With State Fairs only a few short months away, Kitchenette figured it was high time we delved into America's gastronomic Houses of Horror. Since nowhere is our collective cultural disregard for the laws of physics and good taste made clear more than with deep fried foods, it's only appropriate that we begin there.
In researching this, some potential entries we rejected outright ("deep fried eggs on a stick" are just re-branded Scotch Eggs, dammit), some we had to cut for space issues (seriously, we could do three of these goddamn things just on fried foods alone), and some gave us complicated feelings, torn between desire and revulsion. More than anything, we were staggered at the level of misplaced creativity that goes into State Fair food. If we were ¼ as concerned with space travel as we are with finding new ways to fry things that shouldn't be possible to fry, we'd have colonized Alpha Centauri by now.
We begin with the one everyone's heard of by now, because if I didn't do it, I'd have 30 comments asking me where it was:
Fried Butter (Iowa)
Butter, the tabletop staple, has now entered the fair circuit. The on-a-stick version from the Iowa State Fair is dipped in a cinnamon batter, fried and topped with glaze. When you bite into it you will find the butter has melted and you are left largely with a buttery cinnamon shell. The Texas version is similar, but they use small portions rolled up into balls.
It's not really a state fair until someone fries fat wrapped in a batter of fat and carbs. That's the dream here, folks, because THIS IS AMERICA, DAMMIT.
Honestly, though, the problem with fried butter at this point is that it just feels so...done. I mean, sure, you're literally eating an entire stick of butter, ho-hum, but this is a list where an enterprising culinary mad scientist figured out how to fry beer and another one threw Reese's cups and bacon at a stick, coated it with banana bread, and tossed the whole concoction at a vat of boiling oil. By comparison, deep fried butter just seems so disappointingly pedestrian.
Fried Pig Ears (Minnesota)
Minnesota State Fair regular Charlie Torgerson, who owns five franchises of Famous Dave's BBQ, got famous for his chocolate-covered bacon, which he followed up with peach-glazed pigs' cheeks. This year, Torgerson is frying up pigs' ears, cut to look like curly fries, with a chipotle glaze. "He's done everything but the squeal," fair official Dennis Larson, who oversees new food, told the local press. "He's running out of organs."
There is no possible scenario in which the phrase "he's running out of organs" is a positive thing to hear. Either someone is doing something horrible to a poor, defenseless kitchen, or it's a medical emergency, or Jeffrey Dahmer's freezer is being exhumed. Christ, I know pig is delicious, but there are limits.
Fried Beer (Texas)
If you have a smidgen of common sense, the first question that should pop in your head is "How can you deep fry a liquid?" The second…"Is beer amazing or what?" This winner of the 2010 Most Creative Award at the State Fair of Texas is basically a deep-fried ravioli made from a salty, pretzel-like dough filled with beer. The awesomeness comes from the fact that since the ravioli is only submerged in oil for about 20 seconds, it's still alcoholic so you have to be of drinking age to even buy it.
Oh my God, look at those fucking things. They look like disease-flavored ravioli. I know you love to fry shit, Texas, but Ebola Squares may have been a step too far. It's the physical embodiment of the morning after a frat party. There's also a How-To Guide With Pictures, in case you own both a deep fryer and a burning desire to ruin everything that was once good in the universe.
Fried Kool Aid (California)
The county fair circuit must be getting desperate for new fried foods. After all, fried beer, deep-fried Twinkies, and fried lemonade have been clogging fair-goers' arteries for years. But now, deep-fried Kool-Aid balls make all previous fried creations seems like pure child's play, not so much because the recipe is anything special but because it just sounds so gross.
Creator Charlie Boghosian explains that the Kool-Aid balls are "kind of like donut holes" with a batter made from flour, water and Kool-Aid. His inspiration was fairly straightforward; Boghosian loved drinking Kool-Aid when growing up so he thought, "why not fry it and see what happens."
