First first time fair goer? Overwhelmed by the mass of fried dough and people watching you eat? The North Carolina State Fair is a boisterous event filled with all sorts of over-the-top foods, from fried pizza to bacon-wrapped everything to ostrich burgers. While these all sound extremely enticing and interesting to try, you can't beat the classics. Here's your guide to the best timeless foods you can find at the North Carolina State Fair. Make sure to come hungry!
Seems normal right? Almost boring? It's just a vegetable that you can hold in your hand, which at first seems like nothing special. That's what people who have never had the corn at the North Carolina State Fair think. However, this corn is unlike any you've ever had before.
It's savory, sweet, and salty all at the same time, making it something your tastebuds will never forget. You can even ask for your ear of corn to be dipped in a coating of butter or, perhaps the greatest condiment of them all, queso. You're gonna want this corn at the Thanksgiving table.
2. Elephant Ears
Do not let the immense amount of fried dough overwhelm you. Just take it one bite at a time, and I promise your tastebuds will love you. While there are many tasty, deep-fried treats that are sure to give you diabetes, this deep-fried dough is the most elegant in its purest form.
Instead of a lattice of fried dough strings like a funnel cake, it's more like a flat pizza dough, but fried to sweet perfection. You also get multiple options of what to smother on your pie. My favorites are the fudge and custard swirled into the middle like a giant, open-faced eclair, or the apple and cinnamon streusel. Many options lie ahead, but it's up to you to try them all.
3. Jalapeño Pimento Cheese Bacon Hush Puppies
I will elaborate on this, but the title alone should be enough to make you sprint to the Cajun stand inside Gate 8. This stand contains other assortments like shrimp bites and fish on a stick, but these hush puppies are the secret must-tries right under our noses.
The spice from the jalapeño is not overwhelming, and the cheese cools down the pepper while creating a completely different texture with the fried dough. It's screaming for bacon. And there it is: in little savory pieces swirled throughout the pimento. It's an explosion of flavor that will have you coming back for more (and more, and more).
4. Deep-Fried Cookie Dough
You might think that the best pairing with cookie dough is ice cream, and in some cases, you're right. But at the North Carolina State Fair, the best thing to pair with cookie dough is, unsurprisingly, fried dough. It's like eating a real, baked cookie but with a flaky, crispy exterior.
The familiar, mouth-watering taste of Pillsbury cookie dough hits your taste buds at the same time as the delicious fried dough. The rich chocolate chips inside make your worries of salmonella subside and submerge you into a deep-fried euphoria.
5. Charlie Barefoot's Chili Dogs
Charlie Barefoot's is unlike any other stand you'll find at the North Carolina State Fair. In fact, you don't stand, you sit. Bustling waitresses with the thickest southern drawls will take your order immediately and have your corn dogs, chili dogs, or fries out to you in a jiffy, bringing plenty of napkins with them (because, trust me, you're going to need them).
Everything at Charlie's is worth trying, but if you are limited to one item, I recommend the foot-long chili dog with ketchup and mustard, hold the onions. The buns are toasted and soft but sturdy enough to hold the foot-long, red, Bright Leaf dog. If you haven't had a red hot dog before, you haven't had a hot dog. Keep your eyes peeled for the yellow and white striped tent by the swings. You don't want to miss it.
6. Krispy Kreme Burger
Yes, I admit, this is weird. Very weird. These things don't usually go together on paper. "Donuts and meat?" they asked. "People will never go for it," they said. And yet, I get one every year. It is the most modern rendition of salty, sweet, and savory. The donuts are fresh, quality Krispy Kreme and don't taste like they have been sitting in the back of a freezer for two weeks before the fair opened.
The burger is up to the standards of many grill masters out there, charred and smoky. The addition of the cheddar cheese and bacon was risky, but oh so worth the risk. Overall, the combination is magical and ingenious; the experience, indescribable. You'll have to check it out for yourself.
7. The Mill's Hush Puppies
These hushpuppies have been a staple fair food in my family since we first started attending, and we've gotten them every year since. The little mill on the lake at the entrance of Gate 8 generously gives free tours to all, through the mill, and shows how the hush puppies are made. They also offer bags of hush puppy mix for $8.
When you enter, you are offered a fresh, hot, hushpuppy on a stick. They're not like the ones from Smithfield's BBQ and nothing like the ones from the Pit BBQ. These are original, hand made, hand tossed, and hand fried in the mill you are currently exploring. Light gold and fluffy inside, and hot to the touch on the outside. It's an experience worth having. And did I mention they're free?