Food Bacon Queen 2013, Kim Pfannebecker. Juice file photo.

Bacon Queen 2013, Kim Pfannebecker. Juice file photo.

The great Iowa food: bacon, pork tenderloin or sweet corn?

Published on October 22nd, 2013 | by Josh Hafner

Fill in the blank: Iowa’s most iconic food is ______________.

The state that calls itself “the breadbasket of the nation” grows more corn and raises more pigs-per-person than any state in the union, meaning dishes like sweet corn, pork chops, bacon and pork tenderloin remain plentiful and plenty good.

It was somewhat surprising, then, when the sports blog Deadspin produced a post last week called “The Great American Menu: Foods of the States, Ranked and Mapped” allotting one iconic food per state and awarding Iowa a rather pedestrian pick: The corn dog.

“Who doesn’t love a corn dog? Nobody, that’s who, and also idiots,” writes Deadspin’s Albert Burneko in the piece: “On the other hand, when a region’s entire concept of cuisine is to take ordinary foodstuffs (hot dogs, brownies, [expletive] honey), dunk them in batter, mount them on a stick, and deep-fry them, the successes (corn dogs) tend to be shadowed somewhat by the excesses (deep-fried Snickers bars) …”

Burneko admits in the post that his picks aren’t fair or scientific, and ranked Iowa at 29 out of the 50 states. It seems his impression of Iowa food stems largely from the Iowa State Fair, those gloriously unhealthy two weeks a year when foods on sticks reign supreme. But who eats foods on sticks the other 50 weeks of the year? Juice asked Iowa food industry experts to weigh in on what should truly be the state’s quintessential food.


Brooks Reynolds, founder of Des Moines’ Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival: “I think we are the center of the bacon universe here in the heartland of Iowa. Corn dogs are great. But I think more people enjoy a bacon cheeseburger, BLT, bacon-wrapped filet or bacon for breakfast than a corn dog. I only eat corn dogs at the fair. There is a debate going on in the bacon festival of where the center of bacon is in the U.S. I think it’s here.”


Nick Iaria, owner of Nick’s Tenderloin and Italian Beef in Des Moines: “I think pork tenderloins are probably more popular than a corn dog here in Iowa. Heck, they just got done doing the competition for best pork tenderloin in Iowa by the Iowa Pork Producers. They have iconic places here that have been around for 40 to 50 years. You’ve got Smitty’s Tenderloin and B&B Grocery. I don’t see a corn dog shop that specializes.”


Ron Deardorff, of Deardorff Sweet Corn in Adel: “We’re the tall corn state. I would think corn would be more iconic than corn dogs. First of all, our soil and climate are perfect for growing corn. So we can grow really good sweet corn. For somebody who lives in Iowa and has been in Iowa, I would say 90 percent or more would think of sweet corn before they would ever think of a corn dog.”


About the Author

covers young professionals for The Des Moines Register. Josh can be reached at or on Twitter via @joshhafner.

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