Famous for its vast remote plains, high glacial peaks, and bitter winters, Montana’s food culture reflects a lifestyle that is all about enjoying the simple things in life. With hearty meals that highlight locally sourced ingredients, it’s no wonder that Montanans take pride in their cuisine.
From quality cuts of meat and fresh produce to big breakfasts and delicious desserts, the Treasure State has it all. In no particular order, here are 10 of the most famous foods worth trying while in Big Sky Country:
What can we say? Montana and steak go together like Maryland and blue crab, or Tennessee and BBQ. Culinary cliches aside, there are many reasons why steak is the top spot for iconic Montana dishes. First, good meat is quite literally a lifestyle in that state as it’s one of the top beef-producing states in the country.
Livestock is the number one agricultural commodity in the Treasure State, nearly double the second-highest product, wheat. Montana also has a steady commitment to local, natural, and above all, simple and unadorned. Here, you don’t need all the sauces to dress up a sub-par sirloin.
A darn good Montana steak is exactly that: meat with no secrets and no frills, born, raised, and brought directly to a flame near you. Does it get any better than that?
Rocky Mountain Oysters
While we’re on the subject of beef…you’re likely wondering how in the world mountainous Montana could be famous for anything seafood, right? You wouldn’t be the first. Rocky Mountain Oysters have been fooling hungry travelers for decades. That’s because these deep-fried delicacies are not, in fact, bivalve mollusks.
So what are they? Deep-fried bull testicles. These crispy cojones—also known as prairie oysters, cowboy caviar, calf fries, swinging beef, dusted nuts, gonad gold, and Montana tendergroin—have quite the tradition in Montana.
In the early decades of settling the land, the relative scarcity of food supplies meant homesteaders could not be too picky about food, so they used up all parts of the animal. Of course, Montana farmers weren’t the first people on the planet to indulge in … shall we say, tasty testicle treats?
For centuries, bull gonads have been known for their aphrodisiac qualities, and according to Thrillist, ancient Romans believed them to be a cure-all for male problems in the nether regions. Considered a substitute for Viagra, you’ll find Rocky Mountain Oysters on menus throughout the state, fried golden brown and served with a side of house cocktail or hot sauce.
Aren’t these British? Yes, and they have long been a Montana mainstay as well. This easy-to-eat meat and veggie pie made its culinary debut in Montana in the 1800s, when English miners throughout the state had cravings for a hearty taste of home while away in the many copper and tin mines throughout the state.
The versatility and simplicity of a good pasty smothered in gravy and baked to crispy perfection is what makes it so easy to love—plus, it’s just darn satisfying on a howling Montana winter night.
It may be too contentious to declare any restaurant to be the best, but arguably this accolade goes to Stone of Accord in Missoula. Stuffed with generous portions of beef, potatoes, onions, and carrots, smothered with Guinness gravy, and weighing in at closer to two pounds than one, only the heartiest of eaters are going to be able to knock a whole one of these back!
As the fourth-largest state in the nation, there’s plenty of land for wild game. This means lots of elk (and deer and bison) on the Montana menu. With a much lower-fat, higher-protein content and a gamier profile than beef, elk is well-known for its on-the-rarer-side grill quality and can be easily overcooked.
However, Montanans familiar with elk know its versatility and the surprising sweetness that comes out after being on a long, slow flame. You can find elk burgers topped with everything from ham and bacon to sweet caramelized onions, mushrooms, and blue cheese. For a consistently award-winning elk burger, visit the Slippery Otter in West Yellowstone for their 1/3-pound charbroiled masterpiece.
Not just any ice cream will do in Big Sky Country. With abundant small towns, a love of small-batch everything, and a natural farm-to-table lifestyle, Montana is the perfect place for the perfect pint from a local parlor. You’ll find an ice cream shop in almost every town, with locally churned, unique flavors that capture the Rocky Mountain West.
