Events Food+Drink

CALLING ALL FOODIES: Northern Wis. State Fair Revives Fair Food Contest

get a sneak peek of this year’s goodies with the July 9 contest

McKenna Scherer, photos by Branden Nall |

EAT THE BEST. Local media folks – including Volume One's own McKenna Scherer – will judge the Favorite Fair Food Contest on July 9, the day before the official opening of the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.
EAT THE BEST. Local media folks – including Volume One's own McKenna Scherer – will judge the Favorite Fair Food Contest on July 9, the day before the official opening of the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.

Listen, we all get to a certain age where the Northern Wisconsin State Fair becomes more about the food than the rides. It’s still a summertime staple, but you spend more time trying to locate the closest lemonade stand to get your jug refilled than getting flung in the air from the carnival swing ride or Power Tower. And thanks to the demand from people in that group, the fair is bringing back its fair food contest!

Technically, the fair runs from July 10-14, but a kickoff shindig will be held for free on Tuesday, July 9, featuring live music from The Dweebs, all-day animal exhibitions, some food vendors, and most importantly (in my opinion) the Favorite Fair Food Contest. Since it's not an official fair date, parking and admission are free.

The contest will be emceed by 105.7FM’s Mike McKay and judged by folks from local media outlets: Alex Loroff of WEAU; Katie Phernetton of WQOW; T-RI from 92.9 The X; Jill Welke from WAXX 104.5 and The Farm; and yours truly.

Here are the presentation times and categories for the Favorite Fair Food Contest:

  • Entree/Sandwich – 4pm
  • Side – 4:40pm
  • Beverage – 5pm
  • Dessert – 5:15pm
  • Featured Local Ingredient – 5:45pm
  • Most Creative – 6:15pm

For any food vendors interested in throwing their hat* in the ring (*edible item, not an actual hat, for my sake), submit an entry form to the Fair Office by 2pm on July 9. Each vendor is limited to two categories, one item per category. Vendors will be contacted around 3pm to confirm their submission times, and are welcome to present a quick description of themselves and their food to the judges.

Winners of each category will be announced at the end of the competition, presented with a certificate that can be posted at their stand throughout the week, and promoted online during the fair.

In previous years, winners have included the deep-fried apple pie, cheese curds, Italian sausage, and others, though a fair food competition hasn’t been formally held in several years.

Executive Directory Rusty Volk recalled the beginning of the food competitions at the fair, nearly 10 years ago, brought to life by Volk and his sons. “It died off a bit around the COVID years, but we felt this was a good time to bring it back,” Volk said in a recent interview. “(Food) is a big part of why people come to fairs: to have fun and fill their bellies.”

Volk encouraged participating vendors to venture out and submit something unique and memorable. He recalled one former winner, a spiraled apple on a stick, deep fried with whipped cream and fruit on top. “That food vendor had to hire two or three more people (after winning the food competition) and we damn near ran out of apples down at Gordy’s because they couldn’t keep up!”

Personally, I’ve always loved the bucket of fresh-cut fries served out of that one stand right near the fairground’s entrance. And fried Oreos. And fried cheesecake on a stick (yes, on a stick). If it’s fried and served on a stick, odds are I’ll try it and like it. (I was born in Chippewa Falls, it’s in my DNA.)

If you’re just interested in getting in on the grub early, you’ll be able to do so from the vendors who are set up early that day. There are several local joints vending this year – including Beez Neez Cheesecake & Sweets, Big Papa BBQ, Egg Roll Express, Live Great Food, and more – plus stands operated by area organizations, and out-of-towners.

May the yummiest grub win!

The Favorite Fair Food Competition will begin at 4pm on Tuesday, July 9, with folks welcome to watch live and enjoy the kickoff activities before the official start of the fair • Northern Wisconsin State Fair officially runs July 10-14, tickets and wristbands available for purchase online and at the gates • Keep up with NWSF on Facebook and visit the website for more info