at fairs, stadiums and other locations ever since. It's always a novelty item since it needs to be stored at -40 degrees F, which is why you never see it in stores and can't really keep it at home.
Fried pickles are a popular bar and roadhouse food these days and you can find them at almost any state or country fair as well. The natural salty and briny flavor of a pickle holds up well to frying and when they're done right, the crispy coating plays off the juicy pickle.
Jalapeno poppers have been around likely for years but the name itself was trademarked in the 1990s. It's worth noting that various versions go by other names, like "Jalapeno Bites," "Armadillo Eggs" and the incredibly appetizing "Atomic Buffalo Turds."
Next to French fries, onion rings may be the most common fried junk food item in the world. They've been around since at least the 1930s when a recipe appeared in the New York Times magazine.
Tornado fries are sometimes called spiral fries and are an oddly simple item. It's just a potato that's been spiral cut on a stick and pulled out to an impressive length so it can be deep fried.
Cotton candy or spun sugar is one of the oldest fair foods out there and is a surprisingly simple thing to make since it's mostly just sugar with a bit of coloring in it. The first machines used to make it date back to the late 1800s.
Churros are made from a choux paste dough that is piped like icing into a fryer. They seem to have come from Spain and Portugal originally although there's one theory that Portugal brought the recipe from China.
Deep-fried Slim Fast bars showed up in 2015 at the San Diego State Fair. Obviously made as something of a joke, the weight loss bars and battered and fried to ensure you won't be losing any weight by eating one.