State and local fairs have been canceled or postponed around the country, one of a number of summer staples upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
But with a few social-distancing-friendly tweaks, a number of fairs are finding ways to make sure Americans can still experience their favorite part of the tradition: the food.
While you probably won’t be able to see the Doobie Brothers this summer, drive-through carnival experiences are popping up in more than a dozen states to boost vendors and serve up America’s best deep-fried and jumbo treats. Some fair fare is even available through delivery services, the Tampa Bay Times reported, so you may not even have to leave your home.
The trend shows us that even if people can’t get out of their cars at the fairgrounds, “it turns out people still want their fair food,” Dale Klick, the board president of the Stark County Fair in Ohio, told Farm and Dairy.
In the spirit of fair-food longing (and guidance), here’s a ranking of our five all-time favorites.
5. Flamin’ anything
Fair food always takes things to the extreme. And one instant way of cranking any food up a notch, as the Big Fresno Fair knows better than anyone, is dusting it in CHEETOS® Crunchy FLAMIN’ HOT® Cheese Flavored Snacks (known to the layperson as simply Flamin’ Hot Cheetos).
At its drive-through Fair Food Feature in May, the Big Fresno Fair served up Jumbo Flamin’ corn dogs, Flamin’ baked potatoes, and the behemoth that was the Flamin’ Curly, a gooey, spicy and terrifying (yet oddly alluring) tangle of Cheetos and curly fries.
Likely a nightmare to eat in the car, the Flamin’ Curly was served in brick form, and it took two paper plates to hold. But the mess is well worth the multiple hand-sanitizing wipes afterward.
4. Candy apples
If you ask someone whether they want to eat fruit at a fair, the answer will probably be no. That’s not, after all, what fair food is about.
But things change if you coat said fruit in a layer of hard sugar, which is why the candy apple has been capturing the hearts of fairgoers for more than a century. Dating to 1908, the treats are an American invention that feels inseparable from the modern-day fair landscape.
Yes, they might chip your teeth. But we love them nonetheless for the deeply satisfying chomp.
3. Turkey legs
There are few food-related activities that appeal more to people’s animal instincts than ripping meat off a bone with our teeth. The turkey leg gives us just that.
An added bonus in the case of this ranking: Turkey legs were practically made for this new world of fair-drive-through eating. They’re one of the most naturally portable fair foods out there, and they’re less messy than the other on-a-stick options, too. (Looking at you, cheesecake on a stick slathered in melted chocolate.)
2. Deep-fried Oreo
Fairs have an incredible talent for deep-frying everyday snacks and turning them into showstoppers. Snickers. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Pickles. Twinkies. Cookie dough.
But one of the most beloved is the deep-fried Oreo, which seems destined to emerge as a drive-through fair staple. Available on most drive-through fair menus, it’s an electrified version of the classic sandwich cookie.
1. Fried dough
Just hearing the words “funnel cake” alone is enough to spark nostalgia nationwide, and for good reason: It is, hands down, the best fair food out there.
Even though funnel cake is best eaten fresh — ideally with a backdrop of meandering extended families, teens on dates and corralled barnyard animals — hot fried dough and powdered sugar will meld together in delicious harmony no matter where you indulge. Eating funnel cake inevitably brings a flurry, though, so if you prefer to avoid that mess, its cousin, the elephant ear, is an almost-as-good alternative.
Visit your county or state fair’s website or Facebook page to find out whether you can grab some fried dough today.
And if you do end up trying to eat funnel cake in the car, bring a tarp.