These Are 2022's Best State Fair Foods

In much of the country, state fair season is upon us once again. The U.S. is so large that it spans six time zones and encompasses numerous different climates, so while many states do, in fact, hold their fairs in summer, others go with cooler months in spring and fall (Florida even opts for the winter).

While some fairs tout their new foods and other attractions well in advance, others seem to be flying by the seat of their pants — or perhaps they're just secretive. (It wouldn't do, after all, to come up with the latest greatest deep-fried whatsit on a stick, only to be scooped by the state next door!) If you were planning to drop everything and road-trip to try something from a fair that's already ended, we extend our sincere apologies. Here are highlights from the state fairs of 2022 — or, at least, what to keep an eye out for in 2023.

Alaska State Fair: Alaska-sized gourmet sandwiches

In case anyone was wondering whether Alaska has a state fair, yes, they certainly do, complete with monster trucks, a demolition derby, a rodeo, and various musical acts popular in the '90s — just like any fair in the lower 48. Their fair also has food out the wazoo, a diverse lineup including Dutch, Russian, Filipino, Mexican, Thai, and Brazilian dishes, as well as home-grown Alaskan specialties such as salmon, halibut, and sourdough.

The Alaska State Fair has four new vendors this year. One is offering barbecue, one has corn on the cob, one's selling "Alaskannolis" (which are just like cannolis, except you eat them in Alaska), and one specializes in sandwiches.

The Hungry Deckhand, offering what they describe as "Massive Sandwiches for Monster Appetites," wins our vote for the best new Alaska State Fair food. Their sandwiches all come on sourdough bread — "sourdough," as it happens, is a local term for someone who's lived in The Last Frontier for a few years. Fillings include pulled pork barbecue, turkey with pesto, and the ever-popular BLAT (bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado), but our favorite is their signature sandwich: a gourmet cheese steak with peppers, mushrooms, garlic aioli, caramelized onion jam, and two kinds of cheese (provolone and gruyere). Fancy, yet very big and beefy, befitting a sandwich from the state that's bigger than Texas.

California State Fair: Cereal-topped cinnamon rolls

The California State Fair places such a premium on culinary innovation that they include a Food Festival highlighting selected vendors and offerings. The festival comes with special food deals for fair patrons (four $10 items for the price of a $28 pass) and also involves a competition where items are judged and awarded medals in various different categories. This year, the division winner for sweet treats was the Sunset Sundae: vanilla soft-serve with crushed pineapple, strawberry sauce, and a chocolate-dipped pineapple garnish. In the savory category, a hand pie filled with chicken curry came out on top.

The overall winner was the Caramel Crunch Cinnamon Roll. The breakfast pastry is topped with the traditional cream cheese frosting, then embellished with caramel sauce and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. This nearly 40-year-old cereal has been quite fashionable lately and is popping up all over the place, even in fast food milkshakes. The Food Festival actually had two Cinnamon Toast Crunch-centric entries, with the bronze medal winner in the fairly specific cinnamon category being a funnel cake sprinkled with the trendy cereal. Still, the judges chose the cereal-topped cinnamon roll as the best food the California State Fair had to offer, and who are we to disagree?

Florida State Fair: Funnel cake tacos

The Florida State Fair, as we mentioned earlier, takes place in the winter, so 2022's fair wrapped up in February. Still, the best new fair foods tend to come back for an encore the following year, and by the year after that, they become a well-established tradition. So what future Florida State Fair staples were introduced in 2022? They, too, had a fancied-up cinnamon roll, theirs topped with cinnamon apple pie filling and caramel sauce. Fair-going Floridians could also enjoy a caramel apple covered with chunks of bacon; cider meant to taste like a candy apple; a pizza with Big Mac-inspired toppings; fruit smoothies topped with Pop Rocks; and the now-ubiquitous sweet/savory combination — this one was a hot dog inside a Long John donut, sprinkled with bacon and glazed in powdered sugar.

