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Spend enough time delving into the origins of American food, and a pattern quickly emerges — the thing we thought was ours, probably is not. From the hot dog to barbecue, someone else typically came first.
How these foods came to be considered ours, well, that’s simple. In most cases, we just wanted it more, we wanted it now, and later, and everywhere, and we figured out how to make it so.
This is the story for many of our favorite snack foods. Sure, a recipe for something like a potato chip appeared in a British cookbook a few decades before George Crum, a St. Regis Mohawk chef in upstate New York, famously started making what came to be known as Saratoga chips. But who do you think started mass-producing those chips, well before they became a favorite in other countries? Ohioans, that’s who.
And what of the pretzel? Nobody can dispute that the Germans came first, but did they figure out a way to package the bierstube staple and sell it on the open market by the bagful? No, that was done by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants, back in the 1800s. To this day, in fact, it’s estimated that eighty percent of the pretzels eaten in the United States are produced in the state of Pennsylvania.
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen
And on it goes — soft drinks, flavored soft drinks in particular, can be traced back to places like Sweden and the United Kingdom, long before America was a country, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that Dr. Pepper (Texas, like you needed to be reminded) and Coca-Cola (Georgia, of course) found the formulas that would turn soda into a global phenomenon.
How did we make this list? Narrowing down the choices was a tough job, made easier by one stipulation — in order to be considered, the food in question needed to be able to ship without a lot of effort. (In other words, probably no dry ice.)
While the primary goal of our state-by-state projects is finding the very best of everything, we’ve also aspired to paint a broad picture of American food culture, and to celebrate the considerable breadth and diversity of what’s on offer, from sophisticated tinned seafood in the Pacific Northwest to the humble but mighty boiled peanut in the Deep South.
For this reason, you won’t find potato chips representing 25 different states, even if we can think of at least that many worthy regional favorites, nearly off the top of our heads. Who knows — maybe that’s the next list.
Alabama: Cheese Straws
The South didn’t invent the cheese straw; they just perfected it. Conventional wisdom says the savory treat originated in the United Kingdom in the mid-1800s, where the cocktail hour essential was (and still is) typically made with puff pastry. A Southern cheese straw is a simpler affair, going back to when home bakers would toss tangy cheddar cheese in with the biscuit dough scraps, to create a stick-shaped snack. Makers like the celebrated Acre restaurant in Auburn and Cake by Donna in Fairhope have been spotted giving the humble snack serious gastronomic credibility. You can also prowl the local shops (or the internet) for Alabama brands like Betsy’s Gourmet Bakery, and Joyce’s Cheese Straws.
Alaska: Kelp Pickles
Subsistence agriculture and snack time intersect beneath the chilly but relatively temperate waters of Alaska’s Southeast, filled with kelp. To the naked eye and nostril, this appears to be nothing more than a weed pulled from the briny depths. Those who know better can tell you that kelp picklesare unforgettably tasty — a trip way up north in a jar. Fortunately you don’t have to go anywhere, or plunder an Alaskan pantry or anything. Barnacle Foods in Juneau ships their dill, spicy dill and sweet and spicy pickles all over the country via their website, or you can check out specialty food stores in cities around the country. The company’s kelp salsas are delicious as well.
Arizona: White Sonora Wheat Crackers
With its own fascinating (and ancient) grain story and some of the finest bakers (and pizza makers) in the country, modern American bread craft reaches dazzling heights in Arizona, and a lot of that happens because of the work being done at Hayden Flour Mills, opened in 2011 by a hobby baker who developed a fascination with heritage grains. A box of the mill’s White Sonora wheat crackersis not only the perfect complement to your next cheese platter, it’s a celebration of the oldest wheat varietal recorded in North America — planted right here as early as the 1600s.
Arkansas: Cured Venison
Take an avid hunting culture, and pair it with as many deer per capita as there are pigeons in New York City (okay, that’s an educated guess), and what do you get? Venison for dinner, that’s what — and lunch and snack time too, all throughout the year. From deer summer sausage on appetizer platters to deer sticks at gas station cash registers, cured venison snacksare ubiquitous here. The local chapter of Hunters Feeding The Hungry even runs a campaign to distribute thousands of pounds of the stuff to the state’s neediest. Ratchford Farms is one of the more popular Arkansas producers.
