#0 Eating Iowa: fun with a deep fryer

the only thing Iowans won't put in a deep fryer

I have a theory: pretty much anything tastes damned good when you dip it in batter and deep-fry it. A deep-fried hot dog surrounded in cornmeal? Delicious. A deep-fried Oreo cookie or Twinkie? Gooey and scrumptious, if you’re into that sort of thing. Deep-fried shoe leather? I haven’t tried it, but I’m pretty sure it would work.

Our good friends at the Iowa State Fair have pushed the boundaries of food on a stick for nearly a century (salad on a stick, deep-fried Snickers on a stick, or mango on a stick, anybody?). And now maybe they’ve outdone themselves: deep-fried butter on a stick. Awesome, right?

anybody get the feeling that deep-fried butter on a stick was invented by a consortium of Des Moines cardiologists?

I am not making this up: Iowa’s finest concessionaires take a full-sized, 4-ounce stick of butter, coat it in a vaguely cinnamon-y batter, and stick it in the fryer. It was the runaway hit of the 2011 Iowa State Fair—on both of my visits, the butter-on-a-stick hawkers had by far the longest line of any food stand.

Too bad it’s kind of gross. When you take your first bite of the stuff, you’ll feel a dribble of warm butter oozing down your chin. Oozing butter is fun and everything, but the slimy batter just doesn’t taste all that good. Imagine a cinnamon roll soaked with twice as much butter as usual—and half as much cinnamon and sugar. Or a doughnut hole sitting in a pool of butter and oil. Or the soggiest, butteriest French toast ever made, squishing with oil and butter whenever you take a bite. Not cute.

deep-fried pickles... luckily, nothing oozes when you bite into these

The funny part is that it probably would have been pretty damned good if they’d just coated the thing with a half-inch of powdered sugar after frying it. I’ll admit it: I might have ordered another one, if only they had given us a large dipping bowl of powdered sugar.

The other culinary hit of the 2011 Iowa State Fair was the Gigantor, a large hamburger topped with macaroni and cheese, and served between two full-sized grilled cheese sandwiches. I would probably have eaten one just to say that I did, except that my fiancé (wisely) said that she would force me to sleep in the barn if I tried to digest one of those suckers. Poor me, I had to stick with the jumbo turkey leg and pizza bread for my main course instead of the Gigantor.

Other culinary wonders of our six-day trip to Iowa: deep-fried pork tenderloin sandwiches (not on a stick), deep-fried portabello mushrooms, deep-fried zucchini, a deep-fried Milky Way on a stick, deep-fried pepperjack cheese on a stick, buttery roasted corn on a stick, and plenty of deep-fried dill pickles. And individually-wrapped bite-sized steaks at A Dong, Des Moines’ finest Vietnamese restaurant. And surprisingly delicious jambalaya and cornbread at the always-wonderful Court Avenue Brewing Company, which also serves a killer bloody Mary ($5) and one of the best tasting racks of beer in the country ($15 for a rack of eight surprisingly large glasses).

And then there’s Mom’s cooking, which—all joking aside—still kicks the ass of any deep-fried goo on a stick. See you next year, Mom.

Coming soon: deep-fried Hereford on a stick.

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