On a side note, has anyone else ever been bothered by the fact that the Kool Aid man is essentially asking us all to drink of his blood? I can't figure out whether that makes him a vampire or Jesus. Or vampire Jesus.
Fried Ice Cream Cheeseburger (Florida)
This bad boy starts with a regular burger. No worries there. But nestled under the toasted bun and perched atop the pickle, lettuce, tomato, bacon and cheese toppings is a slab of ice cream coated in cinnamon and cornflakes that has taken a dip in the deep fryer for 10 to 15 seconds.
Well, now you're just being silly. I mean, look at that thing. That's joke food. That might be good for about five seconds...and then the ice cream melts and turns the bun into a soggy, creamy sponge. Ever tried to eat a burger that's been dunked in a bucket of milk? Of course you haven't, because that's fucking disgusting. No one wants to eat that, so why the hell would anyone want to eat this?
Fried Salsa (Texas)
Deep Fried Texas Salsa features a medley of jalapeños, roasted garlic, onion, tomato and pepper rolled together, dipped in masa and covered in crunchy tortilla chips before it's dropped into the deep fryer. It's served with queso.
Five out of the eight ingredients in this are vegetables, which actually makes this the single healthiest entry on the entire list. Granted, that's like being the nicest person on Fox News, but still. These deserve a new sort of award at the Texas State Fair: "Least Likely to Kill You On Sight."
Fried Bubblegum (Texas)
Fried Bubblegum showcases bubblegum-flavored marshmallows dipped in batter, fried and decorated with icing and powdered sugar.
Where...where do I even start with this? It's like Dominique Ansel dropped some acid, went to the circus, spent 12 hours staring at gum on his shoe, then went into the kitchen to recreate the experience in neon pink marshmallow. Also, this thing is topped with Chiclets, just in case, y'know, you can't taste all that artificial bubblegum flavoring that's been injected into the marshmallows, because that would be a real shame.
This stuff was so vile that one food reviewer at the time actually added directions to the Sensodyne station to her post, just so that people knew where to go when they inevitably needed their tongues scraped and mouths washed out. This concoction somehow won the 2011 Texas State Fair "Most Creative" award, and I honestly cannot tell if they meant it ironically or not. It's creative in that they somehow found a way to make marshmallows even more gross, so they may be on to something.
Fried Jelly Beans (Massachusetts)
The Big E (a nickname for the Massachusetts State Fair) doesn't force a choice between candy and funnel cake. These jelly beans are dipped in batter before being deep-fried.
I really didn't think anyone could find a way to make Jelly Beans more disgusting, but Massachusetts has journeyed into a new frontier of methods for giving yourself third degree burns. In what way are these not edible napalm capsules? I can't see how this food ends in anything other than tragedy, for just so many reasons.
Fat Elvis on a Stick (Wisconsin)
Take peanut butter, chocolate and bacon, combine them with banana batter and you have a deep fried concoction known as the Fat Elvis On-a-Stick. This treat is savory, sweet and extra crispy.
Hold on, my body just tried to do about four different things at once. I gagged a little, then I started salivating, and now I have a boner. They just took four things I love and deep-fried them. My reality is shattered. I have stared into the abyss, and we are it. What is this fragile existence? WHAT IS MY LIFE? I AM A UNIVERSE OF INFINITE ENERGY FILLED WITH NAUGHT BUT LIGHT AND BACON GREASE. I AM ONE WITH THE GODS. I AM RA.
Fried Alligator on a Stick (Illinois)
This favorite at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield is deep-fried and skewered, teriyaki style. Fans say alligator tastes like pork and is similar to veal in texture.
Honestly, the more surprising aspect of this entry is not that it's here (we've got fried bubblegum, for fuck's sake), but that it's from Illinois. Isn't the point of a state fair to showcase local products and produce and state pride or some shit? Are there a lot of alligator farms in Illinois? Do alligators vacation there? What do their windbreakers look like?
Look, Illinois, just please don't start importing everything else from the Sunshine State. One Florida is more than enough.
