Time to loosen the belt and throw caution to the wind. As state fair season ramps up in the USA, anything goes - literally - into the deep-fryer or on to a stick. Cue the antacids for these classic bites.
Fried butter on a stick, Iowa
A two-ounce brick of yellow fat dunked in cinnamon-honey batter, plunged into bubbling oil, then glazed with sugar is not for the faint of heart. Fried butter graces (greases?) many a state fair menu, but Iowa was the first to supersize it and – in a defining moment – serve it on a stick. Why? To commemorate the butter cow’s 100th anniversary, of course. The life-size bovine sculpted in shortening is a fair tradition.
Iowa State Fair, August 9-19, www.iowastatefair.org
Fried beer, Texas
They think big in Texas, and that extends to ideas for fried foods. Take beer. Impossible to fry, right? Not if it’s poured inside a pocket of salty, pretzel-like dough and submerged in oil. The concoction even retains its alcohol content, since it cooks for just 20 seconds. Vendors apply the same genius to frying Coke, bubble gum and Girl Scout cookies.
Texas State Fair, September 28-October 21, www.bigtex.com
Bacon ice cream, Minnesota
Consider it a tribute to the state's pork industry (the third largest in the nation): pieces of cooked and candied bacon stud maple-tinged vanilla ice cream, cradled by a waffle bowl. It's a snack fit for a lumberjack, many of whom happen to be at the fair. The brawny lads fell trees and roll atop logs in daily lumberjack shows, another distinctive treat.
Minnesota State Fair, August 23-September 3, www.mnstatefair.org
Cream puff, Wisconsin
The billowing cloud of cream sandwiched between two pastry shells is Wisconsin's signature sweet. More than 14,000 gallons of milky goodness whip up to make the wares - a drop in the bucket for the state nicknamed 'America's Dairyland'. The fair’s udder fave are cheese curds, known for their squeaky bite. Some 5700 pounds go down the hatch and add to the local symphony of moos, oinks and rollercoaster screams.
Wisconsin State Fair, August 2-12, www.wistatefair.com
Corn dog, Illinois
The cornmeal-battered hot dog on a stick has a long relationship with Illinois. Some say it was invented here, though Texas and Minnesota also lay claim. But since more corn grows in the Land of Lincoln than almost any other state, it’s the most fitting place to indulge. Ditto for grilled corn on the cob. Vendors immerse each ear in a roiling pot of butter so the salty liquid streams through the kernels and over the eater’s hands in a delicious mess.
Illinois State Fair, August 9-19, www.illinoisstatefair.info
Bacon-wrapped shrimp on a stick, Louisiana
Louisiana shrimp are known the world over for being jumbo curls of juiciness. How does one improve upon perfection? Bacon. It swaddles the crustaceans, imparting salt and crunch. The fair’s cooking contests – for unique, bayou categories such as alligator, crawfish, blue crab and oyster – reveal further secrets on how locals spice up their seafood.
Fried Derby pie, Kentucky
Kentucky’s iconic dessert mixes chocolate, bourbon and pecans in a rich pastry crust. The deep-fried version adds funnel cake batter to the mix and powdered sugar on top. The result is served as four egg-sized nuggets. Bite in, and the crisp shell gives way to a gooey, chocolaty inside. Other Kentucky specialties include the rooster crowing contest and the World's Championship Horse Show, where 2000 noble beasts compete for $1 million in prizes.
Kentucky State Fair, August 16-26, www.kystatefair.org