Fair Food-Inspired Recipes

By Ann Foster Thelen

The Iowa State Fair is a food lover’s dream, and we’ve handpicked six recipes to bring the fair straight to your kitchen. From foods on a stick to sandwiches, each creation deserves a blue ribbon!

 The Iowa State Fair is the ultimate intersection of Iowa farmers, history and, of course, food! During the 11-day run of the award-winning annual event, the Iowa Food & Family Project celebrates our state’s deep agricultural roots and the faces and families who grow and raise our food.

Across the Iowa State Fairgrounds, chefs and farmers serve foods that delight the tastebuds of a million fairgoers each year. From trying a variety of new foods on a stick or making a beeline toward the tried-and-true favorites, knowing that Iowa’s farmers had a hand in the ingredients makes each meal or treat a little more special.

When the fair ends for the year, you can still enjoy many delightful and similar foods. We’ve handpicked six recipes to bring the fair straight to your kitchen. As you enjoy these handheld masterpieces from home, imagine being at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Picture yourself walking along the Avenue of Breeds, meandering along Rock Island Avenue while keeping pace with the steady clip-clop of Clydesdale horses, listening as music from free stages floats through the air, and being drawn into the pavilions to embrace Iowa’s agricultural community.

This year, “Find Your Fun” (and great food!) at the Iowa State Fair. Then, relive those fun memories by making your own fair foods at home.

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Grilled Turkey Tenderloin on a Stick

The Iowa State Fair is famous for mobile food on a stick. The saying, “If you can find it at the Fair, you can find it on a stick,” is true! Grilled turkey tenderloin on a stick is a favorite among many fairgoers, and it’s easy to make a copycat recipe at home. The turkey is marinated with a fragrant and flavorful blend of lemon juice, soy sauce, vegetable oil, dry sherry, minced onion, ground ginger and garlic powder. A spectacular Avotziki salad dressing – made with tofu, avocado, lemon, garlic, salt, dill and cucumber – is served on the side and will have your family thinking you could win a cooking contest! Find the recipe here.

Blue Ribbon-Worthy Fun Facts: The tenderloin is a boneless, skinless portion of the turkey breast, making it one of the most tender parts of a turkey. The tenderloin is a staple in a variety of cuisines because of its versatility and ability to be cooked in so many flavorful ways. With more than 25 grams of protein in every serving, it’s a nutrition-rich food for people of all ages.


Photo credit: Iowa Pork Producers Association





Pork Chop on a Stick

Recreate an Iowa State Fair classic with this easy recipe. Ribeye pork chops are marinated for two hours with water and a simple seasoning mix of salt, garlic and black pepper. The result is a tender, juicy, delicious portable chop that will make you feel like you’re walking down Grand Avenue amid the thrills only the festive Iowa State Fair can provide. For the best eating experience, cook the pork chops to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F as measured by a digital read thermometer, followed by a three-minute rest. Find the recipe here.

Blue Ribbon-Worthy Fun Facts: Pork is an “excellent” source of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus and protein and a “good” source of zinc and potassium. Next to milk, few foods have as much riboflavin per serving as pork. Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, has an essential role in releasing energy from foods. Riboflavin is also involved in many body processes. It’s required for the proper development of the skin, lining of the digestive tract, blood cells, and brain function.

Salad on a Stick with Honey Mustard and Cilantro Lime Dressing

Set the forks aside! If you want an all-new salad experience, try this trick: Eat fresh veggies and dressing off a stick. It’s a nod to the ultimate Iowa State Fair food-on-stick experience! The adage that everything tastes better on a stick has gone uncontested since the dawn of time, and salads are no different. Hence salad on a stick. Eating a salad off a stick is the perfect way to effortlessly pace out crisp vegetables and flavorful cheese cubes – while smothering them all in a lush honey mustard and cilantro lime dressing made with yogurt. Find the recipe here.

Photo credit: Midwest Dairy

Blue Ribbon-Worthy Fun Facts: The nutritional benefits of yogurt are part of its appeal. Yogurt provides protein and other essential nutrients like calcium, zinc and B12. Most yogurts are made with live and active cultures, and some also have probiotics – or good bacteria – that help maintain digestive health. Those good bacteria can offer many health benefits by aiding in the digestion of lactose, making it easier to digest if you have lactose intolerance. And strained yogurts like Greek- and Icelandic-style have even less lactose.

Photo credit: Iowa Beef Industry Council/Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner

Mushroom Swiss Burger with Jalapeno Aioli

A burger is a classic on-the-go food with limitless topping options to dress it up. Fire up the grill and step inside the Championship Ring with this burger recipe. A 93% lean ground beef patty is blanketed with melted Swiss cheese and topped with portobello mushrooms, lettuce and tomatoes (use garden-fresh tomatoes for extra juicy sweetness). Jalapeno aioli brings just the right amount of heat. With zucchini still in season, pair the all-American burger with a side of zucchini fries. Find the recipe here.

Blue Ribbon-Worthy Fun Facts: A 3-ounce cooked serving of lean beef (about the size of a deck of cards) provides 10 essential nutrients and about half of the Daily Value for protein in about 170 calories. A cut of cooked fresh meat is considered “lean” when it contains less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).

 Photo credit: Iowa Egg Council/Incredible Egg

Egg & Cheese Waffle Sandwich

There’s no better way to power through a busy day of family fun or back-to-school activities than with a protein-packed breakfast. With eggs, sausage and cheese as the showstoppers in this recipe, this simple sandwich is packed with 14 grams of protein to keep kids full and sharp until lunch. With baked waffles serving as the “bread” for this sandwich, it’s a fun twist on a traditional favorite and reminiscent of creative foods at the Fair. Find the recipe here.

Blue Ribbon-Worthy Fun Facts: Not only are eggs a nutritional powerhouse for adults they also offer essential nutrients for growth and development. Eggs provide various amounts of all the nutrients listed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as essential for brain health, including choline, vitamin B12 and protein. Choline, a necessary nutrient for brain health and development, is often under-consumed by adults and children. Eggs are one of the best sources of choline with 150 mg per egg.


Bacon & Sweet Corn Mac ‘n Cheese

This recipe has all the makings of an Iowa summer feast. Sweet corn, bacon and pasta are smothered with a perfect mix of melted cheeses – Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Parmesan – and baked to perfection. It works well with fresh-from-the-cob Iowa sweet corn or frozen sweet corn (making it a dish you can enjoy throughout the year!) From prep to coming out of the oven, the dish is ready in 40 minutes, making it a weeknight meal both parents and kids will savor. Find the recipe here.

Blue Ribbon-Worthy Fun Facts: While bacon is a food favorite, it’s also in the name of an exceptional program at the Iowa State Fair. Forty-eight young Iowans will “find their fun” at this year’s Iowa State Fair as they participate in the 2022 Bacon Buddies pig show on Saturday, Aug. 13, in the Swine Barn. The Bacon Buddies show, being held for its third year, is sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and is done with the cooperation of Special Olympics Iowa.

More than 30 years ago, the pork industry adopted We Care principles. One of those principles focuses on communities and the ways pork producers can play an active role in helping build stronger communities. Bacon Buddies does just that by bringing together Iowans with intellectual or developmental disabilities with 4-H and FFA youth who want to share the exciting experience of showing pigs at the Iowa State Fair.