From crowd-pleasing See’s Candy, with its classic, white, trip-to-Grandma’s boxes of nut buds and Scotchmallows, all enrobed in San Francisco’s own Guittard chocolate, to eat-in-one-sitting bars from world-renowned artisans like Dick Taylor, way up in Humboldt County, no place in America carries the humble cacao bean to greatness quite so ably as the Golden State. From everyday treats to the darkest single origins best nibbled by the shard with a glass of full-bodied red (local, of course), California has achieved chocolate nirvana.
Long before any of us could have imagined a New York where folding tables stacked with hand-rolled joints were suddenly the norm on street corners all over the city, Colorado was living the legal marijuana dream. Consequently they’re one of the best places in the country for edibles, with companies like Cheeba Chews churning out top-flight chews and taffy. Whether you’re in for the whole enchilada or prefer to stick to CBD-only, they’ve got you covered; the latter are now sold nationwide.
Connecticut: White Birch Soda
From donuts to ice cream to hot dogs, Nutmeggers have it all when it comes to curbing snack time cravings, and they’ve had a few years to practice, as well — this is the state that gave the world everything from Milano cookies to Graham crackers, the modern-day campfire favorite invented by a preacher who believed his creation would curb sexual appetites. We’re not sure of the impacts of a glass bottle of refreshing white birch soda from Foxon Park Beverages in East Haven; mostly it seems to make us crave more New Haven-style pizza. Any area pizzeria will typically have a fridge full of the locally-preferred (and highly distinctive) carbonated beverage alternative, produced in flavors like cherry, grape, strawberry and mouth-puckering, Italian-style lemon-lime.
Delaware: Salt Water Taffy
The last few years have brought big changes to little Rehoboth Beach, none quite so dramatic as the end of the reign of Dolle’s Candyland, a destination at the junction of downtown and the boardwalk for roughly a century. The star of the show, besides the giant orange sign on top of the building, has always been the handmade salt water taffy. Not to be confused with the Dolle’s in Ocean City, Maryland (it’s a long story), longtime owner Tom Ibach moved a few doors back from the beach during the pandemic, and the sign appears destined for a local museum, but the summer tradition — like fries from Thrashers, a Nic-o-Boli from Nicola’s, and Secret Service sightings —remains.
Florida: Orange Juice
Imagine it’s winter, and suppose you’re lucky enough to be in a car and headed as far south into the Sunshine State as is possible. One of the great pleasures of this particular American road trip is a stop at the first farm stand you encounter, where the farm just happens to be a citrus grove. Step out into the light, grab a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, feel the C rush and your body coming back from hibernation. The frozen north seems so much further than a day’s drive away.
Head south of Atlanta on I-75 and you’ll soon reach a part of Georgia that doesn’t look like much, but has more than a few charms up its sleeve. For one, this rather vast, mostly rural region is the heart of pecancountry, which is kind of a big deal, considering you’re in the top-producing state in the country. From major players like the highway-adjacent Ellis Brothers in Vienna to tiny family farms well off the beaten path, you’ve plenty to see. Break for pie (pecan, if they have) at Yoder’s Deitsch Haus in Montezuma, a cafeteria-style taste of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the Deep South.
Hawaii: Macadamia Nuts
As nearly any Aussie can tell you, whether or not you asked, the iconic macadamia nutisn’t actually native to Hawaii, and was only introduced to the islands in the late 1800s. Of course, as any Hawaiian will tell you, none of that matters — their favorite snack got there as soon as it could. Indigenous to Down Under the good-fattiest nut may be, but for generations, the Aloha State was the world’s largest producer of one of the world’s most indulgent natural snacks, brimming with B vitamins and other essential nutrients. A few a day will do you, but try telling that to anyone with a bag of the Mauna Loa brand Maui Onion and Garlic flavored in their hand. While you’re overdoing it, pick up some of the dark chocolate-enrobed AlohaMacs from iconic chocolate maker Hawaiian Host — that or a slice of mac pie from the nearest available source, which, once you’re here, is probably closer than you think.
