Food on a Stick at the Iowa State Fair
Through the 20th century, concessionaires began to realize the potential of really putting anything on a stick. Want to eat a sweet, sticky treat in the middle of summer hassle free while heading up to Pioneer Hall? Simply put it on a stick. Problem solved.
(Kamala Harris takes a bite of a pork chop)
[Kamala Harris] Oh my God!
[Narrator] Food has always been an important part of going to the fair. In the early days, folks would pack a picnic to spread out and eat on the lawn.
[Thomas Leslie] And so today a lot of the open space is taken up with what are some of my favorite pieces of architecture at the fair, the food stands, some of which are really novel and really interesting all competing to try to grab your attention, all of course paying concession fees, which helps the Fair stay afloat, taking up this space that was formerly kind of promenade space, space where you would lay out a blanket and enjoy the peace and quiet of the fair.
[Narrator] Many of the food stands are family businesses and many of those have been serving food here for decades.
[Reporter] We present the corn dog.
[Narrator] The corn dog is the most iconic food at the fair and a ritual for many fairgoers.
[Helen Little, Concessionaire] And I don't know that one person can actually say, oh I started the corn dogs. Hmm, maybe not. It's just, who was able to make it into something that was actually doable and good and stayed consistent?
[Narrator] Helen's dad, Melvin Little, was the first to serve corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair in 1954.
[Helen Little] When they first came out with the corn dogs, you had your fryer like this and then you had a wheel on the front of it that had little holes in it that you could put a stick into. So, you would take the corn dog and you would get the batter on it, then you dip it into the grease to get it set and then you'd have to whip it up, burn your fingers obviously, and stick them into this wheel so that you had this thing that went around like this on the front of the fryer where the people were walking by you so that they could see this.
[Grace DeWitt] Then in our stands we used to have to yell our slogan, "Get your educated poncho dog. Rides a stick, swims in grease and wears an overcoat. You bite it, it won't bite you."
[Helen Little] We didn't like doing it, so we wouldn't do it until we saw his red hat coming through the crowd, because you'd be watching for that. Then you'd start yelling something, then as soon as he would leave then you'd be quiet again and be cute.
[Narrator] Easy cleanup, no mess and portability. Corn dogs solved a great number of fair food inconveniences. Through the 20th century, concessionaires began to realize the potential of really putting anything on a stick. Want to eat a sweet, sticky treat in the middle of summer hassle free while heading up to Pioneer Hall? Simply put it on a stick. Problem solved.
[Connie Boesen] But we did put everything on a stick because everything is better I guess on a stick. The only thing I don't do on a stick usually is the apple. I slice it. That's just part of the fair.
[Paul Berge] We're going to conduct the first ever interview on a stick. Lindsay Grooters of Indianola, Iowa intends to eat her way through all 49 items in 10 days, which begs the question, are you insane?
[Lindsay Grooters] Pretty much, but I love the fair!
(Lindsay is handed a turkey leg)
This sucker is huge!
[Narrator] Is there a way to make the fair taste even better? Offer free admission and a free corn dog to 11,000 people, like at the 2008 Corn Dog Chomp.
[Robin Taylor, Assistant Director, Blue Ribbon Foundation] It was an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most number of people eating a corn dog at one time. And it was on the first day of the fair.
[Narrator] Vendors had to scramble to get that many corn dogs ready at the same time and distribute them to the Grandstand crowd.
[Announcer] Three, two, one, chomp!
[Robin Taylor] So, it was a very, very unique way to open up the fair and get a lot of people in on your first day.
[Fairgoer 1] I come here to eat my way through the fair. I've been doing it for, um, close to 60 years now.
[Fairgoer 2] I'm having the Coconut Mountain, I don't even know what it is but I'm having it because I love coconut.
[Concessionaire] We try to come up with something new every year and have fun during the off season, so to speak, trying to come up with new products.
[Connie Boesen] There's no pressure to do something new. It is beneficial to do something new if it's a great item. I always say, you have to be very prepared if you're going to do a new item and you win on production. I think it just tastes better here, I don't know.