10 Classic Carnival Foods, Ranked

Carnivals have long been a highlight of spring and summer in the United States. Getting together with friends and heading to a local fair is an easy weekend activity that can bring a lot of laughs and enjoyable moments. Children can go with their friends, and it is even a great idea for a date. With rides, shows, and attractions galore, it's easy to see why carnivals are a can't-miss event in many parts of the country. Perhaps the best thing of all when it comes to carnivals is the wide range of tasty treats on offer.

Caramel apples, snow cones, and pretzels are just a few beloved foods that carnival attendees can enjoy. Everyone has their favorite, but how would yours stand up when ranked against the top food items available at the fair? This list breaks down ten well-known carnival foods, ranking them from worst to best. But, let's be real: Even the lowest-ranking items here are still pretty tasty. So step right up and check out our list of the best classic carnival foods.

10. Caramel and candy apples

Also known as candy apples, caramel apples are a well-known snack found at fairs around the country. They're delicious with caramel alone, but when you add nuts and other snack toppings into the mix, they can be mind-blowingly good. But what's so great about them?

The combination of tart and sweet with the apple as the base taste is a strong foundation for this snack. Follow that up with the caramel dip, covered in toppings like sprinkles, marshmallows, or chocolate chips, and it's easy to see why so many people love them. Candy apples are also a popular treat during Halloween — combine them with a haunted fair and that becomes a double win.

The downside is that candy apples can be a messy treat and are often very hard, sometimes making them difficult to bite into. In fact, they are so hard that they can cause issues with your teeth and jaw. Some people have taken to cutting apples into smaller pieces to dip them into the other ingredients. This allows you to enjoy the treat while avoiding dental hazards. The risk factor is what pushes caramel apples down to this position on the list.

9. Fried pickles

While many of the items on this list are sweet snacks, fried pickles bring an entirely different taste to the carnival. The combination of tartness with the fried dough makes this a unique snack.

Think of fried pickles as a type of chip. The dill pickle is cut into slices before being deep fried with dough. They can then be seasoned in a variety of ways to add additional taste. Salt and pepper are staples, but other options such as paprika or chili powder work as well. Then you can dip the fried pickles in sauces such as ranch dressing to bring everything together.

The biggest con when it comes to deep fried pickles is the divisive taste — pickles are a sour treat with a very distinctive taste that some people do not enjoy. You might avoid them at all costs, but if you love them, you'll be rushing to the fried pickle stand as soon as you get to the carnival. Opinions vary, but deep fried pickles are a popular treat that deserve a spot on this list of top carnival foods.

8. Hot dogs and sausages

Nobody goes to the carnival specifically for the sausages, right? You'd be surprised. Hot dogs and sausages are ubiquitous at fairs and if you're a fan of them, then their guaranteed presence might just be enough to convince you to swing by.

Sausages come in a wide range of options at carnivals. This is even more apparent at themed events like Oktoberfest, where you're sure to find German sausages galore — from Bratwurst to Frankfurters, there's going to be something for every taste. Even non-themed fairs will usually have a wide range to choose from, like red hots, foot-long sausages, and others. They usually come with a variety of tasty toppings, such as fried onions and peppers. Add ketchup and mustard to the mix and you're in for a treat.

The reason hot dogs and sausages rank low on this list is because they aren't unique to carnivals. They can easily be found at other locations, but they are still a good meal option when enjoying an evening at the fair. Plus, many people avoid eating hot dogs and sausages for dietary reasons, which also impacts their ranking here.

7. Deep fried Oreos

Deep fried Oreos are another tasty snack popular at carnivals across the country, and for good reason. Sure, it's far from fine dining — essentially, you take a bunch of these famous cookies, you cover them in flour and sugar, and then you fry them like doughnuts — but the result is an explosion of heavenly sweetness. Some vendors add additional flavorings like vanilla, caramel, and more to make this carnival snack even more enjoyable.

There are two issues with deep fried Oreos that keep them from placing higher on this list. First, they are not quite as filling as you might imagine. They work fine as a snack, but they won't keep you full for long unless you eat a lot of them, which isn't recommended if your carnival has rides — keeping your snack down in your stomach where it belongs is essential. And, of course, you must be a fan of Oreos to enjoy this snack. If regular Oreos are not really your thing, then this entire snack is out of the question.

6. Soft pretzels

The history of pretzels goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, when they became popular across Europe. When German immigrants began arriving in the United States and settling in the Pennsylvania area during the 1700s, they brought their knowledge of pretzels with them. They became popular locally and would eventually spread to other parts of the country, becoming a favorite at American carnivals along the way.