Deep Fried White Castle Burgers (California)
The Orange County Fair is so dedicated to frying that a vendor called Heart Attack Café chose Deep Fried Butter Stand as its new name after being pressured with legal action by Arizona's Heart Attack Grill. Even more stupendous: Chicken Charlie's fried White Castle cheeseburgers (bun and all) at the 2011 fair.
Just in case you were wondering how rich, white, privileged, and uncreative Orange County is, they have something shipped in from the East Coast just to deep-fry it. Fuck all of California's readily available fresh fruits, vegetables, and cows. So local, so bourgeois — and nothing says, "I have $10K burning a hole in my wallet" like importing a food just so you can ruin it.
You can't even Midwest correctly, Orange County. God, you're terrible.
Oregon State Fair in 2011 was home to a flattened, deep-fried dough delicacy that just looks like it tried to cross the road at the wrong time, complete with oozing fruity sauces and syrups.
When we started our research, we were sure that we wouldn't be able to find two things: fried soup...and roadkill. Actually, we didn't even think about the latter, because seriously, who the fuck associates roadkill with good eats?!
Sadly*, this is not real roadkill. Instead, it's an adorable fried dough man that has been smashed, fried, stitched back together, and covered in a variety of sauces to emulate bodily fluids, fatal injuries and presumably look about as appetizing as a cracked three week-old biohazard container. What serial killer looked at a funnel cake and thought, "this is good, but you know what it needs? Something to remind me of that time I hit a raccoon with my 4x4"? If you can look at roadkill and think "that looks delicious!" I'm pretty sure you're the real-life version of a Deliverance character.
Fried Picnic on a Stick (Texas)
If you ever have a picnic consisting entirely of fried chicken, tater tots, and pickles, feel free to invite me along. I'll bring the fryer so we can recreate the fried picnic on a stick, in which the three ingredients are alternated on a skewer, breaded and gently steamed with broccoli (phrase struck through on Serious Eats) deep-fried. A great contrast of flavors, to be sure, but, beware: the tater tots spilled everywhere on the first bite.
Only in Texas would there be a person who devised a way to make a Franken-picnic. All of these things are fantastic separately, but when you ram them together, it sounds like you went dumpster diving blindfolded and then threw it in oil just to see what would happen.
...oh, who the fuck am I kidding? I want this in my facehole RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.
Deep Fried Sugar Cubes (Texas)
Yep, just like it sounds. Simple and sweet! Sugar cubes double-dipped in batter: chocolate, vanilla, or both. Deep-fried, then drizzled with chocolate, caramel or fruit sauces.
We've finally done it, humanity — we've found a way to craft edible Diabetes. Good show.
Fried Scorpion (Arizona)
Don't worry, it's dead: battered, fried, and served plain or dipped in chocolate, fried scorpions have southwesterners getting their ultimate revenge on the desert menace with an adaptation of a Chinese delicacy. Other backyard creatures-turned-snack options include crickets, grasshoppers, and lizards.
It says something about this entry that "deep-fried grasshoppers" is by FAR the least-weird thing on that list. You know, prior to researching this post, I said "I'm pretty sure I'll want to eat everything I talk about," and that was true — right up until I ran into the image pictured at the top of this article.
Scorpions?! Are you fucking kidding me?! No. Just...no. Stop. You have to draw the line somewhere, and if your line isn't drawn at arachnids, please tell me that when I first meet you so I can immediately run away screaming. If there's a list of creatures humanity is supposed to never eat, it probably looks something like this:
- Scorpions again.
- Seriously, scorpions. Don't fucking eat scorpions.
You just didn't listen, did you, Arizona? I'm trying to figure out where this ranks among your worst decisions. It's no repeatedly electing this shithead, or trying to pass this, or ACTUALLY passing this, but...wow, you guys make a LOT of horrifying decisions. I mean, goddamn.
*Is that the word I mean?
Special thanks to Kinja user Smithwellette for all her help with this post.