Jul 18, 2023 - Food and Drink

Iowa State Fair 2023: We tried the top 10 new foods

fried strawberry shortcake, cheese curds and edible cookie dough

(Left to right) Fried strawberry shortcake, dill cheese curds and edible cookie dough on a stick. Photos: Linh Ta/Axios

πŸ‘‹ Linh here. I got the big honor of judging the top 10 new Iowa State Fair foods on Tuesday.

Driving the news: There's 64 new foods to try during this year's event from Aug. 10-20.

State of play: Judges gathered at the fairgrounds to sample the food and collectively decided that our top three favorites were the Iowa Twinkie, grinder ball and the deep-fried brisket mac and cheese grilled cheese (say that five times fast.)

  • I judged each dish on its "fair factor" β€” does it have a fun twist and make you say, "only at the Iowa State Fair?" β€” as well as taste.
  • Here are my very subjective thoughts on some of the new foods:

Iowa Twinkie β€” Whatcha Smokin' BBQ & Brew

an iowa twinkie in a box
An Iowa Twinkie ($8) from Whatcha Smokin' BBQ & Brew. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: Based off a "Texas Twinkie," it's a carved-out jalapeΓ±o filled with pulled pork, corn and cream cheese that's wrapped in bacon and topped with barbecue sauce ($8).

What I liked: It was filling and between the salty meat, sweet sauce and hint of spice from the pepper, it had a little bit of every flavor.

What could improve: I was missing a "crunch" from the jalapeΓ±o and would like some sort of texture difference.

Fair factor: 5/5 β€” even the name screams fun.

Shrimp poke bowl β€” Shrimp Shack

Shrimp poke bowl
A shrimp poke bowl ($12) from Shrimp Shack. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: Rice with "sushi sauce," edamame, pineapple, mayo, carrots, cucumber, shrimp and crispy onion ($12).

What I liked: It was delicious and fresh, with tons of different flavors and veggies.

What could improve: Nothing! I liked the bowl for what it was.

Fair factor: 1/5 β€” It didn't have an Instagram-able factor, creative twist or "Oh my gosh, did you see that?"

Grinder ball β€” The Bacon Box

a grinder ball in a cardboard boat
A grinder ball from The Bacon Box ($6.50). Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: A gluten-free take on a grinder. The bacon blend is shaped into a ball, stuffed with mozzarella cheese and wrapped in bacon, then smoked and dipped in marinara sauce ($6.50).

What I liked: It's a giant spaghetti meatball!

What could improve: If you're on the keto diet or a big meat fan, this is for you. I admittedly did miss the bread, but I know that goes against the intention of the dish.

Fair factor: 4/5 β€” a giant hunk of meat indeed screams Iowa State Fair.

Crunchy Cool Ranch Pickle on a Stick β€” Grater Tater

cool ranch pickle
A Crunchy Cool Ranch Pickle on a Stick ($6).Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: A pickle rolled in a cool ranch mix, breaded in crumbs of Doritos Cool Ranch and topped with ranch ($6).

What I liked: It's a new twist on the fried pickle on a stick and gives some variety to the classic.

What could improve: It was very salty.

Fair factor: 5/5 β€” there's few things more American than cool ranch-flavored Doritos.

Deep-Fried Strawberry Shortcake on a Stick β€” Smith's

Fried strawberry shortcake
Strawberry shortcake on a stick ($8) from Smith's.Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: A strawberry shortcake roll that's battered and fried, then topped with whipped cream and strawberry sauce ($8).

What I liked: Not too sweet and it was crispy on the outside despite whipped cream. It was so delicious!

What could improve: I liked it all!

Fair factor: 3/5 β€” anything fried on a stick is a win.

Deep-Fried Bacon Brisket Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese β€” What's Your Cheez

sandwich sample
A sample of a Deep-Fried Bacon Brisket Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese ($12) from What's Your Cheez.Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: A grilled cheese sandwich with mac and cheese, brisket, bacon cheddar bread and a raspberry chipotle dipping sauce that's similar to au jus ($12).

What I liked: The bread had a crispy cheddar layer that made the whole sandwich pop. Lots of sweet and savory.

What could improve: This isn't a bad thing, but I was ready for a nap after eating this.

Fair factor: 5/5 β€” I love any food name that makes me confused about what exactly I'm eating.

Iowa Sweet Corn Sundae β€” Over the Top

Iowa Sweet Corn Sundae ($9) from Over the Top.

What it is: Iowa sweet corn ice cream garnished with green candy melt and a butterscotch topping and corn kernels ($9).

What I liked: It all tasted good together. Don't be fooled by the corn bits, they added a fun, sweet texture to the ice cream.

What could improve: Corn-flavored ice creams are typically subtle and similar to vanilla. The butterscotch sauce is a nice mix, but I'd love more flavor, like some flakey salt!

Fair factor: 5/5 β€” it's ice cream shaped like corn.

Dill pickle-flavored cheese curds β€” Brad & Harry's Cheese Curds

Dill pickle cheese curds
Dill pickle-flavored cheese curds ($9) from Brad & Harry's Cheese Curds. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: Ellsworth Creamery dill pickle cheese curds, seasoned with more dill ($9 or $21 for a bucket)

What I liked: A subtle, sour twist to your traditional cheese curd. Nice and crispy with a gooey cheese inside.

What could improve: I would love a fun sauce!

Fair factor: 3/5 β€” creative twist on a classic.

Dough Crazy Sweet Stick β€” Dough Crazy

edible cookie dough stick
Dough Crazy Sweet Stick ($10) from Dough Crazy. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

What it is: A stick of edible cookie dough. Flavors include chocolate chip, brookie, cherry chocolate chip, cake batter, brownie batter, monster, cookies and cream and chocolate chip cookie dough without the chocolate chips ($10).

What I liked: I never knew you could eat so many flavors of cookie dough from just one stick.

What could improve: I needed friends at the tasting because this gave me a stomach ache.

Fair factor: 5/5 β€” someone's going to ask you what you're eating if you walk around with this.

Of note: The one food I didn't get to try was "A-Hootenanny, " an oatmeal raisin cookie ice cream dessert from Iowa Specialty Crop Growers Association.

  • I tried to eat as fast as I could but still couldn't make it there!

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