The Kentucky State Fair is famous for crazy food. Burgers with doughnuts replacing the bun, giant heaps of meat and fried candy bars join the typical fair foods like elephant ears and cotton candy.
But can you eat healthfully? And, if you want to live it up, how do you feel after eating the craziest state fair foods.
We decided to find out.
Listen below to our experiences eating healthfully/crazily at the Kentucky State Fair.
Joseph Eats a Doughnut Sloppy Joe
A couple years ago, I was trying to shed a few pounds. August rolled around and with it the Kentucky State Fair. It was maybe the hardest day to stick to a diet until the holidays.
There’s so much food—burgers, fries, ice cream. Vendors will fry practically anything that can be fried.
After that year, I promised that I wouldn’t again resist the temptation of unhealthful foods at the Kentucky State Fair.
As part of this challenge, my first stop was the vendor dishing out doughnut burgers. They introduced the doughnut burger four years ago to much fanfare, vendor Don Kenna told me. Since then, Kenna has made doughnut burgers a regular thing at the Kentucky State Fair.
This year, it’s a doughnut sloppy Joe.
Why not, right?
The doughnut sloppy Joe is a mess to eat, as you may imagine. Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts are sticky to begin with. Throw on a heap of sloppy Joe (and cheese, because, why not?) in the middle and you have a sloppy mess. It was very sweet (obviously) and not great for me, but I liked it.
Nearby, Matt Martin of Louisville had ordered a bacon cheeseburger on a doughnut.
“I like doughnuts and I like burgers,” Martin said. “Maybe trying them together, see what happens.”
He took a bite and seemed pretty pleased with his choice.
“Honestly, you could either imagine a doughnut and a burger tasting really bad or really good,” Martin said. “Try imagine it tasting good and that’s pretty much what it tastes like.”
I see his point. A big part of enjoying these ridiculous foods is reveling in the fact that you’re eating something you normally wouldn’t. It’s sort of like adventure eating.
Next, I wanted to try something fried. I settled on the fried Derby pie. For the uninitiated, Derby pie is a local specialty that includes pecans and chocolate chips. It’s not health food on its own.
Travis Potts and his colleagues at this vendor tent take the Derby pie a step further by frying it.
“When people come to the fair, they’re looking for something deep-fried,” said Potts, who lives in northern Bullitt County. “That’s really what the fair is about, in my opinion.”
Now, they don’t just fry the Derby pie. They add powdered sugar and raspberry syrup. It’s overkill.
It’s also delicious. Seriously sweet, but tasty.
You may be thinking: He paid for that later.
I didn’t. I felt fine after eating the sloppy Joe and the Derby pie (I think it was a sugar rush).
Would I eat them outside of the Kentucky State Fair? No.
Would I eat them again the next time I’m at the Fair? Of course.
Devin Searches for Healthful Foods
I’m led through the streets and into the open corners of the fairgrounds by my guide and longtime fair-goer, Laura Ellis.
Finally, I stand in the South Wing surrounded by rotating meats, fish (but fried) and desserts covered in more desserts.
Ellis says she remembers a vendor selling wraps and salads last year, but it’s moved to another location and we miss it. I approach a booth with a smiling woman and tell her my story—that I’m on a mission to eat healthfully.
We have fajitas, taco salads. We have fresh fruit fresh salad. “It’s amazing food,” she said. I realize I know very little about eating healthfully, but it sounds right.
I buy a fajita minus the tortilla, serving me grilled chicken, onion and peppers, cooked in the grease of nearby hamburger patties. I also buy a cup of fresh fruit, half of which is frozen when I take it back to my table.
It’s good, but I realize I may have chosen the wrong side.
Outside and across the street from the Midway—the rides—I find the Kentucky Proud vendors. Chloe, Haddley, and Addey—three health nuts—are selling ears of corn and baskets of peaches.
One corn, I say. Without butter, please.
They have none.
Would you like one with butter, one says.
I passed on it.
But how can I deny what the man in charge calls, “the cutest vendor staff of all the state fair vendors.”
So I ask for a basket of peaches. I know Joseph would laugh.
I stand in front of Freddy Farm Bureau—the giant statue of a farmer talks back at you when you ask him questions.
I ask, where can I go to eat healthy?
“I’ve got carrots back at the barn,” he says.
Which way is that, I ask.
“Back that way,” he says, giving me no direction whatsoever.