With more than 200 food stands and 63 foods on a stick, deciding what to eat and drink at the Iowa State Fair is one of the best (and most delicious) problems you can have. We’re here to help with our new list of Best Iowa State Fair Food and Drink, as voted by locals. From Pickle Dawgs to buckets of cookies, we’ve got everything for your foodie bucket list.
Pork Chop on a Stick
As the #1 pork producing state in the union, this dish perfectly encapsulates everything about the Iowa State Fair. Star of every obligatory, sleeves-rolled-up, political State Fair photo op, this flavorful, no frills offering delights in its simplicity and packs a protein punch that will help you rationalize all the other carbs and sugar on this list.
Find it at: Iowa Pork Producers Association – NE of Ag Building on Grand Avenue; Rock Island West of Pavilion
Pro tip: Its hipster cousin, Pork Belly on a Stick, is a decadent change of pace, and can be found at the same vendors.
If you go to a fair and don’t get the corndog, were you really there? What’s left to say about this deep fried, foot-long symbol of deep-fried Americana? Something about a corndog at the fair just hits different.
Find it at: Turn around. There’s probably a corn dog stand right behind you.
Pro tip: Low key, the best thing we had at last year’s fair was the corn brat. A corndog brat hybrid? It works, and it’s next level. Find it at: Jada Concessions – North side of Grand Avenue, South of Susan Knapp Amphitheater and Arnold Concessions – SW of Livestock Pavilion on Rock Island Avenue.
Bauder’s Ice Cream Bar
There is no shortage of options to satisfy your sweet tooth at the fair. A funnel cake? You do you, but you can quench that craving at any street fair. For an experience authentic to the Iowa State Fair, try Bauder’s Peppermint Bars; mouth-watering hunks of frozen peppermint ice cream sandwiched between layers of hot fudge and a crushed Oreo crust. There’s an “I scream” pun here to be made, but we’re busy wiping the drool off our keyboard.
Find it at: Bauder’s Ice Cream – SW side of Ag building
This bucket (or cup) of warm, fresh-out-of-oven mini chocolate chip cookie is so popular that the fair often sells them at different weekends throughout the year to sellout crowds. This crowd-pleaser is the cookie equivalent of a Marvel movie; everybody loves them and keeps coming back for more. Instead of staying for the end credits, you’re staying for the glass of cold milk.
Find it at: Barksdale’s Cookies – West of Grandstand
Pickle wraps – or Iowa sushi as we like to call them – are a staple of every Iowa potluck ever. Here, they get the State Fair treatment; a whole dill pickle is wrapped in regular or spicy cream cheese, wrapped in ham or pastrami, and deep fried. Plus, Dawghouse Concessions will be adding a second location this year on the southeast side of the Varied Industries Building. More room for Pickle Dawgs!
Find it at: Find it at Pickle Dawg and Footlongs – Southeast of the VI Building, North Side of Walk on Triangle
State Fair Lemonade
Much like the corndog, something about the State Fair transforms this otherwise everyday refreshment into something decidedly more delicious. Maybe it’s the copious amounts of sugar. Or the souvenir cup. Either way, we’re beyond counting calories at this point, so go ahead and supersize it.
Find it at: Just about everywhere.
Hot Beef Sundae
If your idea of dessert involves an extra helping of savory carbs rather than sweets, the hot beef sundae is here for you. Two scoops of mashed potatoes are smothered with tender roast beef and gravy, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese, and a red cherry tomato on top. Sundae Funday, indeed.
Find it at: Beef Promotions of Iowa – SE corner of Walnut Square
Super Chill Beer
This frosty beverage looks at Coors Light’s color activated cold labels and says, “hold my beer.” Chilled to a cool 27 degrees, but kept from freezing or turning slushy, it’s available in crowd pleasing favorites such as Coors, Miller, Bud, Busch, and Michelob. There’s no better way to beat the August heat than a cold beer (or two) that is about 70 degrees colder than the temperature outside.
Find it at: Steer and Stein – Grand Avenue (look for the huge 27 degree signage)
Pro tip: Feeling crafty? Hit up the Iowa Craft Beer Tent, West of the Jacobson building, for 48 taps of Iowa’s finest brews, and live music to boot.