Idaho: Spud Bars
There was once a magical time, about a century ago, when you could market a candy bar as health food, and people would, quite literally, eat it up. T.O. Smith, founder of Boise’s Idaho Candy Company back in 1901, took his business very seriously, and when it came to creating the Idaho Spud Bar, to this day one of the state’s favorite sweet snacks, he chose agar — a plant-based gelatin made from red algae — over the traditional kind for firming up the soft, hot chocolate-flavored marshmallow center of the confection, which was then covered in dark chocolate and dusted with coconut. Curious? Goldbelly will ship you one.
Illinois: Frango Mints
Here’s an easy way to tell a true-blue Chicagoan from the rest — the former will say they’re going to Marshall Field’s, when what they really mean is the Macy’s at State and Randolph. By any name, this is one of the country’s last, truly-great historic department stores, shrinking by the year it seems, but so enormous to begin with. High atop the store, after your chicken pot pie lunch at the wonderful Walnut Room, of course, your visit isn’t complete until you stop for a box of the sainted Frango mints, a chocolate-mint meltaway that’s not the only uniquely Chicago candy still consumed in large amounts here — merely the classiest. One upside to the disappearing of the Field’s brand; you can have Frango chocolates shipped to you (or a loved one) via Macy’s.
In the homeland of Orville Redenbacher, popcornis king. Once just a local lad with an entrepreneurial streak, Redenbacher started by selling the stuff from his car, later working tirelessly to develop the perfect-est, popping-est hybrid he could, an achievement that saw him crowned as the grandfather of popcorn’s modern-day popularity. To this day, Indiana enjoys basking in the glow, designating Orville’s gold the official state snack. There are popcorn festivals and “gourmet” shops all across the state. Amish County Popcorn has been in Berne for half a century; their range of distinctive popping corns is available on Amazon.
How did a dessert bar made from a recipe on the side of a Kellogg’s Rice Krispie box shipped to grocery stores all over the country end up the unofficial state snack in one, while remaining either unheard of — or a mere curiosity — in nearly all of the others? Good taste, that’s how. No knock on the classic Rice Krispie treat, but real Iowans know that the Scotcheroo is on a whole different plane — no marshmallow, just loads of peanut butter, chocolate, and butterscotch chips. The result? Something like a crunchy Reese’s, but with a bit of a caramel vibe from the butterscotch. You can find them at bakeries like Beyond the Bar in Decorah, but need to go hunting, really —they’re easily made at home.
Kansas: Sunflower seeds
Disappear down a country road in August or September and you’ll see why they call Kansas the Sunflower State. The official flower of the long goodbye to summer is also the founder of one of the state’s favorite between-meals feasts — a handful of sunflower seeds. Raw, roasted, salted, however you like, they’re everywhere. One of the most iconic ways to eat them, however, is dipped in chocolate and a colorful candy coating — like an M&M, but with a sunflower seed inside. The Sunflower Food Company near Kansas City sells theirs nationwide via Amazon.
Kentucky: Bourbon Balls
From derby pie to hot browns to benedictine sandwiches, obscure local food tradition is sort of Kentucky’s thing, which helps to explain the staying power of the bourbon ball. You can find it as a dark chocolate bonbon with a creamy, vanilla-caramel-toned and bourbon-infused center, boasting a pecan half for a crown, or the more common, no-bake version that’s got cocoa powder and vanilla wafers, but isn’t dipped. Also? It happens to be delicious. Invented by Ruth Booe back in the 1930s, her company, Rebecca Ruth Candies, remains in existence a century after it started, owned by the fourth generation of the same family. Like we said — tradition.
Originating in France (like so many great things), the pralinerose to popularity in New Orleans in the latter part of the 1800s, when vendors sold them in the streets surrounding the French Market. While the simple pecans-in-a-puddle candy spent much of the last century as tourist bait in a city with a ton of other stuff to eat, there’s no way to get around the importance of this New World interpretation of a European classic. All these years later, the best ones come from truly local spots like Loretta’s Authentic Pralines, which operates a stall — full circle! — in the French Market.
