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15 Old-Fashioned Fair Foods You Need to Eat This Summer

Remembering our childhood one greasy, fried food at a time.
FACT CHECKED BY Justine Goodman
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If you're excited about the summer and heading out to your State Fair, local carnival or city block party, you're probably as excited as we are about eating all those delightful old-fashioned fair foods. While we love some of the newer food innovations popping up at fairs, and the food trucks bringing them to us, these are the best old-school foods we remember from childhood.

It's time to treat yourself to the best retro fair foods—read on for our favorite picks and see if yours made it onto the list!

Candied Nuts

Candied Nuts

So sweet, so crunchy and so craveable! Candied nuts, usually in the form of pecans or walnuts (but we won't say no to peanuts or almonds either), are warmed nuts tossed with brown sugar and other ingredients to create a sweet crunch.

Shaved Ice

Shaved Ice

One of the world's oldest desserts, kakigori is said to date back as far as 10th or 11th century Japan, and was introduced to the U.S. via Hawaii. At the fair, you'll find this cooling treat available with different flavored syrups.

Fried Cheese Curds

cheese curds

This midwestern treat has spread nationwide over the years, and it remains a fair food classic. Simple, squeaky farmer's cheese that's deep-fried in bite-size chunks and salted, what more could you possibly ask for?

Caramel Popcorn

caramel popcorn

Sticky sweet meets the crunch of popcorn in this traditional treat, which was invented in Chicago back in 1870. People have been walking around eating this treat out of a bag ever since.

Corn Dog

Putting ketchup mustard corndogs

A hot dog dipped in a shell of cornmeal batter and fried doesn't seem like a super obvious snack when you spell it out, but the mix of the crunchy exterior and sweet meat steaming inside is the perfect snack on a stick.

Elephant Ears

Elephant Ears

One of the many forms of fried dough available around the country, these plate-filling pieces of dough are often covered with powdered sugar or honey, and do vaguely resemble an elephant ear.


old-fashioned chocolate fudge
Courtesy Life, Love and Sugar

Is it really summer if you don't walk around with a little white box of melty, gooey fudge? Once a college fad—it was created by Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, who made 30 pounds of it in 1888 for Vassar College's senior auction—it's evolved into a carnival and beachside favorite.

Soft-Serve Ice Cream

soft serve

Almost as light as air, this cone-friendly confection usually comes in three flavors at the fair: vanilla, chocolate, and swirl—but everyone knows swirl is always the way to go.

Kettle Corn

kettle corn

Not to be confused with its slightly stickier cousin, caramel popcorn, kettle corn is usually cooked in a large, oiled kettle and finished with a mix of salt and sugar. It's an old recipe, and was supposedly brought to the U.S. in the 1700s by Dutch colonists.

Funnel Cake

funnel cake with powdered sugar on paper

The "circle of drizzled batter" version of fried dough, the funnel cake, like an elephant ear, is often served covered in powdered sugar or honey. Pro move: Ask for both toppings, plus chocolate if they have it.

Candied Apples

candied apples

When was the last time you had a bright, shiny red candied apple? It's been way too long, admit it. When you break through that crisp, sweet shell and into the apple crunch at the fair this summer, remember us!

Fried Pickle Chips

fried pickles

Yes, the fair is full of unusual deep-fried foods, but one of our favorites is this 1960s throwback, which has been filling bellies at sports bars, street fairs, and carnivals ever since.

Corn on the Cob

corn on the cob

The big difference between corn on the cob at home and corn on the cob at the fair is that it's meant to be hand-held. Served with the husk as a holder, or sometimes with a stick (corndog-style), just chomp on the butter-drenched corn as you strategize what your next treat will be.



Another member of the fried dough club, airy and crispy churros are rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and are best eaten hot out of the fryer.

Turkey Legs

turkey leg

A state fair staple, giant turkey legs started showing up at Renaissance Fairs in the 1960s and quickly grew in popularity. The smokey, juicy legs are the perfect walking protein.

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Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya
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