Low-Cost and No-Cost: The Practical Cook’s Guide to Attending the Fair on a Budget (with video)

The Practical Cook is thrilled to announce that aside from a bit of sunburn (one Gentle Reader referred to TPC’s complexion by way of a popular pork slogan, ahem), yesterday’s adventure with the Juniors went swimmingly. As the Juniors were bankrolling part of their own trip, it’s the perfect time to discuss attending the fair on a budget. Thanks for the Facebook and Twitter questions on the subject as well.

All we are saying, is give @NCPig a chance.

All we are saying, is give @NCPig a chance.

Let it be known, I am The Practical Cook for a good reason. I am Depression-era at heart, and my father could one-up Homer Simpson in his quest for free samples, so these are applied tactics, not just suggestions.

Roll the tape of low-cost ideas and Fried reporting from some thrifty pals, because really, should you put a price tag on world peace?

Number one thing I’ll do differently next year: buy ride tickets in advance. My friend, the wily @convertiblelife taught me that one.

Straight from Mt. Olive to you, that's a lotta pickle for cheap!

Straight from Mt. Olive to you, that's a lotta pickle for cheap!

Low-Cost Fair Activities:

Super Chocolatey Chocolate Peanuts Sampler: Fifty Cents

Super Chocolatey Chocolate Peanuts Sampler: Fifty Cents

  • Food:50 cents gets you a pickle or a sampler size of chocolate-covered peanuts in the Education/Commercial buildings. Well worth it. Ham biscuits are $2 on church row. While we’re on pig, Pork Chop Shop and Pik-N-Pig both do barbecue sammies at a good price, with slaw (see: vegetable). Fudge is also a good choice, because you can buy a little of it, and it’s satisfying.

    Pork Barbecue (as if there's more than one in NC) Sandwich from Pik-N-Pig, Winner!

    Pork Barbecue (as if there's more than one in NC) Sandwich from Pik-N-Pig, Winner!

  • Souvenirs:For little ones, the big hits included origami (cranes or frogs for 25 cents!) and small pottery items ($4 apiece). Another comrade scored a wooden truck for $6. Consider framing a map with a photo for a classic memory.

    Origami for the Win!

    Origami for the Win!

  • Milking: $2 a shot. Not bad for a memorable experience, though I can imagine dairy farmers everywhere who have to get up at o-dark-thirty in all weather must think this is the most ingenious money-making gig ever.

No-Cost Fair Activities:

  • Samples:Hot spots include the Kerr Scott Building (maple butter, peanuts, honey cotton candy, liver pudding—hello, deeply Southern people); fudge shops; Got to be NC Agriculture (Lumpy’s ice cream, peanut butter, BBQ sauces); Commercial Building (maple cotton candy, hush puppies)
    Big vats of fudge, the smell is completely free, and the samples aren't bad either.

    Big vats of fudge, the smell is completely free, and the samples aren't bad either.

    NOTE OF CAUTION: The deliciousness may lead to a purchase. Lumpy and I are on a first-name basis now, and I’ve served the maple butter twice at home with intentions of a whole blog post devoted to it.

  • Shows:Ongoing in Kiddieland and around Heritage Circle. People-watching in one of the quiet spots mentioned yesterday is reality TV without a screen, the human drama unfolding as the day progresses: fresh in the AM, cranky kids in the early afternoon, teenagers teening about at dusk. Check your map for more.

    Cow with Attitude Hoofing the Runway

    Cow with Attitude Hoofing the Runway

  • Animals and Vegetables:Not implying you can walk away with a turkey and a sweet potato, but you can get an eyeful of both in the Expo Center. If you hit one building, go there. Everyone I’ve been with (and that’s 10 people and counting at this point), ranks it as a favorite. If you have more time, cruise over and watch the animal judging, it’s mesmerizing and educational, like the heifer version of America’s Next Top Model (OMG, that cow is so skinnay, like whatever . . .).

    Frankly, my dear, I do love this dress.

    Frankly, my dear, I do love this dress.

  • Craftiness:Obviously, I’m now entering old age (see Depression-era, above) because I can’t get enough of the Village of Yesteryear and the Education/Commercial Buildings. Yesterday we watched candles being made, glass being blown, and origami being folded. It rocked. And the Best in Show dress is complete Scarlet O’Hara (Edu/Comm Bldg). Still trying to empanel myself as a pound cake judge. (Hope springs eternal.)

    Dahlias in Bloom

    Dahlias in Bloom

  • Flowers: No offense to the gardeners of the world, but since my passion is food, I didn’t expect to heart this as much as I did. Seriously, the dahlias were just rocking, and the serenity of the building was supreme. And bonus, small butterfly house inside!

Last but not least, here’s a rough breakdown of average Fried pricing at the N.C. State Fair:

  • Drinks: Around $2-3, more for commemorative mugs and deals with refills; there are water fountains around the grounds, so save your cup and refill
  • Food: $4- 8 (low-end is fries, corn, sides, high-end is  entree, sandwich, etc.), biscuits are the bargain ~$2, portions are large so invest and share
  • Deep-fried:  $4-7, with most being about $5, and you’ll need a village, as there are no single-servings in fried, and I’m yet to meet the person who can eat more than 2 deep-dried Oreos

What deals are you finding at the fair? Share you finds, tips, and tricks in the comments section below, or Tweet using #ncstatefair as the hashtag.

Send requests, telegrams, and queries to practical cook at gmail dot com. Connect on Facebook: The Practical Cook Blog. (Thanks in advance for spreading The Practical Cook Blog word. Press “like” on Facebook today!)

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Coming up tomorrow, Deep-Fried Is Fun, Hunger Is Not: Hunger Relief Day at the Fair.

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