Americans did not invent food on a stick, but they did invent fast food, which they then made even faster by putting it on a stick. Food on a stick doesn’t require a container or wrapper; the handling mechanism is built right in, and it’s immediately ready to eat. The most famous iteration, of course, is the corn dog, which first saw life as a sans-stick curiosity before the 1927 patent application for a “combined dipping, cooking, and article-holding apparatus” allowed it to assume its final form.
At the Iowa State Fair, the premier stage for presidential candidates to pantomime being a Just Another Regular American, food on a stick is so foundational that there is a dedicated section on its website with an exhaustive list of impaled food items (there are, for instance, 11 variations on the corn dog). “People like stuff on a stick,” says Larry Fyfe, who has run concessions at the state fair for 50 years, and has sold novelty items like a deep-fried stick of butter... on a stick. “They can carry it around, eat it on the go.” According to Fyfe, putting a product on a stick can boost its sales by about 50 percent.
In all, Eater tried more than two dozen skewered items at the Iowa State Fair. It quickly became clear that while a stick is the natural home for some foods — shockingly, caramel-dipped pecan pie — not everything belongs on a stick (salads, in any form).
Yes, the “stick” is just the bone, but the pork chop on a stick is the Iowa State Fair’s second-best-selling item, after the iconic corn dog. In the summer leading into the Iowa Caucus, presidential candidates usually take a crack at grilling a pallet of them for a now-traditional photo op. (Senator Kamala Harris was the grillmaster supreme this year.) If a whole pork chop is too much meat, there’s always brown-sugar pork belly on a stick.
The popcorn ball with M&Ms on a stick managed to ruin popcorn and M&Ms at the same time, an impressive feat. Funnel cake on a stick is a prime example of fair food taken too far, the traditional powdered sugar replaced with a drizzling of three flavors of liquid sugar. The deep-fried brownie on a stick, however, is a truly marvelous piece of American ingenuity; the result tastes like a pancake with a giant piece of chocolate inside. The monkey tail, despite the try-hard name, is refreshingly simple: a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and covered in nuts.
Cajun chicken on a stick is a true delight, with seasoned chicken, pickles, and onion, jammed together and deep-fried on a single skewer. At $9.75, it’s on the pricier side, but it was worth it. On the less deep-fried side of things, there’s grilled corn on the cob on a stick, which was served at a stand with DIY toppings, like Tajin and mayo, to dress it elote style.
The bacon-wrapped riblet on a stick, which was located in the Budweiser tent, puts two cuts of pig on one stick for $5.50 — making it one of the fair’s best values, at least from a certain point of view.
Tucked away on the second floor of the Agriculture Building, the Salad Bowl stand was run by friendly, well-meaning people who had the unfortunate job of selling fresh vegetables at an event largely (though not exclusively) defined by deep-fried meat and dairy products. The caprese salad on a stick was the move — tomatoes and fresh mozzarella take exceptionally well to being impaled and eaten off of a skewer — while the salad on a stick is a mistake on many levels. Fruit salad on a stick, however, is totally acceptable. Naturally, though, there’s nothing like a pickle on a stick as a palate cleanser.
The caramel apple is a longtime fair fixture, but why settle when there’s caramel-dipped pecan pie on a stick?
The chicken in a waffle on a stick is, well, an entire meal on a stick — syrup optional.
Dipped in Chocolate, a booth that is exactly what it sounds like, has been at the fair for a decade. It turns out there are a lot of things you can dip in chocolate, but it’s hard to say no to chocolate-covered New York cheesecake on a stick.
Some lessons learned: Raw peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a stick is a terrible idea (the same cannot be said for a fried PB&J), while the crazy tater is better for ’gramming than for eating. The Dutch bologna may look like just a sausage on a stick, but it’s a fair classic for a reason.
The cult of bacon is strong at state fairs: Behold bacon balls on a stick — each one consisting of nine strips of bacon.
Sure, a soft pretzel dipped in chocolate on a stick is totally fine, but there’s a reason that, when alien archaeologists discuss the food culture of Earth during the late 20th century, they will probably end up talking about the deep-fried Twinkie on a stick: That’s when it peaked.
What is there left to say about the corn dog except that it is perfect in every way?