Food News

Our Advice to the Presidential Candidates

February 20, 2016

In preparation for the South Carolina primaries, state native Stephen Colbert gave Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders some advice: "If you're going to get the vote down there, you've gotta eat boiled peanuts. [...] When I offer it to people up here, they say, 'Here comes Colbert with more of his damp food.'"

With the South Carolina primaries just around the corner (for Republicans, February 20; for Democrats, February 27), we're about to see how Colbert's advice holds up.

In the meantime, we've got our own recommendations for the candidates. In approximate order of the upcoming primary elections, here's what the wannabe presidents should eat, state by state, if they want to win our votes (lots of damp, fried, and "interesting" food included).

Take your mark, get set, go!

  • Nevada: elk, a shot of Jack Daniels at the Reno Rodeo, and Basque food (but honestly, as long as a candidate pronounces it Nev-A-da, with a hard A, and not Nev-ah-da, with a soft A, they have the vote; otherwise: automatic disqualification)
  • Alabama: fried pickles
  • Alaska: akutaq, a celebratory dessert traditionally made of the fat of Arctic animals (or, these days, Crisco), berries, and ground fish
  • Arkansas: possum pie, with multiple layers of Cool Whip and chocolate pudding
  • Colorado: magic brownies
  • Georgia: Brunswick stew (squirrel, opossum, or rabbit meat preferable to chicken)
  • Massachusetts: Boston baked beans for dinner, Boston cream pie for dessert, and a Dunkin Donuts coffee
  • Minnesota: hotdish, made with cream of mushroom soup
  • Oklahoma: chicken fried steak (or, what we prefer: chicken fried mac and cheese)
  • Tennessee: Nashville hot chicken—the hotter a candidate can stand, the better they can handle the pressure of running a country
  • Texas: Talk O' Texas pickled okra (fried okra at Luby's also counts, and makes for a great photo op), Fritos chili pie from a D.Q. drive thru (eaten out of the bag, of course), and a breakfast taco—if you're not down with the breakfast taco, then you're not down with Texas
  • Vermont: pretty sure Bernie has this one covered, but you need to be able to drink maple syrup like water
  • Virginia: Virginia ham and peanut soup
  • Wyoming: buffalo meat jerky
  • Kansas: Mennonite zwiebach (soft and sweet bubble-topped dinner rolls)
  • Kentucky: burgoo (should be thick enough that a spoon can stand up in it)
  • Louisiana: oxtail soup
  • Maine: the often overlooked but equally delicious cousin of the lobster roll, a crab meat roll
  • Nebraska: Runza, preferably in a rectangular shape
  • Hawaii: Spam musubi (a slice of grilled Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped together with nori)
  • Idaho: huckleberry pie
  • Michigan: pasties (the food, not the clothing), washed down with some pop (Faygo or Vernors)
  • Mississippi: fried pecans
  • D.C.: the Half-Smoke (not to be confused with a hot dog, this is larger, spicier, half-pork, half-beef, and smoked)
  • Florida: fried alligator tail
  • Illinois: the Horseshoe, an open-faced sandwich made of a thick slice of toast topped with a hamburger, French fries, and cheese sauce
  • Missouri: St. Louis gooey butter cake
  • North Carolina: livermush
  • Ohio: Cincinnati chili, served over spaghetti
  • Arizona: cheese crisps (the super complicated recipe: spread butter on flour tortillas, toast in oven, add shredded cheese, return to oven for 3 minutes)
  • Utah: funeral potatoes (similar to but distinct from Minnesota hotdish)
  • Wisconsin: kringle
  • New York: candidates should be able to fold their slices of pizza, walk and talk while they eat them, and not drip pizza grease on themselves
  • Connecticut: clam pizza
  • Delaware: scrapple
  • Maryland: Old Bay-flavored everything, Bergers cookies, and a Natty Boh
  • Pennsylvania: Old Forge-style white pizza (rectangular in shape, with a crispy and thick crust)
  • Rhode Island: coffee milk
  • Indiana: pork tenderloin sandwich (tenderloin must battered and breaded and twice the size of the bun)
  • West Virginia: pepperoni rolls (soft white bread with pepperoni baked in the middle)
  • Oregon: Tillamook cheese (bonus points for cheddar)
  • Washington: Walla Walla raw onion sandwich (add some peanut butter for bonus points)
  • California: Santa Maria tri-tip, preferably barbecued over red oak wood
  • Montana: Rocky Mountain "oysters" (these "oysters" are not oysters; it is up to candidates to correctly identify)
  • New Jersey: pork roll (or Taylor Ham, depending on which part of the state they candidates are visiting)
  • New Mexico: hatch chiles (the candidate who gets the hot chile will win the White House)
  • North Dakota: anything covered in Velveeta and Jell-O desserts (it is okay if the Jell-O dessert is not covered in Velveeta, however)
  • South Dakota: frybread, flat dough fried or deep-fried in oil, shortening, or lard (even better if candidates turn frybread into a frybread taco)

Thanks to the entire Food52 team, who helped contribute to this list!