Maine: Whoopie Pies
Nobody except Mainers is saying that the state invented the whoopie pie, generally considered by neutral parties to have been a staple in Pennsylvania Dutch homes across the Mid-Atlantic region well before they turned up in New England nearly a century ago. The main thing to know is that Maine and whoopie pies have been inseparable ever since, with the state going so far as to honor the flying saucer-shaped snack as its official state treat, a designation the dizzying array of talented local bakers takes quite seriously. From the classic Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston to Two Fat Cats in Portland, you’re never far from a fine rendition of the classic. Thirsty? Grab a can of Moxie — the deliciously bitter, gentian root-flavored soda, which absolutely nobody doubts was created by Dr. Augustin Thompson back in 1884, offers a delightful counterpoint to the chocolate cake and cream sugar bomb you’ve just eaten in too-few bites.
Maryland: Old Bay Anything
Can a seasoning be a snack? If we’re talking about Old Bay, traditionally used on blue crab but also on everything else Marylanders eat (we’re assuming to tide them over until the next time they get to eat blue crab), then yes. From the boardwalk in Ocean City — think the savory-sweet caramel corn at Fisher’s, for starters — to the potato chip rack at every corner store in Baltimore (Herr’s Old Bay, Utz’s Crab Chips, surely there are more), it sometimes feels like the locals here are in it just for the Old Bay, which also, in any truly local establishment, goes on every order of French fries you’ll ever eat, along with a splash of vinegar. Some things are just common sense.
Massachusetts: Marshmallow Fluff
Did you know that Marshmallow Fluffis still made by a tiny little company in the same factory as forever, just outside of Boston? So many great New England brands have come and gone over the years (show of hands, who grew up going to Lechmere’s?), but the little jar of goodness made by the Durkee Mower Corp., waiting patiently on grocery shelves across the country to be taken home and used as an ice cream topping, or the key ingredient of a fluffernutter sandwich, still flies its local flag proudly. Made of corn syrup, egg whites, sugar, and vanilla, the stuff is apparently recession proof, too — you can get a jar of the stuff for less than two bucks at pretty much any Massachusetts supermarket. (For extra local points, make it Market Basket.)
Michigan: Better Made Potato Chips
The first rule of Detroit is that many things that used to be here are no longer, and roughly forty of those things were potato chip brands, duking it out for supremacy in a region where “buy local” has been a way of life since the first cars rolled off assembly lines. Today, only Better Made potato chipsremain, appreciated by connoisseurs both near and far as one of the finest examples of the genre in the entire country — the kind of potato chip so beloved, someone decided to write a whole book about them. Don’t forget an icy cold glass bottle of Faygo, that other Detroit essential, to go with — we’ll have a Redpop, if you’re asking.
Minnesota: Pearson’s Nut Goodie
We’re talking about the state that gave the planet the Mars family — as in, the eponymously-named chocolate bar, and before that, the Milky Way — so just so we’re clear: Minnesota knows candy. Ninety years after Frank Mars and son Forrest moved their successful business elsewhere, those craving an all-Minnesota sugar rush should reach for a Pearson’s Nut Goodie. Predating the Mars family’s success in the Cities by at least a decade, the first offering from Pearson’s Candy (celebrating a century this year, as happens), takes a disc of creamy maple nougat, tops it with roasted peanuts, and then buries the whole thing in proper milk chocolate.
Mississippi: Kool-Aid Pickles
As with a lot of traditions in the Delta region, nobody seems to know exactly how the Kool-Aid picklecame into being. One thing most people in this part of the country can tell you is that pickles cured in a bath of vinegar and Kool-Aid powder are absolutely delicious, and that if you were looking to get your children to eat more pickles, the sour-sweet-fruit combination tends to prove irresistible, even to the most committed pint-size veggie hater. Sold out of homes and corner markets throughout the region, you can also make them yourself, no matter how far from the banks of the Mississippi you live — learn more at AllRecipes.
