Tag: Iowa State Fair

2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” List

2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” List  

As long-time state fair baking/cooking contest managers, the Blue Ribbon Group is excited to share, for the first time publicly, our 2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” list. With this list we offer our answer to the often-asked question: What are the best state fairs in the United States?

This new compilation is based exclusively on two factors: per day attendance numbers (total 2022 attendance divided by total days open) and their baking competitions (history of past Blue Ribbon Group special contests).  All 30 fairs have higher per day attendance than any other U.S. state fairs happening July to October each year.

2023 "Top 30 State Fairs" List

Top 10

Topping this 2023 “Top 30 State Fairs” list is the Minnesota State Fair, followed by the Tulsa State Fair, State Fair of Texas, Iowa State Fair, and Wisconsin State Fair. Here are the top 10, listed in order, followed by the complete list noting each fairs’ dates and attendance numbers. 

  1. Minnesota State Fair
  2. Tulsa State Fair
  3. State Fair of Texas
  4. Iowa State Fair
  5. Wisconsin State Fair
  6. North Carolina State Fair
  7. Oklahoma State Fair
  8. Ohio State Fair
  9. New York State Fair
  10. Illinois State Fair

Best State Fairs w/ Blue Ribbon Baking Contests

Awesome Attendance Numbers

  • Attendance numbers in 2022, ranged from 26,224 to 153,519 for per day averages, and 287,367 to 2,500,000 for overall total attendances.
  • All take place between July and November, with the majority happening in August, September and October. 
  • All are official state fairs with two caveats. The Tennessee State Fair and Wilson County Fair essentially merged in 2021, with the Wilson County Fairgrounds location becoming it’s home. The Salem Fair is the largest in Virginia with a 350,000 attendance in 2022.  

Since 2006, Blue Ribbon Group has managed special recipe contests at large state, county and regional fairs. Find a collection of winning recipes at BlueRibbonGroup.net and featured on BlueRibbonFoodies on Instagram and Facebook



Baking Contest Seeks Best Low-To-No Sugar Pies, Cookies, Cakes, Breads, Chocolate Desserts, Citrus Sweet Treats

Minneapolis-St Paul, MN – June 20, 2023 – Watch for the Splenda Magic Baker “Low-To-No-Sugar Showdown” 2023 state fair recipe contest series this summer in 6 different cities in the Midwest and two southern states. If you love cakes, cookies, pies, and other sweet treats but prefer them with little to now sugar, this competition is for you!

$350 in Prizes at Each of 6 Fairs

Six prominent state fairs will host the contest, including Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, and Arkansas. Prizes are $200 for 1st place, $100 for 2nd place, and $50 for 3rd place. Judges choose winners for the best flavor combinations, taste and aroma, among other criteria.

Splenda Magic Baker Low to No Sugar Showdown

The pop-up events will feature giveaways of Splenda Magic Baker, the brand’s new zero-calories, zero-sugar sweetener, while supplies last. Splenda Magic Baker comes in 16 ounce bags. It measures and tastes like sugar. Use it 1 to 1 for replacing sugar. You can find recipes and baking tips at Splenda.com.


Six Fairs – Six Sets of Prizes

Here’s a quick run-down of when each fair is, a link to their competition department, their contest theme, register by date, contest date, and location at the fairgrounds. Most fair’s require advance registration, which bakers do, directly with each fair’s competition department.

For questions about competing, contact the fair’s entry office or the Blue Ribbon Group here.  If you can’t compete at any of the above 6 fairs, don’t fret. Read below about our bonus prizes for low to no sugar state fair winning recipes.

Want to Win Year’s Supply of Splenda Magic Baker Sweetener?

Bonus Prizes for Sugar-Free Winning Bakers at ANY Blue Ribbon Group Top 30 Fair

We invite you to compete in any general baking class/category at ANY of our top 30 fairs for a shot at winning a year’s supply of Splenda Magic Baker ($96 value). To qualify, use any Splenda product and place 1st, 2nd or 3rd at your fair, in any general baking class/category. Then submit your details, winning recipe, and photo here by 11:59pm on October 13, 2023. We will choose up to 6 winners: 1 for each of 6 U.S. regions, if applicable: Midwest, Southwest, Southeast, Northeast, Pacific, or Rocky Mountain regions. Winners will be chosen and contacted by year-end, by 11:59pm on December 31, 2023.

Good luck to all the participants!

This post was originally published June 20, 2023 and was updated July 13, 2023.


