21 Classic Fair Foods, Ranked Worst To Best

Four fair foods on background
Four fair foods on background - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

Summer is the time for a lot of things: sitting by the beach, hiking outdoors, and, of course, going to a fair. Not only are fairs a great opportunity to release your inner child by riding on roller coasters and shooting balloon darts, but there's also an opportunity to indulge in copious amounts of fair food.

"Fair food" encompasses a wide umbrella of dishes, but they all tend to have a couple things in common: They're over-the-top, often fried, and may not be the healthiest foods on the planet. But, as someone who grew up showing livestock at fairs and visiting them in my free time, I've come to appreciate the diversity of fair food, as well as the creativity that goes into making these dishes.

I've created a ranking of some of the best and worst food and drink options at the fair, based on factors like novelty and creativity, and how easy each is to eat while exploring everything the fair has to offer. It's important to note that there is a regional component behind fair cuisine, so not all of these items may be found at your local fairgrounds.

Read more: The 16 Healthiest Chip Brands, Ranked From Worst To Best

21. Caramel And Candy Apples

Candy apples with sticks
Candy apples with sticks - Lighthouse Films/Getty Images

I'll say it once, and I'll say it again: Caramel apples deserve to be cancelled. Seriously, I've never seen a food as unpractical and as chaotic was a caramel apple -- or even worse, a candied apple. Someone had the bright idea of sticking a popsicle stick inside of a whole apple and covering it in a sweet, sticky mess. And if you thought the regular apples were bad, wait until you see the deluxe apples, covered with toppings and other adornments that will make you forget about the fruit hiding underneath.

These candy-fied fruits are an awful food to enjoy at any time of year, especially at the fair. You have to contort your head to eat them, which is impractical when rushing from carnival ride to carnival ride. There's no reason to eat them -- fair or no fair.

20. Hamburgers And Cheeseburgers

Hamburger patty on griddle
Hamburger patty on griddle - Wirestock/Getty Images

Cheeseburgers might be the only food of substance at a fair, so I have to give credit where credit is due. They're also relatively easy to eat when you're walking around the fairgrounds searching for which carnival game to play next. So long as your ketchup doesn't slosh your bun off to the side, you won't need to pack on a holster of extra napkins. But, these meaty staples are just kind of... plain.

Fair food is overpriced, to say the least. So why would you want to spend $8 on a mediocre hamburger that tastes like it was just pulled from a freezer-burnt bag in the back of a cooler? There are just better, more exciting options to choose from at the fair.

19. Deep Fried Candy Bars

Deep fried candy bar on plate
Deep fried candy bar on plate - Niko Natsuki/Shutterstock

Deep fried candy bars are not for the faint of heart -- both literally and figuratively. A single bite into one of these treats is bound to make you feel sick and will make you shudder the next time you see a Snickers bar in the grocery store check-out aisle.

Surely, there's no need to encase a candy bar in batter and fry it until it's golden brown and crispy. But you're at the fair -- so why not at least try a bite? This treat has the novelty of a great fair food, so it couldn't place dead last on this list. Maybe it would have scored better if I could stomach a second bite.

18. Fried Dough

Fried dough on parchment
Fried dough on parchment - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Fried dough and funnel cake aren't synonyms. "Fried dough" refers to the large, circular discs of dough that are dropped whole into the deep fryer before being coated in a layer of cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. You may know them as elephant ears or beaver tails, depending on what state (or country) you're from.

Although it seems really simplistic to drop the dough into the fryer and coat it in a sweet sprinkle, there is a lot of places where this beloved fair classic can go wrong. If the oil is too cold (which happens when vendors are frying so many things at once), the rounds come out greasy and flavored like nothing but frying oil. But, if you get a good one that's light, fluffy, and perfectly crisp, it's delightful. It's all about how big of a gamble you're willing to take.

17. Fried Oreos

Deep fried Oreos in tray
Deep fried Oreos in tray - Motionshooter/Getty Images

I see deep fried Oreos as the OG of fried fair fare. And, they've become so popular that you don't even need to pay the egregiously-priced fair admission to get your hands on a few; you can make them at home with leftover pancake batter and an air fryer.