The warm, chewy dough and salty kick of pretzels has become familiar to many — they're almost like a hug in food form. Soft pretzels are also filling, making this a snack that someone can enjoy while getting enough of a meal to hold them over until dinner. Plus, soft pretzels also come with a wide range of toppings, such as cheese, ranch, salsa, and other dipping sauces, bringing some variety into the mix. Of course, they are not unique to carnivals, but it's rare to come across a fair that doesn't have at least one pretzel stand.

5. Snow cones

Snow cones are the perfect alternative to ice cream. They're refreshing and tasty without the mess of a fast-melting dairy treat. Also known as shaved ice, this snack is simply ice shavings covered in liquid flavoring. They are frequently available in flavors such as watermelon, strawberry, grape, and others, but some locations will even have special flavors like caramel, popcorn, and more.

A major benefit to snow cones as a carnival treat is that they can actually be healthy when made with certain ingredients. Unlike ice cream (and a number of other items on this list), they are not necessarily filled with sugars and calories, meaning you can enjoy a tasty treat guilt free.

Snow cones are particularly enjoyable during summer carnivals, when the weather is warmer and you need to stay hydrated. The biggest downside to snow cones is that they can give you brain freeze if you consume them too quickly, but if you take too long to eat them, they'll melt. If you get the balancing act right, you've got a great carnival treat on your hands.

4. Mexican street corn

Mexican street corn is a treat that many Americans may not recognize. It's an item that is popular in Mexico, as its name suggests, but those in southern areas such as Texas may be familiar with it as well. Otherwise known simply as corn on the cob, it's a snack that has found its way to carnivals in the States.

What makes Mexican street corn special is that the snack usually has a variety of seasoning on it to elevate its flavor. Eating corn on the cob may not be seen as much of a treat, but the variety of seasonings offered gives it an original taste that is not usually present at American dinner tables. Everything from Tajin, cilantro, cheese, and more can be used to add a kick to the corn.

Mexican street corn would probably place higher on this list if it weren't for the fact that it isn't as widely available as the other entries. Still, despite this, it has become a modern classic of the carnival food scene in America.

3. Walking tacos

Pretty much everyone enjoys a good taco. They are a go-to meal when you're pressed for time, and Taco Tuesday is an experience for the whole family. But how do tacos mix with a carnival setting? Enter the walking taco.

What exactly is a walking taco? Think of all the ingredients you enjoy in tacos: Ground beef, cheese, lettuce, salsa, onions, and the shell. Take each of those, throw them in a plastic bag or similar container, shake it up and you now have a walking taco. This is a snack that's akin to nachos, without the full presentation of the dish and everything neatly laid out. But this version allows you to enjoy the treat while being mobile enough to enjoy the carnival.

Just as someone can create a wide variety of tacos based on their own taste, the same can be done with walking tacos, which is a huge bonus. Yes, they can be kind of messy, which stops them from pacing higher, but if you're armed with a bunch of napkins then there's nothing stopping you from enjoying this classic carnival food.

2. Popcorn

Popcorn is a snack that has long been associated with cineplexes, but it's also a favorite of carnival goers. The popcorn at carnivals harkens back to the popcorn served at the circus in years gone by. It often comes in a red and white paper bag, which adds to the nostalgia value. Many fairs may only offer the standard salt and butter varieties of popcorn, but some bigger carnivals come with lots of different types. Imagine getting popcorn with Tajin instead of salt? Or how about caramel covered popcorn to make it a snack packed with a sweet and salty taste?

The variety of potential toppings is one of the reasons it takes the second spot on our list of classic carnival foods. It's a feel-good snack that goes hand in hand with a trip to the fair. So why doesn't it clinch the top spot? That's because it's available all year round and at a lot of locations, unlike our winner, which is the ultimate carnival snack. Read on to find out which fabulous fair food topped our ranking.

1. Funnel cake

Topping the list is none other than funnel cakes, which are the main reason to visit a carnival for many. Funnel cakes, also known as elephant ears depending on where you are in the country, are hands down the best food at a fair. This is a snack that is heaven for those with a sweet tooth. Funnel cakes are deep-fried dough that is then covered with a variety of toppings. Powdered sugar is usually a staple topping, but that list can quickly balloon to include everything from ice cream to cherries, syrup, and more.

Doughnuts are a distant cousin, and just like that counterpart, the variety available makes them an easy offering to anyone. The ability to mix and match ingredients makes it much easier to create a snack that everyone can enjoy. Sure, things can get messy if you add too many toppings, but sticky fingers are a small price to pay for such a delicious experience. It's the ultimate in classic fair food, and we don't see it getting knocked off the top spot any time soon.