Brats, BBQ and Baja tacos: Here’s each state’s most iconic dish

From fish tacos in California to bratwurst in Wisconsin gets bratwurst and barbecue in Missouri, here’s a look at the food that represents each state, according to Flavored Nation.

Reindeer sausage is a longtime Alaskan staple, typically either served as a side in diners or on a bun at hot dog carts. Native to northern Europe and Russia, reindeer – a close relation to wild caribou – were brought to Alaska in the late 19th century as a solution to a post-whaling industry food shortage among Native Alaskans. In the 1930s, there were over 400K reindeer in western Alaska (peaking to 640K in the 1930s). Today, there are around 20 reindeer herders and 20,000 reindeer in that area, helping provide meat and sausage to Alaskans across the state.”

“A chimichanga is a deep-fried burrito typically prepared by filling a flour tortilla with rice, cheese and meat (beef, chicken, pork or even fish) then folding it into a rectangular package and deep-frying. Consensus is that it’s an Arizona invention. However, there’s a decades long rivalry between two restaurant heavyweights – Macayo’s in Phoenix and El Charro in Tucson (the latter is attending Flavored Nation) – over who actually invented the dish back in the 1950s. It remains the most discussed mystery in Arizona-Sonoran cuisine.”

“Easy to catch and abundant in the state’s streams, lakes and rivers, catfish is a staple of Arkansas. Often breaded with flour, cornbread and spices then fried and served with a side of hush puppies, catfish can be found at most every restaurant (and is also an easy dish to make at home).”

“In Baja, sometime in the past 40 or 50 years, someone concocted what is now considered the classic fish taco. The dish involves a double layer of corn tortillas, big hunks of fried fish (or grilled, for the more health conscious), shredded cabbage, crema (a sort of thinner sour cream), pico de gallo and, often, a spritz of lime. The fish is usually a white, flaky fish like mahi-mahi, cod, or other frequenters of Southern California waters.”

“The Pueblo chile is grown in southeastern Colorado, around the city of Pueblo. The high elevation, along with hot summer days and cool nights, create chiles that are thick and meaty, which makes them ideal for roasting. Eaten throughout the year, chile is a staple especially in Pueblo. It can be found in all varieties of restaurants, as well as people’s freezers, to be used in anything that needs a “kick.” While Hatch green chiles (iconic to neighboring New Mexico) are known for their smoky, rich flavor, Colorado’s Pueblo chiles are known for being a little hotter than cayenne peppers. And, yes, there’s an ongoing chile rivalry between the two states.”

“Also called ‘the coastal,’ the Connecticut-style lobster roll is a heap of warm, sweet lobster meat piled onto a soft, buttery hot dog bun. Unlike lobster rolls from Maine, there is no dressing — just melted butter that’s used to drizzle on the lobster meat right before taking the first bite. Originated in Connecticut, the ‘warm w/ butter’ lobster roll type is gaining in popularity in New England and across the U.S.”

“Scrapple, also called, pannhaus by the Pennsylvania Dutch, originated in southeastern Pennsylvania during colonial times. However, Delaware is now the nation’s largest scrapple producer and home to an annual Apple Scrapple Festival. Scrapple is made (traditionally) of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal, wheat flour and spices then formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf. It’s then sliced and pan-fried. Scrapple is considered a breakfast staple across the mid-Atlantic region; however, the meat can be used in a wide variety of dishes, including scrapple sliders (which will be served at Flavored Nation)”

“Key lime pie is a dessert made of Key lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk in a pie crust. The dish uses small key limes, tarter and more aromatic than common limes, that grow throughout the Florida Keys. Originating in the mid-1800s alongside the invention of ‘no refrigeration needed’ condensed milk, many early recipes for the pie didn’t instruct baking, relying on a natural chemical reaction to produce the filling’s consistency (however, now, because of the raw eggs, its baked). In 2006, Florida passed legislation selecting “Key lime pie” as the official pie of the state.”

“Emerging as a makeshift, trail-friendly pie recipe for American settlers, cobblers were created by combining fruit with ‘cobbled’ together clumps of biscuit dough then baking over a fire. Once a big part of the settler diet (many eating it for breakfast or as a main dish), today, cobbler is labeled a dessert and usually accompanied by a scoop of ice cream. Peach Cobbler Day – emphasizing an important commercial crop of the south – was created by the Georgia Peach Council in April 1950.”