Our favorite of Florida's new offerings, however, was something that at first glance might seem to be a similar mashup. The funnel cake taco actually came down pretty definitively on the side of savory rather than sweet. It was made from a taco shell dipped in funnel cake batter flavored with Buffalo sauce, then deep-fried as per best state fair practice. The taco was then filled with buffalo chicken dip, lettuce, cheese, ranch dressing (blue cheese would have been better; just saying), and crumbled Doritos, with not a single crumbled cookie or frosting drizzle in sight. That's what we're talking about!

Illinois State Fair: Rainbow grilled cheese

The Illinois State Fair is held in the state capital of Springfield, quite a ways away from Chicagoland where approximately 75% of the state's 12.8 million people make their homes. When Chicago's WGN asked a fair spokesperson about 2022's must-try new concession items, they responded: "Oh my goodness, we have so many great new foods that are coming. Whether you are looking for a healthy alternative or the deep-fried goodness, we have you covered here at the Illinois State Fair." But just what, specifically, is worth the drive?

The fair's website informs us that 2022's new vendors will be selling such items as curry, jerk chicken, pizza, street corn, street tacos, fruit slushies, horseshoe sandwiches (a Springfield-area specialty), and something called apple pie fries (no description provided). While it was hard to come up with a winner based on such scanty information, we made our choice based on aesthetics alone: A vendor with the enigmatic name of 1DK. LLC is selling something called a rainbow grilled cheese. Its Facebook page shows that the sandwich is, as advertised, a full spectrum of colors, and looks to be a far tastier way to eat the rainbow than a handful of Skittles.

Indiana State Fair: Fair food charcuterie

The Indiana State Fair, which runs five days a week for nearly a month, is all about promoting its "deliciously wacky new food & beverage items." Some of them really aren't all that wacky, although they do sound quite appetizing: a milkshake made with Thin Mints, a walking taco topped with Cheetos (Flamin' Hot, of course), and pulled pork baked potatoes. Others are a little more off the wall: pickle pizza, an ice cream parfait with boba balls and gummy bears, and that Midwestern favorite, a giant Bloody Mary topped with sliders, pickles, bacon, and everything else that fits on a swizzle stick. (Isn't eating about 95% of the reason to attend any such festival?)

Our absolute favorite is a hilarious take on charcuterie, a popular 2020 food fad that has perhaps been growing a bit stale of late. There's nothing pretentious about the Indiana State Fair's take on this trend, though: cotton candy, salt water taffy, popcorn (plain and caramel), tiny funnel cakes, and miniature corn dogs, all attractively plated on the finest serviettes en papier. As the fair is still going on as we write this, a winner has yet to be chosen in the fan-favorite food competition, but State Fair Charcuterie would get our vote for sure.

Iowa State Fair: Chicken/bacon donut sandwich

The Iowa State Fair knows a thing or two about promoting its main attraction: It has 53 new foods this year and has helpfully provided a brochure with a map marking the locations where each can be found. Ten of these foods also competed in a new foods contest. Judges have already determined the three best: a baked potato topped with brisket, pulled pork, and macaroni and cheese (they say it "tastes like the Fair in one dish"); a cup of pulled pork with baked beans, coleslaw, barbecue sauce, and brown sugar pork belly; and a chicken/bacon/donut sandwich. The finalist will be chosen by fan votes once the fair begins.

While "donut sandwich" may sound like a Gordon Ramsay insult, this last-named item is our pick for Iowa State Fair must-try. We're not always sold on sweet/savory combos seemingly created just to be outlandish (the peanut butter cup/barbecue sandwich sold at Kansas City Royals games being a particularly egregious example), but bacon goes well with nearly everything, and chicken and waffles have shown that this mildest of meats can play nicely with sweet flavors. What's more, the fried chicken's crunchy crumb crust made of Frosted Flakes cereal sounds like something worth trying at home. The one thing we don't like is the too-cutesy name: the "OMG" Chicken Sandwich. Really? Well, we suppose all's fair in love and fair food.

Kansas State Fair: Donut dogs and honeybun burgers

The Kansas State Fair boasts 100-plus food vendors and it freely admits to being all about deep-fried everything on a stick as well as "legendary favorites and items that are just plain wacky." Its website lists just three new items, although it teases that there will be many more available at the fair. Of the three new items it does mention, just one is deep-fried –- the cheesecake bites — although the website doesn't disclose whether or not skewers are involved.

