Is The Minnesota State Fair The Best In The Country? Oh Ya, You Betcha
Every August, Minnesotans pack into the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to experience the magic of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, also known as the Minnesota State Fair. It’s two weeks of deliciously horrifying foods, craft beer, farm animals, freshly made dairy products, live music and huge crowds of enthusiastic Midwesterners. What’s not to love?
Here, most things are deep-fried and on a stick. It’s a running joke come August that everything must be on a stick, from pickles (reasonable) to political flyers (a bit of a stretch). Puns aside, I’m a born-and-raised St. Paul girl who swears by the fair for getting a true taste of the heartland, with a little bit of Minnesota zaniness thrown in for kicks. So put on your good walking shoes — a pair that can survive a wander through a barn and stay on your feet through a sky-high thrill ride — and elastic-waist pants, and get ready to experience the essence of Minnesota.
The Minnesota State Fair gets nearly 2 million visitors each year. That’s 2 million people wandering through the 322-acre fairgrounds in St. Paul over the 12 days leading up to Labor Day. Admission costs $14 for adults, and inside there are around 300 food vendors, nearly 50 rides, countless booths of merch and tons of live music. Just to get a scope of the thing, there are 25,000 ears of corn sold every day (and people have hefty feelings on which roasted corn stand sells the best batch).
So let’s be real — you can’t possibly see everything in one visit. But you can hit the highlights that make the Minnesota State Fair the best in the country.
First up, let’s talk fry — fries and fried foods. You walk through the gates of the fair and you can smell that sweet scent of deep-fried fun. If you’re going classic fries, you want the ones in the red and yellow striped building. They’re perfectly crisp and not too salty and start at $6 for a small. Pro fair tip: Order a small of most things. You might be tempted by that larger size, but if you fill up quickly, you can try fewer ridiculous concoctions.
And you’ve got a lot of deep-fried snacks to choose from: apple pie, candy bars, pickles, olives, cheese curds and even pizza. New to the deep-fried lineup this year: Irish Tater Kegs. Much bigger than a tater tot, these potato snacks are made with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and sour cream. You know, a nice light appetizer.
Ready to up your fair game to real Minnesotan level? Grab an order of fries and head to the dairy building for a malt ($6). Don’t be overwhelmed by the line — it’s worth it to have a mouthwateringly fresh milkshake for fry-dipping purposes. And there’s a method to the madness of the super-long queue. You’ll have a few minutes to decide on your malt flavor (we vote vanilla or chocolate to go with your French fries), then pay, then wait at a gigantic assembly line of ice cream machines as workers toss sundaes, cones and malts your way.
Also in the dairy building: butter sculptures. Every year, pageant winners have their likeness immortalized into chilled butter statues and placed on display. The winner is named Princess Kay of the Milky Way (Minnesotans love some good dairy humor). The pageant, judged on dairy know-how and passion, dates all the way back to the 1950s and, to this day, the winners sit for their portrait in a chilly room so the butter won’t melt.
The butter sculptures ease you into the farming portion of the fair. Next up? The Miracle of Birth Center. With good luck, you can catch a live birth of your favorite baby animal. Elbow-to-elbow crowds gather to watch cows, sheep, pigs and goats give birth to teeny baby animals, which is also broadcasted on screens throughout the building so everyone can see. From calves to lambs, approximately 200 animals will be born each year at the Miracle of Life Center.
However, if you consider witnessing cow labor bad luck, you can stick to petting piglets or watching day-old goat kids learn to walk. You can also visit grown-up animals in the cow or horse buildings, watch show animals perform in the coliseum, or learn about plants in the agriculture building when you’re over the livestock (read: underfoot manure) experience.
As Minnesotans will always be eager to remind you, food scientists at the University of Minnesota created the best apple to have ever been invented, the Honeycrisp. And those same scientists are back at it year after year, trying to make the next best fruit. This year you can try the First Kiss, a tart and tangy apple that retails for $3 in the agriculture building.
But the best buy in the agriculture building (besides “beer on a stick” — a flight loaded into a paddle for easy drinking on the go) is an apple cider popsicle. It costs $1.50 and it’s downright delicious, totally refreshing on a hot day and light enough to save room for all the heavy chowing still to come.
Every year, the fair has to bring something new to the table… or to the stick. Shockingly, not all of 2018’s innovations will make you worry about an imminent heart attack. New on the scene this year is an heirloom tomato and sweet corn BLT, grilled peaches, pepperoni chips with roasted red pepper queso and bananas Foster French toast. Oof-da. That’s Minnesotan for, “Oh my, I probably shouldn’t eat all of these foods but I’m definitely going to.”
On the wackier side, you can find a turducken sausage sandwich (turkey, duck and chicken sausage boiled in beer). For a sugar crash in the making, scope out the Rainbow Cloud. It’s three scoops of neon ice cream topped with Fruity Pebbles, wrapped in cotton candy and served like a burrito. Do you feel a toothache coming on? There’s better sweet stuff elsewhere in the fair.
You may have heard the rumors that Minnesotans are extraordinarily nice. However, all that goes out the window if you get between a state fair-goer and some Sweet Martha’s cookies. The state fair classic has been baking chocolate chip cookies for decades, serving them in iconically overflowing portions. It’s $17 for a bucket — about four dozen underbaked and gooey cookies. But be prepared to wait in line for these delish treats.
To feed all these fans, the three fair locations of Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar can put out about three million cookies in one day. The nearby all-you-can-drink milk stand charges a mere $2 for a refillable cup, serving about 26,000 gallons of milk each year to thirsty cookie monsters. Pop a squat on the curb and dive in. We betcha can’t even eat enough cookies in one sitting to fit the lid on the bucket.
Carnival rides take second or third place to food and people-watching at the fair. But there’s still a good selection, whether you’re drawn to roller coasters, giant swing sets or spinning boomerangs. As the neon lights start to shine post-sunset, expect fireworks after the nightly concert in the grandstand, with acts like Minnesota folk band Trampled By Turtles, indie crooner Jason Mraz and pop heartthrob Niall Horan.
Looking for something to end the night right? Try the Helles Ya, You Betcha beer, a citrus lager seemingly named just so you can toast to it in your best-exaggerated Minnesotan accent. Is the Minnesota State Fair the best in the country? You betcha!