Ranking All 50 States, by How Fun They Are to Get Fat In
The great American pastime? If we're being honest, it's gaining weight. Other countries may love eating as much as we do, but few embrace excess with American-level moxie, and the stats are there to prove it.
But we come not to shame America for its waistline, but to celebrate it, taking all 50 states and pondering one simple question: "How much fun is it to get fat there?" This isn't just a celebration of which states have the best eating, though that's certainly a part of the equation. Everything matters -- the weather, the culture... basically the extent to which you can completely lose yourself in the pursuit of gluttony, as is your right!
So enjoy, America, and keep eating!
The grilled chicken and steamed vegetables of states.
There's so much steak! Problem is, you had to slaughter the cow yourself, and that kind of activity really keeps pounds off.
48. North Dakota
On the plus side, there's no guilt in hibernating all winter. On the negative side, there's no pizza guy within 47 miles.
47. South Dakota
Nothing kills a good ole frybread and chislic binge like knowing Lincoln and Jefferson are judging your gluttony from on high. Even if Roosevelt's cool with it.
In theory, all that cold and lack of sunlight should promote hunkering down and porking up on canned salmon and crab dip, but the thing is, Alaska's really TOO harsh for such nonchalance. You have to be rugged here -- ready for fisticuffs with a bear or a Palin. Alaska will destroy the tubby and weak, which kinda takes the fun out of it.
45. West Virginia
Actually one of America's chubbier states, but that doesn't mean anyone's enjoying the process that much, pepperoni rolls notwithstanding.
The thing about bison meat is it's way leaner than beef! And yes, of course Montana HAS beef, too. And pretty good beer! It's not a bad state for fatness, just not a great one, either.
43. New Hampshire
There's that one really good pie place by Dartmouth… oh, who is anyone kidding, go to Vermont.
Fact: it's all out of steaks because it shipped them all to America's difficult-to-shop-for fathers-in-law last Christmas. OK, fine, that's not true. Also possibly not true: its claim to have invented the Reuben. Where were we? Right, Nebraska! Look, you can do OK for yourself here, but it's not like people are going to regale you with tales of how they feasted like kings in Omaha, either.
Idaho doesn't get quite the credit it deserves for possessing some of the qualities that make its neighbors to the west so celebrated (must be the lack of coastline) -- no one's reasonably going to compare Boise to Portland, but there's better face-stuffing to be had there than you think if you haven't been. That said, the state has a ways to go before its in-state achievements in fatness supersede all those French fries it's using to fatten up the rest of the country.
Utah gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to living an indulgent life what with its historically difficult relationship with booze, but truth be told you can have yourself a tasty little time in Salt Lake City (even if I did once have a jarring experience there with an entire staff of blond-haired, blue-eyed servers at a sushi establishment, although the food was quite good!). But at the same time, that Mormon ethic of restraint, while good for some stuff, isn't really the best for gluttony, and it still permeates the culture to some extent. The only chubby Mormon I ever encountered was portrayed by Josh Gad. Pass the fry sauce!
39. Rhode Island
Still trying to get the whole world to understand that Providence-style pizza is really a thing. It's making some headway. It's residents are also making their way into neighboring states when they really want to fatten up.
Much more successful at carving out a unique pizza identity than its pluckier little neighbor! And while Frank Pepe, Sally's, and the like generally live up to the hype (and possess the kind of crust you can devour endlessly without any regard for your well-being), other states have surpassed it in burger achievements since Louis' Lunch (allegedly!) conceived the crowning achievement in chubbiness. But if you sidle up there you can at least rest easy knowing that your arteries are also being clogged with historical significance.
Even if most of the best Kansas City barbecue is across the border in Missouri, you can't take Joe's from this state (especially now that that confusing "Oklahoma" is stricken from the name). But here's the thing -- White Castle was founded in Wichita. There are no longer any White Castles in the whole damn state! You simply can't have a loss like that on your resume and be any higher. Some coalition of slider-loving heavyweights should have stepped in and stopped it, dammit.