Holiday Pumpkin Pie

This Holiday Pumpkin Pie recipe is a delightfully delicious creation. It features eggnog in the filling. Recipe credit goes to Loretta Greiner. She won a “Best New Entrant” award for it at the Iowa State Fair back in 2011. It makes the perfect addition to the dessert table. You can make it with your favorite pie crust recipe or use a pre-made one like Pillsbury. And if you’re looking for more holiday baking ideas, enter “holiday” into our search bar here.


Best Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

This Best Sweet Potato Pie recipe is an award-winning creation. It won best overall pie at the 2016 Iowa State Fair. One taste and you will know why it won. Recipe credit goes to Tanya Hardy. The pie is an all-time favorite of ours, locked forever in our memory because of its creamy consistency and fantastic flavor. Seriously, soooooooo creamy!

Best Sweet Potato Pie Recipe-Iowa State Fair Winner

The recipe calls for a pound of sweet potatoes, equating to about 2 cups mashed. Butter, sugar, milk and eggs account for its creamy deliciousness. The flavor comes from nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and vanilla.

The crust recipe calls for solid vegetable shortening as the fat and makes for a nice flaky crust. You can certainly make your own personal favorite crust recipe. Use pre-made dough or a pre-baked crust if that’s your thing. No judgement here.

You top and decorate the pie with homemade whipped cream and pecan halves or chopped pecans. Either way is delightful.

Best Sweet Potato Pie Recipe-Iowa State Fair Winner Best Sweet Potato Pie Recipe-Iowa State Fair Winner

Tanya won her bragging rights from the fair, as well as the pie division sponsors: Machine Shed Restaurants, Gold Medal Flour, and us, the Blue Ribbon Group, as one of the recipe contest organizers. Her recipe is unforgettable and quite easy to make. We had ours on the table within 3 hours, start to finish.

Best Sweet Potato Pie Recipe – Baking Tips

  • Plan for an hour for prep and three hours, start to finish.
  • Peel the potatoes right before you’re going to boil them.
  • Prepare the crust while the potatoes are boiling.
  • You can also boil the sweet potatoes ahead of time if desired.

Need a new recipe to help celebrate the holidays? Give this award-winning pie a try. And if you are looking for a pumpkin pie, be sure to also try this award-winning one. We hope you love both of these pies as much as we do!


Best Sweet Potato Pie Recipe-Iowa State Fair Winner


Best Banana Cream Pie Recipe

This winning “Best Banana Cream Pie Recipe” is a banana lover’s dream come true. You use 5 bananas to make it, including an early step of making a “banana milk.” You use that banana milk to create a custard thickened with egg yolks and cornstarch.  This amps up the flavor, as does using both vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds. Also, using both heavy whipping cream and whole milk gives the pie the richness it deserves.

Whipped Cream Topping

This creation is adapted from a best cream pie winning recipe at the Iowa State Fair. Jessica Denner won 3rd place for her banana cream pie back in 2015. She split her filling into multiple layers and used a different crust. I simplified the layering, reduced the chill times needed and swapped out the winner’s dough crust recipe for a graham cracker version.  I like the texture a cookie-like crust adds, especially when you crumble some crunchiness on top.


Baking Tips

Save the smashed bananas used for making your “banana milk” and put them into smoothies, banana bread or muffins.

The winner’s tip of doing a quick lemon juice soak with the banana slices is genius.


With that step, plus a quick rinse and a pat dry, your fruit will hold its bright color and avoid turning brown. Doing such a step, helps this “Best Banana Cream Pie Recipe” have a winning presentation.

Best Banana Cream Pie Recipe Overhead ShotThe filling resembles a thick pudding. It comes together easily. Be sure to cook the custard until it thickens. As a result, the pie will set up properly and not be runny. Avoid overcooking it as well. Hint: the filling should thickly coat the back of a spoon and stay separate if you run your finger down the center of the spoon.

You also want your whipped cream on top to be thick, almost firm. Whip it until moderately stiff peaks form and it can hold its shape. This is the consistence you want.

Moderately stiff peaksCrazy for Crust? If you prefer a dough crust instead of a graham cracker crust, use the winner’s butter-lard pie crust found here. Our tasters loved that version as well. Plus, we had fun with the whipped cream presentation.

Best Banana Cream Pie - Decorated

A Pie in the Sky: keep an eye out for even more cream pies as we’ve been testing and tasting loads of them. We’ll share more soon!



Toasted S’more Cookies

These Toasted S’more Cookies are a delightful twist on the ever-popular and tasty campfire treat. In fact, some say it elevates the s’more into something that belongs in a fancy patisserie. At the same time, these blue ribbon winning cookies are easy to make.

The cookie dough has finely ground graham crackers, of course. The other dough ingredients are classic: butter, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, flour, and salt. Once baked, you top the cookies with a rich marshmallow meringue and a small bar of chocolate. You dot the top of the cookie with the meringue first, to hold the chocolate bar/block in place.