Deep Fried Twinkie
Remember when deep fried candy bars were referenced as the pinnacle of fair food extravagance? Ah, simpler times. Now a veteran of the fair food scene, the deep fried twinkie has earned its stripes. Mix it up with a deep-fried brownie, deep fried cherry pie, or a fried Oreo. If they fry it, we’ll try it.
Find it at: Deep Fried Twinkies, Oreo Cookies and candy Bars – Front side of Grandstand
Fried Cheese Curds
With apologies to the lactose intolerant, fried cheese curds are something that just about everyone can agree on. The only question is, are you a white cheddar or orange cheddar person? As long as the cheese has that gooey pull, we’re in. And these come from a Wisconsin vendor, so they’re practically obligated by law to be good.
Find it at: Brad and Harry’s Cheese Curds – West of Jacobson Exhibition Center, Triangle and Outside of NE Corner of VI Building; The Veggie Table – North of VI Building, West of Main Entrance
When you see someone walking around with a big paper plate of spiraled goodness, it’s one of two things: a funnel cake or grater taters. Homemade potato chips, sliced super thin, and fried up until super crispy, you can top them with cheese, bacon bits, jalapenos, or ranch. Motion to change the name to State Fair Nachos?
Find it at: Grater Taters – West of Anne and Bill Riley Stage
Looking for something a bit lighter, but just as delicious as its fried brethren? Go for the pillowy soft bao buns; steamed buns with protein wrapped inside a sweet, white dough. Like a more fun version of a dumpling. Be sure to try the pork belly bao bun, with melt in your mouth pork belly, and some cucumber to add a little crunch.
Find it at: Saigonais Cuisine – NW of Livestock Pavilion
The fair is all about extravagance and nothing says YOLO like the lobster roll at JR’s Southpork Ranch, which is the media darling and fan favorite of the fair. The $29 price tag didn’t deter nearly 5,000 fairgoers from lining up out the door to get their hands on the bulky, sweet lobster claw meat served in a buttered and toasted brioche bun. In fact, it was so popular that it was recently voted one of Des Best Sandwiches in town. And new this year: a footlong version!
Find it at: JR’s Southpork Ranch – west of Livestock Pavilion
Pro tip: If the $29 lobster roll is a bit rich for your blood, try the Bacon BLT Roll, with sizzling bacon, crisp lettuce, fresh tomatoes and a secret sauce on the brioche roll. Clocking in at a more wallet friendly $15.
For a full list of all the food vendors, click here.
Best Vegetarian Options
Caprese Salad on a Stick
Find it at: The Salad Bowl – Agriculture Building and Cultural Center Courtyard
Find it at: Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters
Find it at: Parlo Pizza – on the hill by Grandfather’s Barn
Deep Fried Veggies and Vegan Corndogs
Find it at: Veggie-Table – North of Varied Industries Building, West of Main Entrance
For more healthy options, find the whole list here.
New Fair Foods
Everyone looks forward to what crazy concoctions the State Fair will come up with each year, and this year there are some doozies. Here are is just a sample of what to expect.
A smoked-bacon wrapped jalapeno stuffed with pulled pork, sweet corn, cream cheese, and ranch seasoning, then glazed with BBQ sauce and ranch. We tried this and it was just as opulent and amazing as it sounds.
Find it at: Whatcha Smokin’ BBQ and Brew: West of Jacobson Building
Deep-Fried Bacon Brisket Mac-N-Cheese Grilled Cheese
The Rib Shack’s signature Bacon Brisket Mac and Cheese, slathered between layers of American cheese and bacon cheddar bread. Oh yeah, and then it’s deep fried and served with a raspberry chipotle BBQ sauce for dipping. Because, fair.
Find it at: What’s Your Cheez – North Side of Walnut Center
A blend of bacon balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese, wrapped in bacon, smoked, and dipped in marinara sauce. Who says you can’t eat healthy at the fair, it’s low carb and gluten-free!
Find it at: The Bacon Box – North of VI Building
Pork marinated in Pibb Xtra and sprinkled with Steer N’ Stein’s secret seasoning blend, cooked low and slow for 12 hours. Our head is spinning just thinking about all that pork deliciousness.
Find it at: Steer N’ Stein – Grand Avenue
For a full list of all the new foods at the fair this year, click here.