Possesses some of the same cuisine highlights of Texas (your barbecue, your Tex-Mex), but not at quite as high a level. Possesses a signature burger, but the signature is a whole bunch of onions, which are totally a vegetable! In the end you have some fine qualities but not quite the makings of a contender, kinda like the Thunder after Durant leaves. WHAT?! I'm kidding! Calm down, have an onion burger.
There's definitely something soul-satisfying about a hubcap-sized slab of fried pork tenderloin spilling over a comically inadequately sized bun. (What gives guys? Bigger buns! There are good carbs to be added in there.) Look, when you're the biggest pork-producing state in the nation and no one else is even close, you're gonna know your way around fatness. La Quercia makes possibly the best prosciutto and other Italian pork treats you'll find outside Italy. Buy yourself a pack. Eat it all. No one will notice!
Indianapolis' rise as a "hot food town" has been documented seemingly everywhere this year (even if Thrillist was on it way earlier) and without a doubt the food bar's being raised there at a rapid clip. That being said, your average Hoosier is probably just as content sticking with a regimen of biscuits and gravy for breakfast, Steak & Shake for lunch, and a different Steak & Shake order for dinner. And that's great! Indiana deserved a little more cosmopolitan fatness to pair with its pre-existing aptitude for down-home country fatness. It's a double-bypass double threat now. Although the Supreme Court needs to step in and decide once and for all whether it or Iowa gets credit for the pork tenderloin.
On the one hand, it's so damn hot! On the other hand, housing a chimichanga in cranked-up AC in the midst of 105-degree heat neatly combines two of life's finest guilty pleasures.
It's not like you can't eat (and drink) incredibly well in Florida. Cubanos! Key lime pie! Seafood! (Don't worry, they'll gladly fry it.) There's a vibrant, internationally influenced dining scene in Miami and one of the nation's more underappreciated brewing forces in the Tampa-St. Pete area. But there's also a problem, and that problem is beaches. So many beaches! It's just hard to cultivate a proper culture of fatness when regular trips to the beach are such an ever-present reality for such a wide swath of the state. And sure, not EVERYWHERE is near the beach, but most of the places with the best food are. You can't just walk around South Beach toting a big old sack of burgers and not feel self-conscious about it when you see a bunch of super-fit people who you're pretty sure were extras in a Pitbull video.
31. New Mexico
The greatest trick New Mexico ever pulled was convincing the world that if you douse everything in green chile it basically counts as eating your vegetables, even if said "everything" happens to primarily involve various meats, tortillas, and melted cheeses. For real, it's a great trick.
In theory, the same beach rule that applies to Florida ought to apply here, and to be sure, it does to a degree. But it's a completely different mindset in Hawaii, which is such a paradise that no other state manages to feel like it's in constant "vacation mode" whether or not you're actually on vacation, which lends itself to letting yourself go. Whether that means doing it up at one of Peter Merriman's restaurants or loading up on extra macaroni salad with your plate lunch, life's pretty good.
You have the DC-area influence up north, which has manifested itself in some damn good eating in those parts, all the Chesapeake bounty along the coast, and then the more resolutely Southern influences as you trek further… well, south. You have weather that seldom drifts into "it's so cold I'm going to just stay inside and challenge my personal pizza-eating record" territory, and you have a legendary reputation for tasty ham. All in all you have a solid, if not necessarily spectacular place for fatness.
GO Cavs! One can only assume Clevelanders plan to spend the next year or so calling in sick to work and plowing through plates of kielbasa while they alternate between watching LeBron highlights and catching Michael Symon on The Chew. That's good fatness right there! Cincinnati, meanwhile, is still trying to convince the world that Skyline tastes good, but hey, there's no work to be done in terms of its lack of healthfulness. At least everyone who's eaten it can agree on a pint of mocha chip from Graeter's.