Though, fried Oreos just need to step their game up to stay competitive. It's not as greasy and awful as a deep fried candy bar (or worse, deep fried butter), but it no longer has a pull that makes me say, "Yep, I'm at the fair so I have to get fried Oreos." And in the cut-throat world of fair food, mediocrity is not an option.

16. Churros

Churros with powdered sugar
Churros with powdered sugar - Gabrielabertolini/Getty Images

Churros are a great dessert, both in theory and in practice. You have a long, fried stick of dough, covered in cinnamon sugar, that is relatively easy to hold in one hand as you make your way around the fairgrounds. And while you could make your own churros at home, the dough tends to be a bit more finicky than normal batter -- so you're better off leaving it to the pros.

Churros are a special occasion food, but it warrants the question of what special occasion they should be enjoyed at. They might just be better suited for a Mexican restaurant. Plus, there are some items on this list that have a little more quintessential fair feel to them.

15. Funnel Cake

Funnel cake with powdered sugar
Funnel cake with powdered sugar - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Funnel cake is a fair food classic, and one that I absolutely had to include on this list based on novelty alone. It's much lighter than a round of fried dough, and it has a better ratio of crispy edge to plush inside. Plus, its neutral flavor allows you to add a medley of different toppings to it, including chocolate sauce and powdered sugar.

But funnel cake runs into the same issues as fried dough, which is unfortunate. Cold oil, leaving it in the fryer too long, and more can really put a damper on this fair food classic and make it not worth eating. It also gets really soggy with time, so you're forced to scarf it down rather than really enjoy it.

14. Loaded Fries

Loaded french fries at fair
Loaded french fries at fair - The Image Party/Shutterstock

Loaded fries aren't just the classic, natural-cut fry loaded with cheese, bacon, jalapeños, and the kitchen sink. Rather, these fries can also look like whimsical shapes with just the right amount of corner to capture all of that topping on each bite. They're essentially engineered to be a texture and flavor experience.

Granted, this dish has to be carefully constructed to ensure that the fries stay crisp, the toppings are perfectly balanced, and the entire plate just works. And, honestly, they're better for enjoying at a table than walking around a fair. Otherwise, you'll risk sticky fingers and leaving more toppings on the tray than you put into your mouth. The mental energy just isn't worth the reward.

13. Frozen Lemonade

Frozen lemonade cup
Frozen lemonade cup - Viennetta/Getty Images

I'm a proud Rhode Island resident, so frozen lemonade is one of the things that just runs in my blood. It's one of those New England foods you have to try once. And at a fair, there's just nothing more refreshing than a tall cup of frozen lemonade, complete with little hunks of pulp, served in a plastic collectable container with a fun, whimsical straw.

However, the novelty of frozen lemonade wears off real quick, especially when you sip all the way to the bottom and are left with just ice. It's a better fair beverage than soda, but I'd still rather be able to enjoy my overly-priced beverage until the last drop.

12. Walking Tacos And Nachos

Loaded nachos with sign
Loaded nachos with sign - Scott Olson/Getty Images

I'd reckon to say that nachos probably aren't the top-seller at the fair. Not only is the ratio of this dish too heavy on the chips, but they run into the same issue as loaded fries: They're too messy to enjoy while walking. But nearly all the nacho problems can be solved with a simple, creative solution: walking tacos.

These tortilla chip bags, filled with the staple nacho accompaniments like beef and cheese, are portable and easy to enjoy with a fork. But, the main issue with both nachos and tacos are that they don't scream "fair." Maybe if vendors marketed them as a solution to fair food woes, they would sell better.

11. Beef Sundaes

Person holding beef sundae
Person holding beef sundae - Holly Hildreth/Getty Images

Beef sundaes aren't at all fairs -- but they really should be. They're essentially savory sundaes, made with a scoop of mashed potatoes, drizzle of beef gravy, cheese, sour cream, and a cherry tomato on top. These ice cream cone look-alikes are absolutely divine and quite creative, which earns them a spot in the fair food hall of fame.