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What do the candidates need to eat when they visit your state? Tell us—and them!—in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Julia
  • beejay45
  • Kate
  • ktr
  • Annie stader
    Annie stader
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Julia February 9, 2022
I grew up in Nebraska so I actually know what a runza is. However, I cannot find a good recipe for them - ever so slightly sweet bread dough and a cabbage and ground beef filling deliciously flavored with lots of onion and black pepper - similar to those at Runza Hut. Can anybody out there help me?
beejay45 February 23, 2016
Tri-tip for California? Clearly a SoCal selection.
I did have livermush in southern VA and northern NC.
Maryland??? Old Bay is a seasoning, not a food. Definitely crab cakes. Natty Boh? I suppose, but why not Rolling Rock for PA, then?
Loved the Cheese Crisps when I lived in AZ, but is that really the state dish???

Maybe I'm just being cranky, but reading this list reminds my why Wikipedia frequently suck for food info -- I once saw a fried egg on top of a slice of chocolate cake in a greasy spoon in Topeka. Does that make it the state dish??? IOW, anecdotal based on minimal exposure to the specific cuisine/state/whatever.
Kate February 22, 2016
Crab cake in Maine, but not Maryland?! Oh, I don't agree with that.
ktr February 20, 2016
In Wisconsin thru should easy fresh cheese curds. Ideally they should still be warm and squeak when you bite into them.
ktr February 20, 2016
They not thru. I should read what I write before posting apparently.
Annie S. February 20, 2016
We travel a lot and to less than tourist type destinations(we certify organ food operations) and we run into regional specialities. The "Horseshoe" is indeed a specialty near Springfield at certain older establishments but its dying out....very old school bar food.
Bevi February 20, 2016
Pennsylvania = Philly Cheesesteak, and Scrapple, both from Pennsylvania Dutch Up Country and Down Country.
beejay45 February 23, 2016
scgoble February 20, 2016
The suggestion that Georgians eat squirrel or "opossum," (the writer's use of opossum instead of "possum" tells me all I need to know), is laughable and straight from the Wikipedia entry discussing the history of Brunswick stew. Come on Food52, get it together.
X February 19, 2016
Not a soul has weighed in on the dubious selection of oxtail soup as THE food presidential candidates should eat when campaigning in Louisiana. What about red beans and rice, gumbo, crawfish boil, Muffuletta and poboy sandwiches, shrimp remoulade, oysters Rockefeller, pralines, beignets, king cake, or Doberge cake just to name a few mouthwatering specialties? Turtle soup? Definately! Oxtail soup,,,,you have got to be kidding.
Lindsay G. February 19, 2016
Um liver mush for NC??? WTF Food52? Have you ever been to NC? Try bbq, RC cola (with peanuts), Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie...
anotherfoodieblogger February 19, 2016
Thumbs up on the Texas and Oregon picks! (My two "home" states.) In fact, I have Talk O' Texas pickled okra and Tillamook cheddar in my fridge right now!
Shanna February 19, 2016
There are many, many foods that really say "Pennsylvania," and yet the one on this list is something I've never heard of that sounds truly disgusting. I've lived in PA my whole life. Uh, what?
X February 19, 2016
Please give the deep-fried pickle back to Mississippi. It was invented by Tait Selden on a whim in 1970 at The Hollywood Cafe in Robinsonville, Mississippi." Still being prepared there 46 years later!
See the following video for more information:
Niknud February 19, 2016
Everyone always talks about the herbals when it comes to Colorado, but please let us not forget about the massive quantities of absolutely outstanding micro-brews here in our fine state. And the distilleries are catching up too - my personal new favorite: 300 Days of 'Shine in Monument, Co.
inpatskitchen February 19, 2016
In Michigan the candidates must eat a Coney and plop some ice cream in that Vernors!
Samantha W. February 19, 2016
I LOVE this.
Alex W. February 19, 2016
Me too. Really feeling the bernt toast with this post.
ChefJune February 19, 2016
What part of Illinois is this from?
Sarah J. February 19, 2016
It's from Springfield!
ChefJune February 19, 2016
Really? Must be a recent thing. I used to spend a lot of time there and never even heard of it.
And weirder yet is that the question I asked (copied and pasted in) has disappeared.