We begrudgingly award a tie finish to the other two items, although we're not anxious to try either one. The first is the Krispy Kreme hot dog, wrapped in bacon and served on a jelly donut (not one from the more regionally-appropriate LaMar's, for shame). These really aren't new, as it appears the fair also offered Krispy Kreme dogs in 2019. The second winner is a burger encased in a honey bun –- as an upgrade, you can even get it with chocolate-covered bacon. Nice, but we think we'll save our appetites for the fair's tried-and-true favorites like apple dumplings or beefy bacon-wrapped Moink Balls ("moink" is a combination of "moo" and "oink").

Kentucky State Fair: Cereal that gives you dragon breath

The 2022 Kentucky State Fair has yet to start really touting all the new foods for the coming year — or their 2022 selection is limited. The fair's website mentions just three new items, and two of these belong to the ever-popular burger/pastry mashup category. The donut burger, at least, does have a Kentucky-centric spin in that it's paired with bourbon-glazed ham (Kentucky is the state where bourbon barrels outnumber people), while carnival food aficionados may prefer the burger topped with funnel cake fries. The third new option, however, is a sweet, fruity cereal that makes you puff smoke like a dragon, or at least like a person trying to exhale outdoors on a very cold day.

While there aren't too many details, this Dragon's Breath appears to be a product made from sweetened fruit-flavored corn puffs that have been dipped in liquid nitrogen. The cereal is super cold and is meant to be eaten very carefully (take tiny bites!), but the fun part is that you can then breathe out plumes of "smoke." The treat will be available from a booth called Vedaco's Dragon Breath Ice Cream, but it's not clear from the description whether the corn puffs are served as an ice cream topping or on their own.

Minnesota State Fair: Hmong specialties on a stick

Minnesota is often stereotyped as a state full of tall, blond people who say "uff da" a lot, but in the 21st century, it is home to a very diverse population. Held in the Twin Cities area, the state fair does its best to reflect that, particularly in its concessions. New items for 2022 range from West Indian jerk chicken pizza to Greek tirokroketes (fried cheese balls), from Norwegian-style waffles to South American arepas, while their take on the ever-popular pastry burger comes on a Mexican-style concha. Our favorite foods, however, are the ones from Union Hmong Kitchen.

The Hmong community in Minnesota received some long-overdue recognition when gymnast Suni Lee won a gold medal at the 2020/21 Olympics, but its cuisine, which has roots in both Laos and Thailand, is still largely unknown outside the Upper Midwest. Yia Vang, a James Beard nominee who'll star in a new version of "Iron Chef," has been doing his best to change all that. His popular pop-up Union Hmong Kitchen will offer its take on the ever-popular food-on-sticks genre at the Minnesota Fair. On the menu is "mov + nquaij": "mov" is rice (the purple sticky kind) and "nquaij" is meat (your choice of chicken thigh, marinated tofu, or Hmong sausage). Dipping sauces include lemongrass shallot and chili-garlic oil, and for a beverage that pairs perfectly with these creations, Union Hmong is also serving a coconut lychee colada.

North Dakota State Fair: Bacon-wrapped fried things

The North Dakota State Fair likes to promote its new foods and vendors with a contest. This year's Food Frenzy awards, chosen by a panel of judges, include categories such as creative (ice cream nachos took the top prize, while pickle wraps were runners-up), drink (Berry Blast beat out a pineapple slushie), sweet, and savory. Both of the last two categories were won — in fact, very nearly swept — by Sue Sue's Concessions, a vendor new to the fair this year.

Sue Sue's does one thing, and it does it very well: It wraps things in bacon and deep-fries them. As its booth proudly proclaims, "It's all about the bacon." Its winning entry in the Food Frenzy savory category consisted of batter-dipped, bacon-wrapped chicken tenders on a stick, while it also took runner-up with just plain bacon on a stick. Sue Sue's also finished in first place in the sweet category with a bacon-wrapped Twinkie — something that sounds like a major upgrade over the standard fried Twinkie, as the salty bacon would help to cut some of the cream-filled pastry's sweetness. One of Sue Sue's Facebook fans, Tricia Holley Kotlinski, obviously agrees, congratulating the vendor on a well-deserved win with an enthusiastic "Your twinkies are awesome!!" Another, Ondrea Moffatt, says Sue Sue's bacon-wrapped jalapeños are "some of my favorite poppers ever!"

