Many dishes come to mind when thinking of foods that define Illinois. At the top of the list is often the Chicago-style hot dog, which is an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun and topped with yellow mustard, white onions, green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled peppers and a dash of celery salt.
There’s also the Chicago-style pizza, which is baked in a deep-dish pan with a large amount of cheese and topped with chunky tomato sauce. And Chicago-style popcorn, which is a mix of caramel and cheese popcorn. The Italian beef sandwich, comprised of slices of seasoned roast beef on a French roll and served with au jus and Chicago-style giardiniera, originated in Chicago. In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago, which also marked the debut of the chocolate brownie.
However, iconic Illinois cuisine extends much farther than the Chicago metropolitan area. From unique dishes to produce grown on farms across the state, Illinois has much to offer. Here are some dishes that define Illinois found outside of Chicagoland, and some accompanying recipes if you want to try making them at home.
Take two thick slices of Texas toast, top with your choice of meat, pile on crispy French fries and drizzle cheese sauce over the top, and you’ve got a horseshoe. According to Visit Springfield Illinois, the open-faced sandwich originated in Illinois’ capital city in 1928, created by Chef Joe Schweska and his wife Elizabeth and served at the Old Leland Hotel. The shape of the ham in the original horseshoe (along with the fries representing the nails) is how the name of the dish came about. The cheese sauce was a secret recipe until Schweska decided to print it in the 1939 Christmas Edition of the State Journal-Register. Go to visitspringfieldillinois.com for that original recipe. Horseshoe Cheese Sauce
Anyone attending the Illinois State Fair or local county fairs can rely on the delicious treat of a battered hot dog on a stick. While commonly known as a corn dog, the original Cozy Dog can be enjoyed year-round at Springfield’s Cozy Dog Drive In. Developed by Ed Waldmire, Jr., the Cozy Dog debuted at the Illinois State Fair in the 1940s, according to the restaurant’s website. Corn dogs have been a fair staple ever since. Corn Dogs
In 2015, the Illinois House unanimously voted to name Murphysboro the BBQ Capital of Illinois. In large part, this was thanks to 17th Street Barbecue and Pat’s Barbecue and Catering. Both restaurants have won numerous awards and recognitions over the years. In addition to these award-winning hometown heroes, there’s also the annual Praise the Lard barbecue cook-off, which will be held this year Sept. 21-23. Simple Barbecue Sauce
While more of an icon of the Midwest as a whole, you cannot travel far in Illinois without finding a restaurant that features the beloved pork tenderloin sandwich that is oftentimes as big as your head. The pork tenderloin commonly takes up most of the real estate on the plate with a bun that looks comically inadequate to its counterpart. Made with a center-cut pork loin pounded flat, breaded and deep-fried, the tenderloin is served on a bun with a variety of toppings, including mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and dill pickles. Homemade Pork Tenderloin
While often thought of as a Thanksgiving requisite, pumpkin pie was voted the official state pie of Illinois in 2015 under the State Designations Act. Why? Because Illinois is the top pumpkin-producing state in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Illinois harvests more than twice as many pumpkin acres compared to other top states at 15,900 acres. In the same study by the USDA, 80% of pumpkins grown in Illinois are destined for pie filling. Classic Pumpkin Pie
They aren’t just sugar cookies with pink icing. Pink cookies are a delicacy in the southern part of the state. These super sweet, vibrant cookies are most notably found in bakeries across southern Illinois. If you’re in the area, be sure to drop by Davis Pastry in Anna, Cristaudo’s Bakery or Larry’s House of Cakes in Carbondale, or Dixie Cream Donuts in West Frankfort for an authentic pink cookie. You can even order Davis Pastry’s version online. Each bakery has its own take on the pink cookie, so be sure to try them all. Homemade Pink Cookies
According to the Illinois State Museum, more than 300 Illinois farms grow popcorn on 47,000 acres of land, which makes Illinois the third largest grower of popcorn in the U.S. In fact, popcorn was designated as the official state snack food of Illinois in 2003 under the State Designations Act. However, popcorn has been celebrated in the state for a long time. This year during Labor Day weekend, the city of Casey will celebrate its 36th anniversary of the Casey Popcorn Festival. Buttered Popcorn
There were many other contenders for this iconic Illinois food list. Collinsville claims to be the horseradish capital of the world (due to having the most concentrated growth of the root vegetable) and celebrates it during the annual International Horseradish Festival, held this year June 2-3.
Arenzville and Chandlerville in Cass County, Franklin in Morgan County, Brighton in Macoupin County and Utica in LaSalle County host annual events that revolve around burgoo, a stew consisting of a variety of meats and vegetables. Plus, southern Illinois and Calhoun County peaches are summer delicacies.
No matter where you go in Illinois, whether it’s the big city or rural farming communities, food is enjoyed and celebrated.