Missouri: Red Hot Riplets
A bag of hot-and-sweet Red Hot Ripletsridged potato chips from local maker Old Vienna is about as iconically St. Louis as the Gateway Arch, Provel on pizza, or a salami sandwich at Gioia’s Deli on The Hill. Think spicy barbecue and you’re getting close, but it’s spicy barbecue at a level of intensity that some people simply can’t handle. Those people, typically, are not from around here. Like Old Bay in Baltimore, one of St. Louis’ favorite flavors works all kinds of overtime — the company sells a popular seasoning that goes on everything from burgers to toasted raviolis to ribs. The latest and greatest? A collab with a local cannabis manufacturer to create a truly local edible: THC-infused, “twice baked” Red Hot Riplets, sold at dispensaries across the state.
Montana: Toasted Kamut
Corn Nuts are cool, but have you tried toasted kamut? In the part of the state that isn’t mountains and Californians trying to unplug, grain grows as far as the eye can see, some of it the ancient, highly nutritious Khorasan wheat, noted for its giant, delicious kernels. Roast them, toast them, salt them — it’s a snack that’s more than just your beer’s new best friend, as it also happens to be very nutritious. Montana’s own Big Sandy Organics sells their Kracklin’ Kamut by the bag on Amazon; look out for their latest project, too: Einkorn Krunch.
Nebraska: Chocolate Meltaways
Years of experience as an engineer in the aerospace industry gave Kevin Baker a unique advantage over the typical mom-and-pop candy operation back in the 1980s, which is when he decided to switch horses, opening Baker’s Candies in Greenwood. His vision was a quality-minded, family-owned business that turned out classics like the chocolate meltaway, but on a scale that allowed him to sell them more affordably than most at the time. Figuring out how to speed up the process only enabled Nebraska’s growing habit, and today, Baker’s foil-wrapped confections are some of the most popular in the state. Too delicate to travel far during summer weather, you’ll have to set your alarm for Labor Day, when shipping resumes.
Nevada: Chips and Salsa
Chances are, if you’ve been to a Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas, you’ve had your fill of the all-natural Los Arcos chips and salsafrom T.I. Foods, produced right here in the city since 1979. That’s when Jose Luis Gutierrez made the leap from Southern California to the Nevada desert and started cranking out tortillas, in hopes that they’d eventually find a market. It took awhile, but they did, and then some — today, countless restaurants on and off the strip depend on the homegrown brand. You can also place an order for pickup at the North Las Vegas factory.
New Hampshire: Maple Candy
Just because some states and provinces are better at branding doesn’t change the facts — maple syrup is produced all the way from the Canadian Maritimes to Lake Superior and down into Appalachia. Not that there’s anything wrong with one region believing their product is the best, which is sort of the mood in the Granite State, where sapping season marks the unofficial beginning of the journey back to spring. Here, syrup producers whip up some excellent maple candyeach season, and not just the buttery, maple-leaf shaped stuff you remember, either. Three to know: maple cotton candy from Ben’s Maple Syrup in Temple, pure New Hampshire maple fudge from The Mill Fudge Factory in Bristol, and hard maple candies from Calef’s Country Store in Barrington.
New Jersey: Crumb Cake
It’s Saturday morning in the New York City suburbs — did you remember the crumb cake? Because if you didn’t, you’ll be waiting in a long line with everybody else who forgot to pick up one of New Jersey’s favorite weekend breakfasts/anytime snacks. More crumb than cake, the barely-there sweetbread base typically functions, and sometimes only adequately so, as a conveyance for a great deal of cinnamon-infused streusel. Sold from large trays in fat squares for a couple of bucks each, this is classic American bakery at its most worthy—look to greats like B&W in Hackensack and Mueller’s in Bay Head, just steps from the ocean. B&W’s crumb cake is available on Goldbelly.
New Mexico: Biscochito
So popular is the anise-scented biscochitocome Christmas time, it’s said that New Mexicans practically live on the simple sugar cookie for the month of December. (That is, until the tamales show up to the holiday party.) Traditionally made with lard, the cookie has a serious history, going back to the earliest modern settlers, long before the Land of Enchantment became a state. While it probably took a few years for somebody to figure out that the only thing better than a classic biscochito was a biscochito with green chile, the important thing is that we got there. Get yours at Golden Crown Panaderia in Albuquerque, famous for their annual biscochito milkshake collaboration with local burger chain Blake’s.