Oklahoma State Fair: Apple pie from Minneapolis

While the Oklahoma State Fair website helpfully provides a list of vendors offering new foods for 2022, they don't mention what these foods happen to be. What's more, cross-checking coverage of the 2021 fair shows that many of the vendors themselves are not new to the fair — Gilty Pleasures was serving up pulled pork mac and cheese last year, while the Funky Flamingo provided gelato/stroopwafel dessert nachos. One vendor on the new foods list, however, seems not to have appeared at the 2021 fair and, even better, makes no secret of its specialty. Therefore, even though the Original Minneapple Pie is obviously not native to Oklahoma, it nevertheless gets our nod for the best (okay, only) food at the Oklahoma State Fair that we can reasonably assume to be new for 2022.

The Original Minneapple Pie is a vendor based out of Minneapolis, as you'd expect, and its fried pies were originally sold at venues in that area. It has branched out over the past decade or so, and now appears at fairs and other events as far away as North Carolina and Texas. Its signature dish is a fried apple pie served à la mode, with a choice of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream, although the menu now features a Minnepumpkin pie as well. Non-Oklahoman though it may be, the Minneapple (or pumpkin) pie sounds perfectly delicious and gets our wholehearted endorsement.

State Fair of West Virginia: Dorito pizza

Kudos to the State Fair of West Virginia for a very helpful website that not only provides a full list of fair concessions vendors, but even shows their menus. To find the new items or vendors, though, we had to browse their Facebook photos in search of each "new fair food sneak peek." Among the intriguing items we unearthed are a funnel cake topped with Cinnamon Toast Crunch (obviously the 2022 cereal of the year), ice cream swirled with blueberries and dark chocolate chunks, a dish called Buffalo Chicken Bombz, and a jalapeño popper-inspired pizza. The most exciting new fair food, however, is one that will be revealed after a short (paragraph) break.

And our favorite of the new foods making their debut at the 2022 State Fair of West Virginia is ... drumroll, s'il vous plaît! ... the Nacho Big Dorito Pizza from Gillette's Pizza and Lemonade. Gillette's has been a vendor at West Virginia's State Fair for 30 years, and last year it sold a lot of pickle pizza. It's likely onto a winner again this year, since Doritos as a pizza topping is a genius idea and one that's long overdue. After all, if Doritos can come in pizza flavor, why shouldn't pizza return the favor? The State Fair of West Virginia calls this pizza "a must-have on your fair food list" and we agree 100%.

Wisconsin State Fair: Brandy old fashioned s'more

While you'd expect the Dairy State's fair foods to be on the cheesy side, new offerings for the 2022 Wisconsin State Fair are tilted heavily toward the wackier end of the spectrum. Among the not-so-appetizing items on the menu are the Bug Apple On-a-Stick (a chocolate-coated apple dipped in ants, crickets, June bugs, and worms), the Arctic Bug Blast (a slushie with edible bugs), and the Gummy Bear Brat (a sausage not only topped but also infused with colorful gummy bears). Quelle surprise, none of these foods is competing for the coveted Sporkies award. The finalists for best fair food, as determined by a panel of judges, include trendy items like a Cinnamon Toast Crunch latte and Flamin' Hot Cheetos-dusted chicken tenders, along with couldn't-be-more-Wisconsin foods such as deep-fried beer brats with cheese curds.

Our favorite of the Sporkies contestants is a treat that pays homage to Wisconsin's favorite cocktail, the brandy old fashioned (which is nothing like your grandpa's old fashioned unless gramps was from Sheboygan). The brandy old fashioned s'more is made from whipped cream and graham crackers covered in milk and white chocolate, then garnished, in the Wisconsin old fashioned tradition, with an orange slice and a cherry. And yes, the candy even comes on a stick! Best of all, this s'more comes from Freese's, a candy store that's been located just blocks from the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds for over 90 years.