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Iowa State Fair 2022: Our Top Ten Rankings for new foods this year
See our thoughts on the Top 10 to decide what you’d like to try for yourself
DES MOINES — On this year’s Top 10 new foods list at the Iowa State Fair, there is nary a stick in sight.
With 53 new foods at this year’s fair — alongside more than 60 items on sticks, you’ll find plenty of variety for your stomach.
See our thoughts on this year’s Top 10 list to decide which ones to dedicate that precious stomach real estate to as you peruse the fairgrounds. Online voting for the top three on the Iowa State Fair’s list — the “OMG” Chicken Sandwich, The Finisher and Pork Picnic in a Cup — closes at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.
If you go
What: Iowa State Fair
Where: Fairgrounds, 3000 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines
When: Through Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022; grounds open 8 a.m. to midnight, buildings open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Admission: $9 ages 12 and up, $5 ages 6 to 11 in advance; $14 ages 12 and up, $8 ages 6 to 11 at the gate; ages 5 and under free
Food details: iowastatefair.org/food
Fair details: iowastatefair.org/
1. Pork Belly Bao Buns at Saigonais Cuisine
From the first grab of this wrap, my fingers sink into the supple bao buns like a memory foam pillow. That satisfying feeling foreshadowed the treat I was about to taste.
Inside the slightly sweet, rice flour buns, fresh daikon — a tangy radish — cilantro, shredded carrots and cucumber gave a refreshing reset to my palate after a day of overindulging in every decadence food capitalism had to offer. The buns had just the right amount of ingredients and felt like a graceful redemption for my gluttonous transgressions.
Even though I ate this after nearly everything else on our tour de cuisine on opening day at the Iowa State Fair, it left me begging for more on a full stomach.
The Yum Yum sauce blanketing the gently braised pork and veggies was like the hosts of a good party — they may not be the most entertaining person in the room, but they make sure everyone is having a good time. The pork was tender and gently seasoned, marinated in five-spice.
For a full authentic experience, order it with iced boba tea.
Creator Lynn Gott, a Vietnam native and 30-year resident of Des Moines, produced the idea so she could see her culture represented in the Iowa State Fair, where she never really saw a 100 percent Asian item before.
And like the Iowa State Fair’s motto, nothing else on the Top 10 list compared to this item.
2. Pork Picnic in a Cup at the Iowa Pork Tent
I’m noticing a trend in fair food with the Top 10 new foods this year: sticks are out, but cups are in. Move over, pork chop on a stick.
This year’s offering from the Iowa Pork Producers Association comes to you because, like most other vendors this year, they wanted something new. Instead of another sandwich, they thought outside the bun.
Layered with coleslaw, baked beans, barbecue pulled pork, barbecue sauce and corn chips, each cup is garnished with a piece of pork belly cooked like candy with brown sugar.
“It’s everything you can get at a pork picnic in a cup,” said Hannah Spurr, consumer outreach director for the association.
Refreshing coleslaw starts the cup off well. I’m picky about coleslaw, but the selection here was perfectly crunchy without being overly saccharine.
The cool top layer melds with the baked beans, reminding me of tastes from a picnic, where the items on your overfilled plate inevitably run into each other.
Going deeper into the cup with each bite, you claw out a few shreds of pulled pork tightly packed under the coleslaw, bringing uniquely Iowa communion to your mouth. Corn chips at the bottom of the cup are drawn up like Velcro stuck to the pork, adding a touch of salt to the finish.
3. The Finisher at Rib Shack
With a potato the size of two fists, this is not a side — it’s a meal in itself.
The product of pragmatic cooking with limited space at the fair, Rib Shack owner Joni Bell said they worked with what they already had to create this monstrous potato with a few new finishing touches.
The russet potato is layered with chopped brisket, smoked pulled pork and the Rib Shack’s famous bacon brisket macaroni and cheese. Topping it all is a generous dollop of sour cream, green onion, and a barbecue butter that drips along the parts of the potato skin not claimed by other toppings.
Most patrons are not able to finish the potato in one sitting.
After figuring out which topping to sink your fork into first, the pork introduces you to the creamy macaroni and cheese. Barbecue sauce adds a nice zest.
Surprisingly, by the time I dug to the bottom of the treasure chest, I still wanted to eat the potato itself. The variety kept my mouth guessing what was next, without overwhelming me.
4. Egg-o-Fuego at The Cluck’n Coop
Chef Jeremy Jessen with the Iowa Egg Council said this new breakfast sandwich — part of a larger breakfast focus at this year’s Cluck’n Coop — was inspired by his fair experience as a child.