“Plate lunch is a filling go-to meal for Hawaiians that traditionally includes various proteins flanked by macaroni salad and two scoops of white rice. The origin and name of the dish dates back to the 1930s when lunch wagons would cater to laborers working Hawaii’s pineapple and sugar plantations, serving the food on compartmentalized paper plates. Now, plate lunch is served at roadside stands, food trucks and diners across the state. Flavored Nation’s plate lunch will feature kalua pig (a traditional luau dish of slow-cooked pork shoulder) and pineapple rice (rather than plain white rice).”

“Finger steaks consist of 2–3 inches long by ½ inch wide strips of steak (usually top sirloin), battered with a tempura-like or flour batter, and then deep-fried in oil. Invented in Boise in the 1950s as a means of selling leftover tenderloin, finger steaks – typically served with french fries and buttered toast – are now a common sight on restaurant, bar, and fast-food menus across Southern Idaho.”

“First invented by Italian-Americans at Pizzeria Uno in Chicago, in 1943, deep-dish pizza is baked in an oiled, round pan with the dough pressed up onto the sides to form a bowl. The thick layers of ingredients used in deep-dish pizza require a longer baking time. Therefore, to prevent burning, the toppings are assembled upside down, with cheese on the bottom and a layer of thick, chunky tomato sauce on top.”

“The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, first created at Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana, is traditionally made from a piece of pork tenderloin hammered thin with a meat mallet, then dipped in flour, eggs and breadcrumbs or crushed saltine crackers before being deep fried in oil. An iconic trait of the sandwich is that the diameter of the pork considerably exceeds that of the bun. It can be served with condiments such as mustard, lettuce, onions, pickles, and mayonnaise.”

“A corn dog is a sausage, usually a hot dog, coated in a thick layer of cornmeal batter on a stick. Corn dogs are often served as street food or as fast food and have become a staple at summer fairs across the United States, including the Iowa State Fair (one of the nation’s largest). In 2008, during its opening ceremonies, the Iowa State Fair set a world record for the most people – 8,400 – simultaneously eating corndogs, during an event called ‘The Corndog Chomp.'”

Frank Fritz, a famous treasure hunter from HISTORY Channel’s “American Pickers,” is shown here enjoying a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair on Friday, August 9, 2013 in Des Moines, Iowa.

“A recipe brought by European immigrants settling in the prairie states, sour cream and raisin pie combines sugar, cornstarch, sour cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs and raisins. The result is a rich, creamy custard full of warm, plump raisins, nestled in a pie crust and topped with meringue.”

“A hot brown sandwich (also known as a Louisville or Kentucky Hot Brown) is an American hot sandwich originally created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s open-faced and piled with turkey, bacon, tomato and Mornay sauce then baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown.”

“Gumbo – a stew consisting of strongly-flavored stock, meat and/or shellfish, a thickener and vegetables (celery, bell peppers and onions) – is on every kind of menu everywhere in Louisiana, from bar food to fine dining. It’s also simmering on the back burner of almost every home kitchen. Gumbo features various elements from the multiple cultures that make up the state. The flour-fat roux that begins the cooking of most gumbos owes everything to the French. The sausage came from Germans that established a colony near New Orleans in 1721. The seafood and peppers in many gumbo pots comes from Spaniards who took control of the territory in 1762. Then there’s okra, called “ki ngombo’ in the Niger-Congo language spoken by many West African slaves (and believed to be the source of the very word “gumbo”).”

“Historically, lobster rolls in the U.S. are most commonly associated with Maine, making the state’s “lobster salad roll” what most of us envision when thinking of the dish. The meat is cold and, in most cases, tossed with mayonnaise and celery or scallions. In New England, it’s served on a special bun called the “New England” or “Frankfurter” roll, which differs slightly from a standard hot dog bun in that the sides are flat, providing more surface area for soaking up butter, then toasting.”

“The modern crab cake is made of crab meat, bread or breadcrumbs, various seasonings, eggs, milk and mayo. Those ingredients are combined into small cakes that are then cooked (pan-fried, grilled or baked). Most crab cakes – including Costas Inn’s Maryland crab cakes that will be served at Flavored Nation – use blue crab from the Chesapeake Bay, but some crab cakes are made with other types of crab such as the Dungeness.”

“A thick chowder made from clams, potatoes, onions, sometimes salt pork, and milk or cream, New England (or “Boston”) clam chowder is a distinct white color, differentiating it from other varieties, including the red, tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. Believed to be introduced by French, Nova Scotian, or British settlers, New England clam chowder was a common food in the region by the 1700s. The dish is usually accompanied by oyster crackers, either crushed and mixed into the soup for thickener or used as a garnish.”

