Deep-Fried, Far-Out, and Served on a Stick: The Newest Grub at the Iowa State Fair

Move over, corn dog. This year's presidential candidates have a whole lot more than you to get awkwardly photographed snacking on.

Chocolate Marshmallow Malt Fair Square Fair Squares are the "official treat" of the 10-day event, according to a spokeswoman from the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, which sells them each year. The recipe for this year's new flavor: marshmallows, cocoa puffs, malted milk powder, and chocolate chips. Note to potential repeat candidates: Want the backdrop of next cycle's photo-op to be even better? Buy this snack. The proceeds from each square go to future improvements to the fairgrounds. (Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation)

It's the presidential candidate's ultimate rite of passage: eating deep-fried food in front of the cameras.

Starting Thursday, the Iowa State Fair is the place to be for the vast majority of the 2016 presidential bench, even though the state's straw poll is dead. And in between shaking hands with early-caucus goers and participating in a presidential "soapbox" forum, they'll undoubtedly chow down on the festival's characteristically stick-oriented offerings—though probably not all 75 of them. (Previous years' photo ops have brought us Sen. John McCain eating a pork chop on a stick and, famously, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann dining on corn dogs.)

Among the more daring foods returning to the fair this year are the hot beef sundae (Google Image it, if you dare), Twinkie Log, and pork chop on a stick. And there are healthier options available, too—not that the 2016 candidates will dare risk dining on something low-cal, like a salad-on-a-stick, which exists.

The goal for this year's candidates will be to get through dishes like the Ultimate Bacon Brisket Bomb with any semblance of grace. Here are the details on that and other new-to-the-fair dishes available to the contenders. Our best wishes to Jeb Bush, whose Paleo diet will definitely be tested when he attends the fair later this week.

Apple Pie on a Stick Caramel is optional on this skewered and funnel-cake-batter-fried apple pie, sold by Des Moines-based Applishus. Connie Boesen, who started up the concessions business about 30 years ago, said this year will be her 50th working at the fair, having started at age 14. She's even called the place home: Boesen lived on the 400-acre fairgrounds when her father was the event's manager from about 1963 to 1976. "It was pretty wild," she said. (Paige Peterson Photography via Applishus)
Toasted Coconut Caramel Cluster This dessert—made of coconut, pretzel pieces, and caramel fudge, dunked in chocolate—is competing against two other dishes in the 2015 New Fair Food Contest. Dennis Mitchell, whose company Dipped in Chocolate is responsible for its creation, is hopeful the dish has a good shot; he said that of all the flavors the company has come up with throughout the years, this is his favorite. And there have been a lot of flavors: Mitchell started the company with a friend in 1987, when he was just a freshman in college.  (Dipped in Chocolate)
Ultimate Bacon Brisket Bomb The Rib Shack is currently prepping 20,000 of these puppies—another contender in the 2015 food contest—for the fair, said Joni Bell of Great Caterers of Iowa, which operates the barbecue catering company. And at the risk of editorializing, this seems like the dish most likely to project red-white-and-blue bona fides: The brisket is "infused" with jalapeno cheese and spices, rolled into a log-like form, wrapped in bacon and smoked, then coated in a sweet-chili BBQ glaze. The third candidate in this year's food contest is the Corn Stand's Corn in a Cup. With its classified "Magic Dust" spice mixture, the item is "considered the caviar of Iowa," according to the contest website. (Iowa State Fair)
Golden-Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly on a Stick Vegetarian candidate Dr. Ben Carson might not be able to enjoy bacon-wrapped brisket, but that doesn't mean he'll have to miss out on the deep-fried fun. The Veggie Table has taken the lunchbox classic and—in true Iowa Fair style—deep-fried it until golden brown and placed it on a stick. "We've been deep-frying non-meat-based items at the State Fair for over 30 years," says the Veggie Table's Bryan McCoy. They also sell soy-based vegetarian corn dogs.  (Bryan McCoy/The Veggie Table)
Kernel Kluster Snappy Popcorn is introducing the Kernel Kluster—an Iowa corn-based snack with a name fitting for a Kardashian. Each is hand-rolled and available in plain or with M&Ms. In an email to National Journal, Snappy Popcorn's Troy Langel promoted the Kluster as "delicious, soft, and chewy."  (Snappy Popcorn)
Cattlemen's Steak Fajita Wrap and Breakfast Burrito Cattlemen's Beef Quarters—an Iowa advocacy group whose recipes are "all about the beef," in the words of its manager—has two predictably meat-focused meals up for the taking at the fair this year: an Angus steak-filled wrap and a brisket-y breakfast burrito. Candidates should be aware that the act of eating burritos and wraps is only slightly more photogenic than eating corn dogs. (Iowa Beef Industry Council)