Consuming some 15,000 calories at a $15 buffet loses some of its luster when you're only doing it because it's all you can afford after a particularly ill-advised attempt to turn around your fortunes at the blackjack table. "I can make it back faster if I just bet bigger!" you said. All that shrimp cocktail might clog your heart, but it won't fill the emptiness inside it.
If you had to pick one perfect food to fatten up on repeatedly, lobster rolls would have to come in somewhere near the top, with that buttery roll complementing the buttery (in a different sense) lobster in the kind of perfect harmony that says "you should totally eat 15 of me." But Maine's charms definitely extend beyond lobster -- Portland's status as a rising dining city isn't quite making anyone forget about the other Portland, but it's undoubtedly carving out an indulgent reputation all its own. Also, blueberries in and of themselves are a magnificently healthy superfood, but that can all be quickly undone if you consume them in pie form.
It may be lacking the cache and the coastline of many of its fellow Southern states, but that doesn't mean Arkansas can't bring plenty of heat in the smoked/fried/smothered department. There's a reason Clinton looked like he did when he entered the White House, right?
Colorado, what to do with you? There's excellent eating in Denver and Boulder. The thriving beer culture is second to none. The statewide love of burritos is well documented in the land that gave the world Chipotle. The path to legal weed was blazed (!) here. And yet… Colorado always seems to rank as the fittest state in the union. Seems like way too many people are pairing that burrito with a 15-mile hike, or a triathlon, or something else that makes those of us who would rather just pair it with a second burrito feel bad. It's cool, Colorado, let yourself go a little, would ya?
To best experience the bourbon that made the state famous you should really have it neat, which sounds dangerously like a calorie-cutting measure, but definitely consider the fact that bourbon makes its way into just about every possible dessert on the planet around these parts. Ever had a bourbon ball? It's like doing a shot AND having dessert at the same time, so try having 12! There's some debate over whether or not bourbon actually belongs in a Derby Pie, but there's no debating that the end result kinda resembles just a big-ass, gooey chocolate chip cookie in pie form. And look, it's not like everyone in Kentucky is sitting around plowing through Hot Browns all the time, but nonetheless, when your state's signature dish involves both bacon and a generous helping of cheese sauce (and has since well-before either practice became trendy) it sets a fine precedent for the state's fatness future.
You can undoubtedly have a grand, fat time in Massachusetts, but you'll always have the nagging feeling things could be just a little bit better, almost as if the state's Puritan forefathers are still judging you from beyond the grave (and these are the people who supposedly started Thanksgiving!). But hey, the chowder is creamy, the seafood-shack game is generally on point, and the cannoli at Mike's Pastry are best consumed by the dozen. There's a lot to like here, even if you're just a simple man who's most at home buying a 25-piece Munchkins without sharing them and washing 'em down with a large Caramel Coffee Coolatta (which is more people than you think!).
21. South Carolina
So the barbecue is obviously fantastic, though some quibble with mustard in their BBQ sauce (mustard has like no calories -- can't you take a lesson from Alabama?!). But for real, there's a reason Lowcountry cuisine is being peddled on menus across the country these days -- these folks know how to eat. Go to Charleston and see how many different versions of shrimp and grits you can consume before you're ready to call it a day, then wake up and have some more for breakfast.
Washington's another state replete with home-grown delights that's missing just a little bit in the "zealous embracing of slothly fatness" category. Something about that fresh Pacific Northwest air just makes you want to have a perfectly cooked piece of salmon once in a while, ya know?! Also the know-it-all coffeehouse culture tends to run slightly counter to grotesque displays of gluttony. All isn't lost, though! Aside from the fact that plenty of chefs DO work up indulgent wonders incorporating all that local produce, there's a reliably fantastic beer scene and the comforting fact that they've been known to pair hot dogs with cream cheese. Perhaps you've been underestimated, Washington.
