State Fair Fare: Checking Out the Competition in Minnesota

As soon as you walk through the gates of a state fair, whatever "diet" you may be on becomes null and void. If you're watching your carbs, trying to stay away from fried foods or cutting back on sweets, you may as well just stay home. Golden-battered goodies and chocolate-covered everything can be found around every corner, and most are served on sticks for your convenience. Forks? Psshhhttt. But a state fair is like the Louvre. Try as you might, you just can't see (or eat) everything in one day.

The State Fair of Texas, the largest in the country, kicks off in Dallas on the 30th of this month. Each year, food vendors compete for the Big Tex Choice Award, an honor bestowed upon only the tastiest and most creative edible inventions. With past winners like fried beer and fried butter, the bar is set pretty high. On Labor Day, the votes were tallied and the winners announced.

Taking home the "most creative" prize was Justin Martinez with his fried bubblegum; bubblegum-flavored marshmallows, battered and fried, adorned with icing and powdered sugar. Creative? Yes, but you may want to keep a pack of Wet Ones handy.

The recipient of the "best tasting" award was Allan Weiss with his Buffalo Chicken in a Flapjack; a deep-fried buffalo chicken strip dipped in pancake batter, coated in jalapeño bread crumbs and (obviously) served on a stick. Two, please. Finalists for the Big Tex Choice Awards included deep-fried pineapple upside down cake, deep-fried salsa and something called a walking taco (so curious...).

Over the long weekend, I was able to get my fried-food-on-a-stick fix at the second largest state fair in the country, the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul. There are typically two types of state fair snackers: traditional and adventurous. We had both in our group, so we sampled the good ol' standbys, like corn dogs, along with the bizarre. We laughed, we cried (all right, I cried...) and we denied ourselves nothing. Since you have to wait a few weeks to feast at the State Fair of Texas, here are 10 foods we sampled this past weekend at the Minnesota State Fair.

10. Hotdish-on-a-stick: Stereotypically Minnesotan, it's usually served in casserole form and contains a starch, a meat and/or a veggie. Lucky for me, there was a diagram.

9. Fried cheese curds: I had to find a photo of cheese curds online because the cheese curds weren't around long enough for me to take a photo. Move over, mozzarella sticks. They were crisp on the outside, gooey perfection on the inside, and I may or may not have gone to Spec's yesterday to purchase a bag. Hey, there are worse addictions.

8. Scotch egg: Sausage and egg breakfast on a stick for your active lifestyle!

7. Hot waffle ice cream sandwich: Who says you can't have breakfast and dessert at the same time? At first I was appalled. "This just isn't right", I thought. But then after a few bites I found myself saying, muffled by a mouthful of waffle, "Could use a little syrup."

6. Australian battered potatoes: My Australian brother-in-law wasn't impressed, but I sure was. How could you say no to giant cheese fries on steroids (and since this is America...) with ranch on top?

5. Stuffed grape leaves: On a stick, duh. Taking a "fried" break, this was my attempt at something healthy.

4. Wine ice cream: This could go wrong in so many ways, but it was delicious. We got a scoop of chocolate raspberry made with local raspberry wine.

3. Chocolate covered jalapenos: The sign read "...we dare you," and I accepted. I'm Texan, after all, no big deal. I took a bite and after that, things got awkward. While chewing, I started to hiccup, then came the tears and the sweating, and then my neck broke out in some sort of rash. I shudder just thinking about it.

2. Veggie fries: Again, another attempt at a healthy option, it was basically veggie tempura on a stick; broccoli, carrots, potato and cauliflower lightly fried and impaled. Even after the jalapeno incident, I still put Tabasco on these guys because...I have a problem.

1. Mini donuts: Ugh, they're just so cute. Warm, soft and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, they were my favorite sweet treat at the fair. I wish I had brought some home to enjoy with a glass of cold milk, because as it turns out, mini donuts don't go well with an IPA.

Tips for eating your way through the State Fair:

*Assemble a team. Share and taste a little of everything instead of getting full on a couple of things. There's no way I could have tasted all I wanted to without my team.

*Sample! Lots of vendors will let you taste before you buy.

*Keep water on hand in case, you know, you bite into a flaming hot pepper.

*Hand sanitizer is a good idea especially if you're snacking on finger foods.

*Scope out healthy options beforehand, if that's your thing. There is usually more bad than good, so you'll save time hunting for salad-on-a-stick.

*Budget and bring cash! Fair food can be expensive, so budgeting will help you decide when to splurge and when to pass.

Are you going to the State Fair of Texas? What are your favorite fair foods? Let us know in the comments section.

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