8 Carnival Foods We Dare You to Try

Battered, fried and served on a stick

Photo: steviep187 [CC by ND-2.0]/Flickr

Remember when eating at the local fair was a relatively straightforward — albeit unhealthy — affair where the most exotic fried item was dough? Although beloved fairground staples like corn dogs, elephant ears and cotton candy are alive and well (and facing no threat of losing their titles as the primary source of post-fair heartburn), there’s a new breed of midway munchies on the scene that are unhealthy enough to bring Dr. Oz to tears and weird enough to give Andrew Zimmerman new material for years.

Taking a quick detour from our normal preoccupation with healthy and nutritious eating, here’s a not-for-the-faint-of-heart look (and a gag, depending on how you feel about chocolate-covered scorpions and Spam curds) at some of America’s most unusual, most unnecessary and most diet-unraveling fairground grub. Sadly, the very existence of most of these deep-fried gut-busters aren’t helping to combat the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic as state fairs, despite their smattering of healthy options, remain a relatively nutrition-free zone where the greasy, the fatty and the fried reign supreme. Still, it’s fun to gawk, but if you’re anything like us, just reading about some of these items may have you eating rice cakes and raw vegetables for weeks.

Deep-fried Kool-Aid

cuttlefish/Flickr.

Where: San Diego County Fair, Del Mar, Calif.

If you thought the man responsible for introducing the world to gastronomic grotesqueries such as deep-fried Klondike bars and the zucchini-weenie had topped himself with a nauseating little invention called the Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich, think again. Carnie cook extraordinaire "Chicken" Charlie Boghosian revealed his latest artery-hardening item, nuggets of deep-fried Kool-Aid, at this year’s San Diego County Fair, an event that, thanks to Boghosian, has become ground zero for diet-busting fair fare. To prepare these highly caloric orbs of sugary goodness (or grossness?), Boghosian tosses ice cream scoop-sized balls of batter (water, flour, cherry Kool-Aid powder) into a deep fryer before rolling them in a tray of powdered sugar and Kool-Aid mix. And there you have it, folks ... the world's greasiest sugar coma.

Hot beef sundae

KZiM/Flickr.

Where: Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis

Here’s something that you’re not going to find at your local DQ: a big bowl of marinated beef slathered with gravy, corn and cheese “sprinkles” served ice cream sundae-style with a cherry (tomato) on top. Apparently, at the Indiana State Fair, beef isn’t only “what’s for dinner;” it’s what’s for dessert as well. The Indiana Beef Cattle Association, the creator of this favorite of strong-stomached Hoosiers (we certainly wouldn’t want to consume this before going on the Tilt-A-Whirl), does face some serious porcine competition in the form of the pulled pork parfait, a mélange of pulled pork, BBQ sauce and mashed potatoes served in a plastic parfait cup and best eaten with a spork.

Deep-fried butter balls

alanosaur/Flickr.

Where: Texas State Fair, Dallas

When: Sept. 30-Oct. 23

Well, Paula Deen, it looks like you can now literally eat your heart out (okay, maybe you already have). First unveiled as the big winner at the 2009 edition of Bob Greene’s worst nightmare, the Texas State Fair’s Big Tex Choice Awards, deep-fried butter balls are the unholy creation of deep-fry demigod Abel Gonzales Jr. Like other boundary-pushing Gonzales-concocted delicacies such as fried cookie dough and fried Coke, deep-fried butter balls are prepared exactly as one would expect: Golf ball-sized scoops of whipped butter are rolled in a sweet dough, flavored, tossed in a deep fryer and served piping hot. We must admit that these nuggets of dairy decadence do sound somewhat appealing — but let’s keep that a secret, OK?

Spaghetti and meatballs on a stick

Minnesota State Fair.

Where: The Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul

When: Aug. 25-Sept. 5

The Minnesota State Fair, one of the country’s largest, is (in)famous for its numerous, mostly nauseating supper-on-a-stick offerings (alligator sausage, pork chops, butterscotch cake and on) but none is perhaps more perplexing than the sloppy-sounding spaghetti and meatballs on a stick. Here’s how this unorthodox Italian-American dinner-on-the-go is prepared: Cooked spaghetti is mashed up with “meatball mix,” formed into a sizeable ball, garlic-battered and deep-fried. A wooden stick is inserted, and the giant meaty lollipop is then served hot with a side of marinara sauce. If it’s regional-specialties-on-a-stick that you’re after, not Italian, you can also find hotdish on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair, although deep-fried lutefisk on a stick appears to be a no-go. Thank goodness for that.

Chocolate-covered scorpions, crickets and more

Arizona State Fair.

When: Oct. 14-Nov. 6

If a spin on the Gravitron wasn’t stomach-churning enough, adventurous epicureans at the Arizona State Fair have the option of dining on Chef John’s scorpions — or crickets and grubs, if you prefer — that have been deep-fried, smothered in chocolate and skewered on a stick. And now we know where the term “not for a million bucks” comes from. In all seriousness, crunchy fried scorpion treats aren’t just a “Fear Factor”-ish state fair novelty — the arachnids have long been considered a delicacy in China. Still, we think we’ll pass ... and probably not for the reindeer dogs, smoked lizard, rocky mountain oysters (bull testicles) and sautéed mealworm caramel apples, all which can also be found at the Arizona State Fair.

Ice cream cheeseburger

Cheryl and Dennis Reas.

Where: Florida State Fair, Tampa

When: Feb. 9-20, 2012

After a long hard day of petting goats, careening down slides and exploring the myriad charms of Cracker Country, ravenous Florida State Fair-goers don’t need to necessarily settle for a hum-drum meal of corn dogs and lemonade ... especially when there’s a bacon cheeseburger topped with a generous scoop of deep-fried ice cream battered in corn flakes and cinnamon on the premises. Unleashed at the Florida State Fair in 2011, the ice cream cheeseburger — also topped with vegetables — yes, vegetables, in the form of lettuce and tomatoes — comes courtesy of concessionaire Carousel Foods, which also offers early-bird fair-goers a more breakfast-oriented delight: the French toast cheeseburger.

Spam curds

puppethead/Flickr.

Where: The Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul.

When: Aug. 25-Sept. 5

If you’re not really feeling the whole food-on-a-stick shtick that prevails at the gastronomic minefield that is the Minnesota State Fair, here’s an equally unhealthy, stick-free option: Spam curds, diced chunks of cheese-flavored Spam that are battered, deep-friend and served in a basket with a side of ranch dressing. Or, you could just opt for a Spam burger. The presence of Spam at the fair makes perfect sense given that the ubiquitous canned mystery meat — it’s actually a mixture of chopped pork shoulder ham and a bunch of preservatives — was first created in Minnesota in 1937. In fact, the city of Austin, Minn., has been lovingly dubbed “Spam Town USA” thanks to the presence of Spam-maker Hormel’s headquarters and the Spam Museum.

Chocolate-covered bacon on a stick

It's Holly/Flickr.

Where: Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis

If perverse state fair foods had the ability to star in their own Rob Reiner-directed romantic comedies, this one would be a doozy: “When Chocolate Met Bacon.” A sweet and salty match made in high-cholesterol heaven, the Wisconsin State Fair’s chocolate-covered bacon on a stick has the potential to win over both lovers of chocolate (timeless) and bacon (so 2005) ... or to be completely revolting. Fortunately, the Wisconsin State Fair offers a decent amount of on-a-stick edibles (but nothing like the folks over at the Minnesota State Fair), giving fair-goers the opportunity to get their bacon (country fried bacon on a stick) and chocolate (chocolate and nuts on a stick) fixes separately.