Blue crabs are incredible, but they're also a ton of work! Better fatness move is definitely to go the crab cake route so you're just mainlining straight crabby goodness. Or better yet, in soft-shell form, which allows you to eat them fried whole with reckless abandon like some kind of giant, culinarily minded monster. No matter what, you'll be happily sweating Old Bay. Seafood not your bag? Yours is a life less full, friend, but there's always pit beef.
18. New Jersey
Torn between the food cultures of Philly and New York, but if you know where you're looking in New Jersey you'll find plenty of pizza and cheesesteak options that rival the across-the-border neighbors with less fanfare and pretension. Also blessedly lacking pretension? The pork roll, the stuff of which legendary breakfast sandwiches are made.
Any state that could spawn such fatness luminaries as Ben & Jerry's is obviously starting from a fantastic place, reflecting a culture of "hey let's try this stuff together and see if it tastes delicious!" But it's not like B&J is unique to Vermont these days. However, Burlington's a sneaky-fantastic hip little town proving that good eating in Vermont goes way beyond maple syrup and cheddar -- but also very much includes those things. On top of that you have probably the mightiest small-state beer scene in the country. Don't put it past Ben & Jerry's to make a maple-cheddar-ale ice cream and make it DELICIOUS!
Your burgers occasionally involve molten cheese and your casseroles (ahem, hotdishes) are often studded with tater tots. Minnesotans don't mess around, because winter is coming. For real. They don't even think of that as a Game of Thrones reference.
Due to its sheer size, its nearly limitless natural bounty, and the existence of In-N-Out, it's quite reasonable to argue that California's the best state in the country when it comes to eating well. Hell, we've MADE that argument. So what's with the solid-but-unspectacular ranking? Well, it's all about culture. San Diego's deep with surfers and single people trying to date surfers while putting off getting a real job. LA's all Hollywood-focused, and there are only so many roles out there for the chubby. SF's upwardly mobile startup culture does not lend itself to the portly. The same holds true for its hills. To reiterate, the food in California is amazing, but there are most definitely factors at play inhibiting your enjoyment of that fish taco. Or that Mission burrito. Or that Double-Double. Wait, maybe California DOES need to be higher?
It's quite easy to lose yourself in a glorious fatness binge in Oregon. Another artisanal donut? But of course! A breakfast sandwich made with local cheese, local bacon, farm-fresh eggs, and an English muffin crafted from house-made flour from an antique mill purchased at a yard sale that you'd poke fun at if it didn't taste freaking incredible? But of course! More breweries serving up world-class beer with creative bar snacks than anyone knows what to do with? Sign me up! The only problem is, just when you're about to spontaneously stop at that food cart you spotted in between breweries, you'll run into some cats loading up for a kayak trip, you know, just as a cool-down after that mountain they climbed that morning. It won't kill your buzz, but it'll harsh it just a little. Maybe some edibles will help?
Mississippi doesn't get quite the hype of its neighbor to the west, but it has much of that same Gulf Coast charm (and the flavors to match) that you'll find in Louisiana even if you miss out on tossing around bead necklaces in exchange for acts of public nudity (actually wait that's probably a mark in Mississippi's favor). But the chubby soul of Mississippi is perhaps best embodied in its mud pie, a concoction so replete with fat and sugar it's illegal in seven states. That's a lie, but this isn't: you will love the hell out of eating here.
Alabama is rich with plenty of the rib-sticking goodness that makes so much of the South a hotbed of caloric indulgence, but of particular note is its ability to transform a mayo-based concoction into an acceptable form of barbecue sauce. That's just top-notch fatness ingenuity right there -- pass the sweet tea? What's that? It's just a jar of sugar with a few eyedroppers of Lipton in it? Pass it anyway!
You simply have to respect a state where the all-fat part of the brisket is showcased as a meal in and of itself and frozen custard is considered a light in-between-meal snack. Also, I've been known to poke fun at toasted ravioli in the past, but look, these guys took something already marginally unhealthy and made it that much less healthy, which is a move I can respect. I still can't quite wrap my head around St. Louis-style pizza, but hey, some people love it and the slices are thin enough that you can pretty much always talk yourself into another piece, and when it comes down to it, isn't that really what it's all about?
