7 Recipes Inspired by the Iowa State Fair

By Ann Foster Thelen

Food is one of the main attractions at the Iowa State Fair. In fact, the Fair typically boasts nearly 200 food stands and over 80 delectable items available on-a-stick. Each year, the fanfare around the release of new foods is a media event. Fairgoers flock to the vendors with one delicious and creative work of food art claiming the crown as the best new food.

With the traditional 2020 Iowa State Fair postponed, we’ve picked seven recipes to bring the fair straight to your kitchen! These recipes feature traditional favorites, a recent best new fair food winner and all the deliciousness that make those 11 days in August a food lover’s dream.

As you enjoy these handheld masterpieces from home, imagine being at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Picture yourself walking along the Grand Concourse, keeping pace with the steady clip-clop of Clydesdale horses, listening as children’s laughter floats through the air, and being drawn into the pavilions to embrace Iowa’s agricultural community. While “Nothing Compares” to the magic of the Iowa State Fair, the memories offer a slice of Iowa that lasts a lifetime.

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Bacon Jalapeno Corn Dogs

Bacon Jalapeno Corn Dogs. Photo courtesy of Hy-Vee.

What’s better than your average corn dog? One that’s freshly fried and filled with bacon and cheese!

The batter kicks this corn dog up to blue-ribbon status. Folded into a corn muffin mix, mustard, ancho chile pepper, bacon bits and cheese create a flavor-packed coating for the beef franks. Once it’s cooked, swirl on mayonnaise, chopped jalapeno peppers and more bacon bits for a picture-perfect food-on-a-stick. Find the recipe here.

Fun Fact: A world record for the most people simultaneously eating corn dogs was set at the Iowa State Fair, with 8,400 corn dogs consumed!

Hot Beef Sundae

The Iowa Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters introduced the now-famous Hot Beef Sundae for the 2006 Iowa State Fair. Named by fairgoers as one of the Fair’s Top 5 iconic foods, this showstopper is billed as “two scoops of hand-mashed, home style potatoes surrounded by slow-roasted, fork-tender roast beef topped with savory beef gravy, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese and finished with a sweet red cherry tomato on top.” With a description like that, you know it’s delicious! Find the recipe here to make a copycat version.

Fun Fact: In total across its menu items, the Beef Quarters annually serves up approximately 28,000 pounds – or 14 tons – of certified Angus beef. Most of the beef is cooked on-site, with the delicious aromas wafting through the air and creating a sensory pathway that leads fairgoers straight to the Beef Quarters.

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Pork tenderloin sandwich

Iowa leads the nation in pork production and with all that delicious pork comes a Midwest treasure: the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. This recipe has a secret ingredient – Chicken in a Biskit crackers – that helps create perfect breading. Along with the breading, the seasonings, condiments and bun combine to create a great eating experience. Find the recipe here.

Fun Fact: Satisfy your love of pork tenderloins throughout the year by conquering “The Iowa Tenderloin Trail” created by Iowa Pork. This adventure features 12 unforgettable sandwiches while celebrating the passionate families around the state who work diligently to provide safe, affordable and delicious pork. Take on the trail and experience the tasty tenderloin goodness for yourself!

Not Your Momma’s Taco

The Iowa Turkey Federation’s Not Your Momma’s Turkey Taco recipe was named the 2016 Iowa State Fair People’s Choice Best New Food Item. With turkey being the star of the show, crunchy slaw is married with sweet and tangy mango salsa to give it a jalapeno kick. Make this for your family, and you’ll feel like the star of a grandstand performance! Find the recipe here.

Fun Fact: In 2018, the Turkey Grill celebrated 35 years at the Iowa State Fair, selling 380 tons of turkey in that time. Turkey drumsticks have been sold since 1983 and remain popular with fairgoers, with an average of more than 1,000 drumsticks sold daily. 

Buttermilk Crunch Fried Cheese Curds

Buttermilk Crunch Fried Cheese Curds

Fried cheese curds are equally enjoyed by kids and adults and consistently rank as one of Iowa’s top iconic fair foods. Celebrating Iowa’s rich dairy tradition, this recipe features fresh white cheese curds and creamy buttermilk. Serve with marinara or ranch dressing for dipping. Find the recipe here.

Fun Fact: Speaking of dairy, the Butter Cow is a must-see attraction at the Iowa State Fair, and butter sculptures have been a part of the Fair since 1911. It takes an estimated 600 pounds of butter and 16 hours to craft the Butter Cow alone. After the Fair, the butter is frozen and stored and can be reused for up to 10 years.

Mini Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

Nothing compares to warm chocolate chip cookies from the Iowa State Fair! Barksdale’s cookies have become synonymous with the Iowa State Fair. Joe Barksdale started doing business on the Fairgrounds in 1976 and began baking cookies in 1993. With Barksdale retiring, the Fair took ownership and built the new Barksdale’s Iowa State Fair Cookie Kitchen. The 40-by-100-foot building near the Maytag theaters has three ovens that can bake 48 pans of cookies at a time. Find the recipe here to make a version of these cookies at home.

Fun Fact: This chocolate chip cookie recipe wouldn’t be complete without eggs! Eggs are a family tradition at the Fair. In 2019, the Iowa Egg Council served a record-setting 173,952 eggs-on-a-stick to fairgoers.

Lola’s Marsala Ranch Dressing

Lola’s Marsala Ranch Dressing. Photo courtesy of The Soyfoods Council.

Even salads are enjoyed on-a-stick during Iowa’s award-winning Fair. At home, whether you choose to mimic the experience with creating a salad-on-a-stick or serving it on a plate, a delicious dressing is in order.

Lola’s Marsala Ranch Dressing, created by Lola’s Fine Kitchen, was an award-winner in the annual professional chef’s competition at the Fair sponsored by The Soyfoods Council and the Iowa Restaurant Association. Incorporating protein-rich tofu, this flavorful and fragrant dressing is infused with fresh mint, parsley and cilantro. Find the recipe here.