The main draw to these sundaes are that they're quite practical for eating on the go. But, since the beef is only a scant topping on the mashed potatoes, the balance of this food leans too much on the starch side. Really, it's a food made to pacify mashed potato lovers, when the real focus should be on the meat.

10. Dippin' Dots

Two hands holding Dippin' Dots
Two hands holding Dippin' Dots - Colleen Fenwick Dutcher/Shutterstock

Dippin' Dots are kind-of-but-not-really an ice cream. It's essentially a cup of frozen ice cream balls that melt almost immediately on your tongue. You'll find an impressive lineup of Dippin' Dots flavors to please every palate, from kid-favorite cotton candy to the popular chocolate chip cookie dough.

It's easy to see how Dippin' Dots can be so refreshing, yet also an impractical fair food. The pebbles can still melt rather quickly in the heat, and they don't last very long in flavor when the hit your mouth. I'd much rather have a fair food that I can enjoy with time, rather than something I have to scarf down within a matter of minutes.

9. Kettle Corn

Person cooking kettle corn
Person cooking kettle corn - Schaeferpix/Shutterstock

Kettle corn stands are aplenty at many fairs, where they fill the air with a subtle, caramel aroma. It's also a fascinating experience to watch the vendors rotate the kernels as the steam pushes upwards. It's a food that makes us question why anyone would go back to ho-hum movie theater butter popcorn.

Kettle corn is one of the only foods on this list that you can enjoy after the fair is over, which is why it earned a spot in the middle of this list. But, it doesn't satisfy a craving for something dense and hearty in the moment, which kept it out of the top spots. It's a great side, but not a whole meal.

8. Bloomin' Onion

Bloomin' onion on plate
Bloomin' onion on plate - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

While the Bloomin' Onion might be most famously associated with Outback Steakhouse, it's also a popular option for fairgoers who are craving something fried. It's no doubt that these onions, coated in breading, are delicious alternatives to less-fun onion rings. Plus, you can also dip them into a tasty sauce to amplify their flavor.

The major drawback to Bloomin' Onions, though, is that they really require several people to eat one of them. I can usually scarf down two or three pieces before I tap out and need a nap. So unless you're okay with throwing most of this coveted carb away, you've got to enlist the help of some folks to help you enjoy it.

7. Frozen Bananas

Frozen banana in takeout container
Frozen banana in takeout container - Smith Collection/gado/Getty Images

Frozen bananas seem to be a dying fair food, and honestly, I couldn't be more disappointed about it. I'm a lover of these banana treats for several reasons (beyond the references in the beloved series, "Arrested Development"), the main one being that frozen bananas are more resistant to melting than plain ice cream. It's why the frozen fruits are perfect for blistering hot fair days, when it hurts to sit on the metal seat of the Ferris Wheel.

But, you just don't see these treats at fair stands anymore, which is why they can't even make it to one of the top spots on this list. Maybe they're just due for a renaissance.

6. Spiced Nuts

Candied nuts with scoop
Candied nuts with scoop - Andreas Steidlinger/Getty Images

The aroma of a spiced nut booth can only really be described as "heavenly." Not only does the heavenly aroma of cinnamon sugar beckon you over, but so does that toasty haze. Eating these nuts is just an extension of the sensory experience; they're best served hot where you can get the perfect balance of crunchy exterior to seasoning.

Despite containing fat and protein all wrapped up in a little, wax paper package, spiced roasted nuts just don't have that greasy appeal of classic fair food. They're also not as refreshing as a dessert, and should really only be reserved for when you're craving a healthy-ish snack before you hit your next ride.

5. Deep Fried Pickles

Fried pickles with mayo
Fried pickles with mayo - Rui Elena/Shutterstock

Of all the deep fried foods out there, fried pickles have really grown on me. It seems a bit odd to drench a pickled cucumber, which is really prized for its freshness, acidity, and brightness, in batter and deep fry it. But, some of the best fair foods are the most unexpected ones.