Detroit-style pizza is increasingly becoming a thing in circles beyond Detroit, proving what Michiganders already knew -- that stuff's amazing, with some serious heft to it without possessing the cheese payload of a Chicago-style, which only excuses you to eat that much more of it. Follow it up with a coney dog chased with some Vernors (better yet? Vernor's and vanilla ice cream aka a Boston Cooler aka why are all the local specialties rocking East Coast nomenclature?). And even if you're holed up in the UP in the dead of winter you can still stuff yourself with pasties (aka OG Hot Pockets but better) and know happiness.
More like FATlanta, amirite? But for real, any state that can list Coca-Cola, Chick-fil-A, and Waffle House among its culinary gifts to the world must know a thing or two about gettin' heavy. All those delights may belong to the world now (or the South, in Waffle House's case), but they're also a reflection of the "you don't look like you're eating enough" sentiment that runs through so much of the Georgian DNA. Seriously. You're too thin. Have some pimento cheese and another slice of pecan pie? Please?
8. North Carolina
Any state that hangs its hat so thoroughly on whole-hog BBQ is starting from a damn fine place. Bonus if you chase it with Cheerwine, which might just be bottled liquid diabetes, but who cares, it's so sweet! Also the state's studded with perpetually underrated cities to eat in from the always on-the-rise Charlotte to the beer mecca that is Asheville.
7. New York
Based on sheer number of quality fatness options available at your disposal per square foot, there may be no greater city in the world than New York. The bagels are loaded with irresponsible amounts of cream cheese. You can sneak in and out of a slice joint having mauled a couple of slices before anyone notices you're gone. Honestly, we could be here for 1,000 more words talking about all the incredible things to eat in New York and not even get out of Manhattan. But all that concentrated food happiness is partly the product of an increasingly crowded, sometimes sweaty, more than occasionally angry horde of people living in close quarters and dealing with the frustrations and expenses that come along with it. As such, the process of enjoying your fatness in New York, while still quite a treat, comes with a little more headache on the side than in some other places, which hurts it just a bit. But hey, you could always head north and subsist on a diet composed entirely of Buffalo wings?!
It'd be tempting to just focus on the obligatory Chicago checkpoints when it comes to Illinois' fatness resume, and to be sure, pizza that's engineered for maximum cheese payload, hot dogs loaded up with juuuust enough vegetation to make you feel OK about eating more hot dogs, and beef sandwiches dunked in also-beefy gravy are all admirable, singularly Chicagoan contributions to the fatness continuum, to say nothing of the more contemporary delights that are winning hearts and stomachs there. But it'd be a mistake to ignore the rest of the state. Have you ever had a horseshoe? For the uninitiated, it's an open faced-sandwich situation (proteins vary, burger patties are common) covered in a mountain of fries and a veritable lava flow of cheese sauce. It's like a sandwich and poutine had an open-faced baby, and it's amazing. Also, Southern Illinois' barbecue culture is nothing to sleep on. So yeah, even if Chicago rightfully hogs much of the fatness spotlight, the state as a whole makes for a damn impressive bundle of fatness.
Is there any moment that fills a person with a more bizarre combination of self-satisfaction, giddy fullness, and just a slight hint of embarrassed guilt than the completion of an full slab of ribs? The bones picked clean and piled on the plate, your face and hands all BBQ-stained no matter how many napkins you employed. But putting aside one of America's great barbecue capitals, you also have Nashville, which was already a damn fine food city before it became trendy to call it as such. And hey, if the heat on that hot chicken is getting in the way of your binge-eating, there's plenty of not-hot fried chicken around the state that'll fit the fatness bill just fine!