New York: Rainbow Cookies
Anybody who grew up associating trips to grandparents’ houses with boxes of cookies (tied up in red and white string) from the closest, old-school bakery can tell you about rainbow cookies. These Technicolor mini-cakes, heavy with almond paste, layered with raspberry or apricot jam, and coated with feathered dark chocolate, are said to have been created back in the late 1800s by Italian immigrants paying tribute to the colors of their native flag. There’s no real way to hurry the the making of these wholly American beauties, which helps explain why finding a truly good one in rush-rush New York has become increasingly difficult. Start your search at any classic bakery, Italian or otherwise, within 75 miles of Columbus Circle, but also consider the growing number of new-style variations, found at worthy newcomers like Baked by the Ocean in Long Beach.
North Carolina: Muscadine Grapes
Forget what you’ve heard about wines made from the muscadine grape, and surrender to the sweetness of North Carolina’s state fruit, misunderstood by many but beloved by most in this part of the world. Supporting an entire local wine industry, the unabashedly sugary, nearly melt-in-your-mouth grape tastes delicious right off the vine. Towards the end of harvest each year, it takes center stage on any respectable dessert table in the form of grape hull pie, served at wineries and popular restaurants around the state, such as Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville.
North Dakota: Chocolate-Covered Potato Chips
Named for the unruly waterway dividing North Dakota and Minnesota, the Red River Valley is sort of the Idaho of the upper Midwest, laying claim as the nation’s largest producer of red skin potatoes, which comes in handy during the long winter months, when whatever lasts in cold storage is what you end up eating. Those long winters appear to have given North Dakotans plenty of time to get creative about new ways to use up the year’s crop, which we’re imagining is how chocolate-covered potato chips became the favorite snack in the Red River city of Grand Forks. Carol Widman’s Candy Co. has been around since 1885, an achievement largely due to the creation (and perfection) of their Chippers — flavorful local potatoes, ruffle cut and fried, then enrobed in milk or dark chocolate.
Named for the poisonous nut that grows on the official state tree, the very edible buckeyecandy is perhaps the most ubiquitous confection in the state, sold at every chocolate shop, grocery store, gift shop, and gas station (okay, maybe not all, but close) from Akron to Zanesville. It’s hard to imagine a time when Ohioans — incidentally, also known as Buckeyes — weren’t hooked on these peanut butter confections partially dipped in chocolate. Legend states that the candy was only invented back in the 1960s, when Gail Tabor began making them and bringing them to Ohio State football games, where they were, obviously, a huge hit. Not all buckeyes are worth your time, but you’ll never go wrong with the ones made at Dorothy Lane Market, a Dayton institution, or the flavorful renditions made by hand in the heart of the Holmes County Amish country at Coblentz Chocolate in Walnut Creek. Their buckeye fudge, looking a little bit like a tray of melted chocolate peanut butter eyeballs, is a minor revelation.
Oklahoma: Fried Pies
There are a lot of tasty diversions along the well-traveled stretch of I-35 between Dallas and Oklahoma City, providing you know where to look, but there’s one stop nobody has any trouble remembering: the one at Exit 51 near Davis. It’s home to a rusticated gas station with a pink dinosaur on the roof, and an overwhelming number of fried piesfor sale inside. So popular are the high-quality, freshly-made snacks from Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies, packed with fruit preserves and sweet, rich custard, that they’re now sold all up and down the highway. You’re covered — until you get to the Kansas state line, at least.
With roughly 1,000 farms growing on 87,000 acres, hazelnuts are big business in Oregon, to the tune of $70 million a year. Experts say it’s down to a combination of the perfect climate and those rich, volcanic soils; the rest of us are just ready to chow down on the antioxidant-rich, nutritious nut that was valued in olden times for its medicinal powers (cooked hazelnuts with black pepper were said to be a cure for the common cold in ancient Greece). No need to wait until you’ve got the sniffles, however, to snack on Oregon’s official state nut. While you can find makers doing all sorts of delicious things with the local crop, start with the naked, roasted and unsalted beauties from a top grower like Ash Creek. With a natural product this good, no adornment is necessary.