With fond memories riding the Ring of Fire with his father, he wanted to create something as spicy as the ride made him feel, while staying within the confines of Midwestern palates.
Guacamole peeks out with bright eyes from underneath a soft brioche bun and dominates the first couple of bites with a mild, creamy texture.
A touch of sweetness from the brioche bun shakes hands with the first bites of chorizo sausage, complemented nicely by pepper jack cheese. Then the guacamole comes back to ask if you need anything else.
“We’re good, thanks,” the jalapeno relish replies with a heat that lasts a few minutes.
The sandwich had a little grease to it, but felt wholesome — not dirty.
5. Puff Sundae at Bauder’s Ice Cream
A whiff of freshly toasted marshmallow hits me first as it wafted past the cool sensation of ice cream on a hot day.
The ice cream offers a classic vanilla swirled with a decadent hot fudge. I didn’t mind the warmth of the hot fudge, even on a warm day.
After a few bites, the vanilla wafer was perfectly soaked with the melted ice cream. Just as the fudge’s viscosity makes me a little thirsty, the vanilla ice cream satisfies my urge to reach for a water bottle.
Graham cracker crumbs at the bottom of the cup offer a nice finishing texture to a dish that can only be described as “summer.”
6. Dawghouse Reuben sandwich from Dawghouse Concessions Pickledawgs
After a hot day full of eating everything in sight, I have to say that a sandwich filled with Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut and cream cheese did not sound like my idea of a good time. But this sandwich was surprisingly good.
The creation is a new twist on their popular “Pit Bull dog,” from previous years.
In a more deconstructed form, it features a pickle on the outside of the pastrami rather than the inside — all stuffed into a brat bun.
The shaved pastrami balanced well with the dressing and a polite finish from the cream cheese.
7. Blue Ribbon Cobbler from the Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association
This was created to evoke nostalgia.
“It’s everything the fair represents,” said Kelly Peabey, who develops and presents the Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association’s products at multiple venues.
Oozing with simplicity, the cobbler is the star of the show as it stands up under the weight of fresh blueberries, ice cream and whipped cream. Heavy is the cobbler head that wears the blueberry crown.
A rich blueberry sauce at the bottom of the cup gives even more flavor, and the texture of sugar sprinkled on top of the cobbler snapped me out of my daydream.
8. “OMG” Chicken Sandwich
This sandwich had the longest line on the first day of the Iowa State Fair.
The giant chicken breast was large, perfectly moist and crispy on the outside. Sugarcoated cornflake breading was an interesting touch. The bacon was crispy, and the Krispy Kreme split in half was an inventive new way to use my favorite doughnut brand.
I was hoping this would be like chicken and waffles — a combination that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. Personally, I did not achieve that level of nirvana with this sandwich.
Fashion designer Coco Chanel said that before leaving the house, you should look in the mirror and remove one accessory. In my opinion, the same advice applies here.
Between the cornflakes, the syrup drizzle on top of the cornflakes and the glaze of the doughnut, it was a little too rich for me to digest all at once.
I may be the only one who feels this way, though — this chicken sandwich is one of the finalists for the top new foods at this year’s fair.
9. Minty Moo Parfait with Girl Scout Thin Mints at Dairy Barn
This year’s sweet treat from the Midwest Dairy Association is the product of innovation in difficult times.
In 2020, the association lost most of its labor force and scrambled. With about 25 workers needed per shift, the jobs are tough to fill.
That’s when Girl Scouts stepped up to the plate. Now, the association is continuing the partnership with the most popular Girl Scouts cookie. Proceeds of the new Minty Moo Parfait benefit the Girl Scouts, who are volunteering every day at the fair.
With a light flavor, the crunch of the crumbles at the top leads into layers of vanilla ribboned with thick chocolate syrup. This parfait gives a new dairy experience at the fair, serving as a nice transition between other foods.
10. Chuckie’s Tenderloin Wrap at Chuckie’s Famous Breaded Pork Tenderloins
Iowans are always searching for the best tenderloin. But have they ever thought about it in a wrap?
Chuck Cox, owner of Chuckie’s Famous Breaded Pork Tenderloins, has thought of it.
His presentation on this year’s Top 10 list was a hodgepodge of all the best ideas sourced from his team in one, portable item.
Tenderloin strips are coated with a sweet, creamy and viscous coleslaw. The pork is juicy and plays well with both the sweet coleslaw and the zesty barbecue sauce.
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