“A Coney dog is a typical American hot dog, steamed (some says it’s sacrilegious to griddle it or grill it). It’s served on an also-steamed bun, topped with a chili-like ground-beef sauce now known as “Coney sauce,” and finished with yellow mustard and chopped onions. The sauce is important – and can vary regionally. For example, the Detroit sauce traditionally includes beef heart, giving it an iron-y, mineral-y kind of flavor. In Flint, the texture of the sauce is much drier, more like crumbled meat. How did this all get started? In the early 1900s, Greek immigrants were arriving in the Midwest. Most of them came through Ellis Island, and many of them got to visit the nearby thriving playground of Coney Island, where Nathan Handwerker (Nathan’s) was bringing notoriety to the hot dog. Soon, a mysterious “chili” was weaving its way through the Midwest including Rochester (garbage plate), Cincinnati (Cincinnati chili) and Detroit (Coney dog).”

“The basic recipe for hotdish (also spelled “hot dish” or “huddish”) is meat plus canned creamed soup plus vegetables. Everything is put into a casserole dish and baked until it is hot and has a golden crust on top. The food commonly appears across Minnesota and the Midwest at family reunions and church suppers. Many believe hotdish came about in the early 1900s as a result of the U.S. Food Administration’s World War I “Food Will Win the War” campaign. The war effort called for families to conserve food, making casseroles and hotdish (then called “hot pot”) a popular method of stretching meat for family dinner. Today, thanks to the invention of commercial tater tots in the 1950s, many Minnesotans – including our chef for Flavored Nation – choose to cover their hotdishes with a layer of crispy tots.”

“Mississippi mud pie is a rich chocolate dessert made of pudding, cake, biscuits, ice cream, whipped cream, marshmallows and a cookie crust. The pie is typically built in layers and topped with chocolate syrup, pecan, almonds, marshmallows or chocolate shavings. Those who make the desert sans-crust may refer to it as “Chocolate Lasagna” or “Mississippi mud cake.” While mud pie’s origin and naming stories vary (ranging from Jackson to Vicksburg), the cake is undoubtedly named for the dark, goopy mud found along the Mississippi River.”

“Missouri is known, border to border, for barbecue: ribs, brisket, turkey, pork steak. Kansas City, an old hub of meat-packing, is a town loaded with barbecue tradition. Burnt ends – the crusty, fatty meat cut from the point of a smoked beef brisket – are much in demand and distinctive to the city. Sauce is also critically important (most are tomato-based, with a combo of sweet-spicy-tangy flavors). To the east, St. Louis is now the home to great contemporary ferment and barbecue discovery. About 10 years ago, St. Louis caught barbecue fever – with Pappy’s being one of the city’s first trailblazers – and, today, the food is a critical part of the city’s “four B’s of tourism”: baseball, the blues, beer and barbecue.”

“Bison, almost hunted to extinction in the 1880s, are now booming in population, primarily due to new demand for bison meat (most bison in the U.S are privately owned). Bison’s healthy array of fatty acids gives the meat a natural and deep flavor. It has the protein of beef with less cholesterol and one-fourth of the fat. Bison are almost all free-ranging and natural-grazing. As a result, bison burgers have become widely available, especially in Montana and the west. At Flavored Nation, the bison burger will be topped with a huckleberry sauce, paying homage to another iconic Montana food (and popular summer activity, huckleberry picking).”

According to Runza’s website, a Runza sandwich is: “Ground beef seasoned with a top-secret blend of spices and mixed with cabbage and onions. All wrapped up in fresh-baked bread.”

Nevada: Prime ribNew Hampshire: Pumpkin soup

“In Trenton, the capital of the Garden State, John Taylor invented a processed meat in 1856 that he called Taylor Ham. Taylor knew that the rich folks around him were having ham steak for breakfast with their eggs and most likely created America’s first processed food so that poorer people could also have meat on the breakfast table. However, in 1906, the U.S. government issued a firm definition of “ham” – and Taylor’s ham wasn’t it. The company was forced to change the name of its product to “pork roll.” Today, in northern New Jersey, it’s called Taylor Ham. In southern New Jersey, it’s called pork roll. In central Trenton, it’s both. Throughout the state, the meat is most typically prepared by frying thin slices on a griddle then stacking it on a hard roll with a fried egg and American cheese.”

The “Christmas” on the side refers to both red and green sauce.