Hershey's on Toasted S'more Cookies

Then pipe on the top portion. The key ingredients in the meringue are egg whites (at room temperature), marshmallows, sugar, vanilla, corn syrup, and cream of tartar. To finish off the cookies, you use a kitchen torch for the toasted marshmallow look. You’ll feel like a culinary pro. By the way, we have a Jo Chef brand torch and love it.

Recipe credit goes to Terri Treft. She won 1st place with this Toasted S’more Cookies recipe at the Iowa State Fair back in 2016. Her win is quite an accomplishment given one of the Iowa State Fair’s claims to fame. They have the largest competitive food division in the country. They host more individual baking contests than any other fair in the country. So, nice work Terri!

Plated Toasted S'more Cookie

Pro Tips

  • You can opt to a make the cookies and frosting ahead of time, then assemble just before serving. The frosting will keep about 2-3 days in the fridge.
  • Another tip: we made our cookies small so it made a good size batch: 42 cookies. If you prefer a larger cookie (and therefore, less assembly time), go ahead and bake them bigger. Just adjust the baking time a tish longer and the amount of chocolate you put on each.

Blue Ribbon Foodies! This is a fun recipe you are going to want to make again and again.

And if you’re really into s’more themed treats, be sure to try these double chocolate cookies and these favorite no-bake treats.




Homemade French Macarons

Homemade French Macarons are made easy with this best ever macaron recipe using almond flour, powdered sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, almond extract, and superfine sugar. The blue ribbon “best cookie” winner has just 6 main ingredients for the cookie part (plus your favorite food color). You make the Italian buttercream with just 4 more ingredients: egg whites, granulated sugar, unsalted butter, and pure vanilla extract.

Perfect Texture, Perfect Taste

You’ll love the smooth and crisp outside “shell” these cookies have. Their chewiness inside is also key to their deliciousness. And the Italian buttercream? To die for!

Recipe credit goes to Marianne Carlson who won “best overall cookie” honors with it at the 2015 Iowa State Fair. That means the judges ranked this cookie better than hundreds of others, 453 to be exact. That’s how many entries there were that year: 454! Wow. One taste and you’ll know why they won.

Piping French Macarons

Given how intimidated people can be about making macarons, we were pleasantly surprised with how simple they were to make. My niece Crystal came to visit and she took the lead in re-creating Marianne’s winning cookie. It was the first time either of us had attempted them. The hardest part perhaps was getting the cookies a consistent size so they look good once “sandwiched” with the filling inside. I think templates are the secret to success for size consistency. With macarons in general, I also think practice makes perfect. You are off to a great start with Marianne’s recipe.

Flavor & Color Variations

You can easily make these your own by changing the filling and colors. We did some blueberry macaron simply by switching the food coloring gel and adding blueberry jam to the buttercream. I see many more brightly colored ones in our future come spring and summer. Homemade French Macarons are marvelous. You can find a wonderful chocolate macaron recipe here. It is the most popular cookie we’ve shared to-date. It also happens to be another blue ribbon winning recipe.

Best Blueberry French Macarons

Winner Tip:  Marianne believes her winning French macarons taste best after being refrigerated 4 days, then served at room temperature. I bet that’s true…but our batch was gone in less than a day. Next time we’ll do a double batch.

Definitely give these French macarons a try. They’ll win you over too!


Note: Midwest Living Magazine and Gold Medal Flour sponsored this Iowa State Fair best cookie competition in 2015. This is an edited repost from our former website, StateFairRecipes.com.



Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies

Bake this blue ribbon winning cookie recipe for Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies. The recipe includes how to make your own kick-a$$ caramel sauce with sweetened condensed milk…in one easy step. Ultimately, you will create a treat so delicate and delightful, it will melt in your mouth. If you want a cookie that is confectionary level quality, this is it. And it’s easy with the step by instructions below. Hint, you simply boil 1 or 2 cans of Eagle Brand Sweetened condensed mil Recipe credit goes to Christine Montalvo who won at the Iowa State Fair with it in 2013.

We have made both a classic version.

And one with macadamia nuts instead. Both absolutely delish.

Dulce de leche, sometimes called “milk candy,” is defined as a traditional Argentinian dessert made by caramelizing sugar with milk.  I first had it in the form of caramel ice cream. It is what makes this cookie extra special.

These blue ribbon winning Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies will be love at first bite. And if you want to try more Iowa State Fair winning cookies, simply search for Iowa in the search section. Here are two of our favorites: one, a s’more themed one, the other homemade macarons! Both are 1st place winning cookies also!