Did you know that when you order a cheesesteak you actually consume 500 calories before the sandwich itself even touches your lips?! It's true! Even thinking about a greasy, onion-studded cheesesteak will make you heavier, let alone the act of actually eating the damn thing (we'll sidestep any debates over proper cheese selection for another time, but guess what, they're all gloriously bad for you!). But it'd be a mistake not to talk about some of Pennsylvania's other chubby charms, from those incredible roast pork sandwiches to the unadulterated joy that comes from carbo-loading in soft pretzel form. And that's just Eastern Pennsylvania! Primanti Bros. was stuffing French fries in sandwiches before television and the food-focused internet made crazed caloric concoctions objects of fetishization. They did it for the love of the game! And you're going to love scarfing one down and then chasing it later with a plate of pierogies alongside a liberal helping of sour cream. Fundamentally, in Pennsylvania you have some of the best strains of East Coast fatness merged with a more Rust Belt/ Midwest-style fatness as you head west, and the sum total is one fat force to be reckoned with.
Barbecue may well be the king of all gettin'-fat foods, and Texas barbecue is arguably the king of all barbecue (I don't have a dog in this fight, for the record). Is it possible to eat too much brisket? Too many beef ribs? Too much sausage? Yes, to all of the above, but it's SO much fun to do it anyway and then convince yourself that you still ought to finish that potato salad and those beans, and then get some banana pudding for dessert too, because, why not? And all that's without even getting into Tex-Mex, whose nuanced history can best be summed up with "so, more cheese on everything, right?" It's quite possible to put away an embarrassing amount of chips and queso before you realize you ought to stop, but no one in Texas will make you feel embarrassed, because they've all been there. OK, so you've had your breakfast tacos and your barbecue and your queso and now you've been out drinking long enough that you forgot about all of that and you're somehow hungry again but you can't find anything open? Fear not, there's always Whataburger.
Louisiana gets hot and humid enough beyond belief, the kind of palpable, textural heat that theoretically should just make you want to stay inside and stream Treme. And yet? It doesn't matter! Eating and drinking well is an absolute mandate here, and it permeates the culture no matter the circumstances. There's never a wrong time for a po-boy, or a pile of beignets dusted in a Tony Montana-like mound of powdered sugar, or a muffuletta, or a SECOND muffuletta. And look, there's a litany of other Cajun, Creole, and generally fantastic Southern specialties to be had anywhere you go even though the temptation when writing about Louisiana is to get all buzzword bingo-y with your gumbo and your jambalaya and… see I'm doing it again? But even if you put the long list of Louisiana's greatest hits aside (just for a moment, you can go back to them!), you'd still be left with a bunch of people that just want you to be yourself and have a great time, even if "yourself" plans to drink 17 Hurricanes (so much sugar!) and generally turn into a nightmare. Just make sure to eat something, OK? Here, have a po-boy.
When it comes to embracing the sheer joy of putting on pounds, Wisconsin is quite simply the total package. It's easy to fall back on the tropes of cheese, beer, beer-battered cheese ,and such and leave it at that, but it doesn't tell the whole story, even if tossing back cheese curds like popcorn IS one of the state pastimes. Yes, this is a state where butter burgers are a totally normal thing and foregoing a second bratwurst will make people wonder if you have a dire health condition, but it's also a state with a pair of sneaky-sophisticated food scenes in Madison and Milwaukee and an admirable devotion to day drinking, be it a summertime beer garden, a Lambeau tailgate, or a tavern that some guy fought through a blizzard to open because, hey, it's a blizzard, where else would you rather be?
More importantly, Wisconsin is a thoroughly judgment-free zone when it comes to this kind of thing. Quick story -- this summer, a friend who was visiting from out of town for a wedding had a bet with her husband that she could eat 10 grilled cheeses from Kopp's in one sitting. That she petered out at 7.5 was not surprising. What DID surprise me a bit was that, despite some giggling and commotion from our party, no one else seemed to bat an eyelash. It seemed like a highly normal thing to everybody. Wisconsin's state motto should be "you do you."
Wisconsin, you are America's comfy sweatpants, and whenever we leave you, we can't wait to get back in.
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