New York: Buffalo chicken wingsNorth Carolina: Pulled pork w/ east Carolina vinegar sauce

“Knoephla is a type of dumpling commonly used in soups. Traditional knoephla soup is thick, almost stew-like, and made with chicken, potatoes, onions, parsley and knoephla dumplings. It’s a German-Russian dish – popular in North Dakota, as well as South Dakota and Minnesota – which is often served with bread slices.”

This photo made Friday, May 16, 2014, in Cincinnati, shows a plate of Cincinnati chili. Cincinnati is known for it’s quirky version of chili, a pile of sweet, cinnamon-flavored meat sauce served over a plate of spaghetti noodles and topped with a heaping mound of shredded cheddar.

Oklahoma: Fried okra

“The marionberry is beloved in Oregon because it was literally born and raised there. A cross between Chehalem and Olallie blackberries, the marionberry was bred at Oregon State University, named for Marion County (where the field trials took place) and dates back to the early 1900s. When introduced to the public, people raved over its tart-yet-sweet flavor. Each year during its short July ripe season, the marionberry is consumed by Oregon’s residents – popularly, as marionberry pie – and rarely shared with the rest of the country.”

“Restaurants in Philadelphia use various cuts of beef for cheesesteak, and usually each place sticks to one kind. Rib eye is considered the finest cut because of its extra fattiness, but top round is also popular. Thrown on the griddle, some places like to leave the meat in very broad, very thin slices. Some places use the edge of a spatula to break down the meat as it cooks, giving it a good chop. After it’s piled onto what looks like Italian “hero” bread, or like a “sub” (the go-to bakery in Philly is Amoroso’s), the meat is traditionally topped with Cheez Whiz and sautéed onions. Some cheesesteak aficionados also add ketchup and/or hot pickled chili peppers. Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are credited with inventing the sandwich in the early 1930s.”

“Johnnycakes (also known as ashcake, battercake, corn cake, cornpone, hoecake, hoe cake, journey cake, mush bread, pone, Shawnee cake, jonakin and jonikin) are little pancake-like cornmeal patties that originated in Rhode Island and date back over 350 years. Rhode Islanders consume johnnycakes at all times in all ways. For breakfast, johnnycakes are served like pancakes and smothered with butter, syrup or molasses or broken up and mixed with milk and sugar. For lunch or dinner, they replace potatoes or rice (and sometimes dessert). Rhode Islanders take their johnnycakes so seriously that they hold baking and eating contests every year.”

“Fresh shrimp served on a bed of simmered milled corn has long been a staple in Lowcountry South Carolina. Convenient for the shrimpers along the South Carolina coast, shrimp and grits (also known as shrimps and hominy) started as a simple breakfast food. In the 1990s, the chef at Charleston, South Carolina’s Magnolia’s restaurant elevated the dish to fine dining levels, and it quickly became synonymous with the city. Today, there are dozens of shrimp and grits iterations all across the south. Some menus keep it simple with just shrimp and grains; others fancy (and spice) it up with peppers, sausage, tomatoes or tasso ham.”

“Chislic is a traditional dish of cubed red meat, originating from Russia and Caucasus, now a staple across the state of South Dakota. The term isn’t specific to any one meat or seasoning but, rather, preparation. Cubes of wild game, mutton, lamb or beef – generally no bigger than a half-inch – are deep-fried or grilled, seasoned with garlic salt and then served hot on a skewer or toothpick. The dish is popular in bars and casual restaurants across the state, often with a side of saltine or soda crackers.”

Hot chicken — fried chicken with varied amounts of seasoning that make the heat level run from mild to extra hot — is a signature dish of Nashville. 

“Chicken-fried steak is a piece of steak that is usually pounded with a mallet or run through a tenderizer, dredged in an egg-and-flour batter, and fried either in a skillet or a deep fryer. The finished product is traditionally then topped with cream gravy. The precise origins of the dish aren’t clear, but many point to Texas’ German immigrants in the 1800s who brought recipes for wiener schnitzel and settled in the cattle-rich state. In 2011, the Texas State House of Representatives declared October 26 ‘Chicken Fried Steak Day,’ noting ‘this signature dish occupies a special place in the culinary culture of the Lone Star State.'”

A general view of the Hatch Family Chocolates at the Fender Music lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, in Park City, Utah. 

Vermont: Cheddar cheese apple pieVirginia: Ham biscuitsWashington: Cedar plank salmonWest Virginia: Pepperoni rollsWisconsin: BratwurstWyoming: Bison meatballs