While you can make deep fried pickle chips at home, they're really best at the fair. I doubt anyone orders them off the menu because they provide sustenance, but rather just are a novelty. The only reason why this food didn't score higher on the ranking is because they tend to be overwhelmingly greasy and are only good piping hot -- which is unrealistic to expect from a fair food.

4. Fried Donuts And Apple Fritters

Donut machine cooking donuts
Donut machine cooking donuts - VDB Photos/Shutterstock

While I am a fan of my local donut shop, I have to order a bucket of donuts whenever I make the trek up to a regional fair. These mini donuts are often made with an automated process, which means that they all come out the same size and shape, and have the same, consistent fry every single time.

I couldn't mention donuts without also mentioning apple fritters, which are also occasionally sold at fairs. If you're craving something nice and light, this is not the item you should be ordering. They're dense, they're flavorful, but they also offer a more exciting eating experience than just standard fried dough. Granted, I can't eat an entire bucket of donuts or fritters on account of how hearty they are, but they're better cold than many of the other options on this list.

3. Fried Cheese Curds

Cheese curds with ranch for dipping
Cheese curds with ranch for dipping - Ifollowthe3way/Getty Images

If you are from the Midwest, you probably know (and love) squeaky cheese curds. They have a texture that is not unlike cheese, but is noticeably harder and much more rubbery. So, the logical way to cope with this unique texture is to drop them in the deep fryer. And I, for one, am glad that someone experimented with it -- because fried cheese curds are so darn delicious.

Think about if you could make a hybrid between a mozzarella stick and a french fry -- that's a fried cheese curd. You can also elevate them even more with dipping sauces. The one thing that fried cheese curds lack, compared to the top items on this ranking, is that they're more of a side dish than an entire meal, which will undoubtedly lead you to scrounge for something else at the fair.

2. Turkey Legs

Grilling turkey leg
Grilling turkey leg - Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

Nothing says good ol' American fair like a massive turkey drumstick. These large cuts of meat, which are served just like that, sans sides, kind of make you feel like a caveman when you're both wielding them around on the fairgrounds and also taking a massive bite into the side. It's not that these drumsticks are particularly flavorful or worthy of note, but they are often quite juicy and are so comically large that you can't help but laugh when you see someone eating one. It's surely one of the best fair food novelties that you can order, which is the reason why it has to place in the top three.

Despite the novelty that comes with turkey legs, it lacks the carby, fried component that makes something a quintessential fair food. The top-ranking fair food just has the entire, tasty package.

1. Corn Dogs

Corn dogs with toppings
Corn dogs with toppings - Igordutina/Getty Images

I would be remiss not to score corn dogs at the top of this fair food list. While you can get these deep fried treats from school cafeterias and the grocery store's freezer aisle, there's nothing like wielding one at your state fair.

As long as it's cooked properly, this fair staple is crispy, meaty, and filled with flavor. Plus, you can switch it up with a drizzle of ketchup or mustard, or skip the entire toppings bit.

Besides the customization aspect, corn dogs are just a little more tolerable than the lower-ranked fair foods. It doesn't get as noticeably oily as fried pickles or fried Oreos and you can eat it cold -- though we all know they're best piping hot. Plus, you can finish every single bite with the same energy as the last. So, let's raise a corn dog to that.


Fair food vendors
Fair food vendors - Debibishop/Getty Images

The fair seemingly has a cuisine of its own. You'll find a medley of sweet, savory, and seemingly everything in between -- including some foods that you may have never thought to fry. I ranked each of these dishes based on several factors, the most obvious one being novelty. Foods that were essential to the fair experience and only available (or made well at) the fair ranked higher than those you could buy anywhere.

I also prioritized fair foods that were easy to eat and portable, so that you can indulge in all the fair activities with something delicious in tow. In that similar vein, I selected foods that were easy to eat a fair amount of (pun intended) without making you feel so sick that you couldn't take a ride on a roller-coaster afterward.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.