Think of the Keystone State as its own snacking ecosystem, so complete you barely need to think of the other 49. From ice cream to potato chips to convenience store hoagies, whatever you’re craving, chances are Pennsylvania provides. At the center of the twisted maze we find the pretzel, brought over from the Germanic Old World. Hard or soft, they’re better here than in most places, and can be found in abundance, from historic market stalls in Philadelphia and Lancaster and Harrisburg, to gleaming supermarkets across the state where the number of local makers practically calls for a separate pretzel aisle. Go soft at the cash-only Center City Pretzel Co. in the Italian Market section of Philly, or pick up a bag of the hard from Martin’s in Akron — one of the last great makers in the region doing everything by hand, and doing so since 1935.
Rhode Island: Del’s Frozen Lemonade
We’re not the foremost experts on America’s littlest state or anything, but say summertime in Rhode Island and we’re immediately thinking three things — stuffies (that’s local dialect for baked clams), beach times, and so much Del’s Frozen Lemonade, our mouths eventually stop bothering to un-pucker. Like many good things here, Italians started the tradition — specifically a Neapolitan immigrant who started out making lemon ices in the old country, before migrating here and continuing the tradition. From blue collar Pawtucket to excuse-you Newport, almost everyone stops for Del’s on a hot day. While there’s nothing quite like sucking one down at the beach, you can also make your own at home.
South Carolina: Boiled Peanuts
There isn’t a state in the Deep South where boiled peanutsaren’t widely popular, but even some Southerners might be surprised to learn that only one state bothered to declare them the official state snack. That state is South Carolina, where love of the green peanut boiled forever in salted water almost becomes an obsession; native son Stephen Colbert has even been known to show off his childhood favorite on The Late Show. The annual peanut boil in Columbia is one of the most fun places to dive into a bag, but you can find them all over, from roadside stands, traditionally down near the ocean (beach snacks!), to gas stations and supermarkets — the latter usually stocks a canned version, if you’re willing to go there.
South Dakota: Wasna
Long before energy bars were on their way to becoming a billion dollar industry, the Lakota Sioux fueled up on wasna, a mixture of dehydrated game meat and chokecherries, held together with animal fat. Over the years, this particular tradition survived, eventually leading to outside interest —today, you can find something similar in upscale supermarkets across the country. For the real thing, however, look to Tanka Bar, based on the Pine Ridge Reservation —t he community-minded B Corporation ships across the country, and has recently entered into a partnership with Niman Ranch, giving them greater distribution powers.
Tennessee: Moon Pies
Originally created as a double-decker cookie for hungry miners with limited lunchpail space, the chocolate-dipped, marshmallow-filled, graham cracker/cookie sandwich known as the Moon Pie remains a Southern icon a full century after it was created. It belongs, however, to Tennessee. Initially sold for a nickel, the pie was — and is still —produced right in Chattanooga, and it has found itself in the middle of American history time and again, from the Great Depression, when the spongy snack was an affordable meal substitute, to World War II, where the pies became a firm favorite on the front lines. Tip: A few seconds in the microwave, and you’ve basically got s’mores, but without the smoky campfire.
Texas: Beaver Nuggets
All those wide open spaces, all those miles of road to explore — it’s hard to resist the siren call of the interstate in the Lone Star State, where it seems like you’re never far from a roadside kolache bakery, a world-class taqueria, or a no-frills barbecue joint, sometimes all dutifully lined up beside the highway as you approach the coming exit. Increasingly, the state’s beloved hometown brand of gas station, Bu-cee’s, seems to be opening locations at nearly half of said exits. Beyond some of the largest gas pump islands in the world, you’ll find convenience stores that make your typical Trader Joe’s seem tiny, brimming with freshly chopped brisket sandwiches and house-brand snacks. The most iconic, quite easily, has to be the deliciously evil Beaver Nuggets, sold in bags large and small — think corn pops, but if each one were dipped in delicious caramel, and you’re basically there. Not for the faint-of-teeth.
Utah: Dirty Sodas
You’ll still drive a long ways looking for a coffee shop in some parts of the Beehive State, but along the way, chances are you’ll pass any number of drive-ins serving dirty sodas, which are essentially cocktails for people who don’t drink alcohol or hot coffee, but do still enjoy consuming rather extreme amounts of sugar and caffeine. Look for lines longer than you’ll find on a Friday night at In-N-Out Burger at fast-growing chains like Swig or Sodalicious, and even a number of independent soda shacks. Swig’s Naughty & Nice concoction, mixing Dr. Pepper with English toffee syrup and Half & Half, is awfully good.
Vermont: Sugar on Snow
Is it not just so Vermont, really, that one of the state’s most iconic treats is the one you make yourself? And not only that — if made authentically, it involves running out of your kitchen into the snow in the dead of winter. So pop on your booties and dive into the sugar on snowexperience, a sugaring season favorite with kids of all ages, whereby maple syrup is cooked down and drizzled over packed snow, which immediately transforms the bubbling liquid into a caramel-like candy. Eat it quickly, while it’s still nice and chewy. If you can’t find a Vermont snowdrift where you live, store-bought maple syrup, your own stove and some packed shaved ice in a casserole tin will do just fine.
George Washington Carver’s groundbreaking peanut research is now widely recognized for its global impact, but few took the bull so quickly by the horns like the farmers of the Tidewater region, which by the mid-1800s had become an epicenter of commercial production. The Virginia peanut, comprising the vast majority of the state’s sizable crop, isn’t just a name for a peanut grown here —it’s the largest of the four varieties grown in the United States, and many say the most flavorful. And while you can find it in everything from soups to pies all over the state, the best way to eat them is roasted and salted, one handful at a time, from the largest tin you can find.
Washington: Smoked Oysters
A shellfish picnic by the magically temperate Pacific Northwest coastline — ideally, when it’s murderously hot everywhere else in the country — is one of those must-have experiences most people never get around to. First of all, it’s far away, and during a normal summer, it can be extremely expensive to get here. So put a pin in that dream for now, stock up on saltines and hot sauce, and order yourself a few tins of Washington smoked oysters, made with tasty bivalves plucked from the briny deep. The top local brand, Ekone, sells on Amazon.
West Virginia: Pepperoni Roll
Long popular down Mountain State mineshafts because of portability and deliciousness, the pepperoni rollis a simple pleasure: chunks, sticks, or slices of cured Italian are plunged into sizable, soft white rolls, and during the baking process, the spiced oil from the pepperoni seeps out into the bread, resulting in a bit of everyday magic. Satisfying enough to be called a meal, but these days very often consumed as a snack, they’re sold almost everywhere in the state’s Italian-American heartland. Fairmont’s Country Club Bakery started the craze a century ago, but Tomaro’s bakery in Clarksburg ships, via Goldbelly.
Wisconsin: Summer Sausage
Developed in Europe long before refrigerators were a thing, shelf-stable summer sausage was an Old World pantry must-have, long before one of the most German places in America took the bull by the horns. To this day, a classic Wisconsin charcuterie platter will often be built around a log (or logs, plural) of the mildly spicy, tangy sausage, plus some crackers — the perfect complement to a pitcher of Millers. From famous producers like Usingers to little greats like Louie’s Finer Meats way up near Rice Lake, you’re spoiled for access, not to mention the fact that pretty much every Wisconsin grocery store is a total summer sausagefest, no matter the season.
Wyoming: Buffalo and Elk Jerky
Quite literally a home where the buffalo roam, grill chefs in the most sparsely populated state in the union can brag a range of local alternatives to the traditional American barbecue fare. From wild boar links to elk porterhouses to buffalo prime rib, dinner time in Wyoming looks a little different than it might elsewhere. As does snack time — with plenty of local suppliers, it’s easy to keep a stash of buffalo and elk jerkyon hand. the Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company, around since the 1940s, does a superb job with both.