From the farmers who are passionate about their dairy to the owners whose goal is to capture the essence of Montana in every creamy batch (like at Genuine Ice Cream in Bozeman), to the loyal customers who will drive for miles across Big Scoop Country just for a cold sweet treat…this hand-churned treasure brings people together in Montana like nothing else does.
There’s possibly nothing more emblematic of the Montana love of the simple things in life than a rich and creamy cup, cone, or pint from a local creamery.
Huckleberries grow throughout the United States and are a juicy (and nutritious) staple in the Pacific Northwest. But given Montana’s madness about this sumptuous mountain berry, you might think it grew nowhere else on the planet. Of course, in many ways you’re right.
These wild berries thrive in the sub- and mid-alpine slopes and forests of the mountain ranges throughout the Western US and Canada, but no two berry locales produce the same berry. This is due to variations in microclimates: think elevation, soil quality, sunlight, neighboring vegetation, and general growing conditions.
Here in Montana, they’ve figured out how to use huckleberries in everything. We’re not just talking jams and pies and ice cream (though we can, and will, gladly talk about all of this all day). We’re talking huckleberry BBQ, huckleberry turkey subs, and huckleberry compote on elk burgers at Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits.
This last is rated one of the best huckleberry foods in Big Sky Country—quite a Big Claim. We’re also talking huckleberry bear claws, huckleberry lager, and huckleberry hot sauce as well as huckleberry potholders, oven mitts, and pajamas…we could go on, and on, and on.
Though certainly less famous than the huckleberry, these fruits are also iconic Montana and thus deserve a top spot on this list. More tart and less fleshy than many of their family members, chokecherries are still versatile enough to make their way into jams, jellies, syrups, wines, sauces, and glazes throughout the state.
You’ll of course find chokecherry ice cream when in season, and chokecherry liquor and cocktails like the historical Chokecherry Whiskey.
Naturally, you might be wondering who put the choke in chokecherries. With a much more bitter profile than many other fruits, they can be shockingly sour and bitter—enough to spit out in disgust, or choke on, if you don’t time it right! We suggest making sure your chokecherries are in season before indulging in this iconic Montana food.
Pizza isn’t just classic Americana. It’s truly, madly, and deeply Montanan. The first place you might hear about is Mackenzie River Pizza, and this is for good reason. They care for the community and the great outdoors with just as much zeal as they do their pies. The company gives back locally through initiatives like supporting youth recreation, education, and environmental preservation.
Not surprisingly, they have expanded across the West and are now a staple in six states and counting. Other favorites include Bullman’s Pizza (also expanding rapidly from its original location in Helena), Biga Pizza in Missoula, and Eugene’s Pizza in Glasgow.
They might not be everyone’s first choice in a meal, but in Montana, mushrooms are a must. Morels thrive in Montana’s climate, clustering in great abundance in the lowlands and foothills of the Rockies from mid-spring to early summer. They also naturally love burn sites, where they are among the first post-burn growth.
Ask any local mushroom enthusiast and they’ll likely tell you there’s no springtime delight quite like hunting for the finest morel, then returning home to sauté it in butter and garlic. Although associated with finer meals (and much higher prices), in Montana, they’re popular and yet simple enough to throw in your scrambled eggs for breakfast.
This is perhaps the (not-so?) secret marvel of the morel: it’s versatile enough to go with the fanciest wine and the choicest roast—or you can simply chop some up, simmer in a garlic cream sauce, and throw them over your pasta for Tuesday night’s dinner. No fuss, no bother, Big Sky style.
Big breakfasts only make sense. Otherwise, on a bitter winter Montana morning, how are you expected to get out of bed without a hearty breakfast to entice you from under the covers? Take Bozeman, for example, where for nearly half the year, the average daytime temperature is below 40° F.
Perhaps this is why the “Bozone” is so well-known for its spectacular breakfasts and brunches. From classics like eggs, bacon, and pancakes, to massive chicken fried steaks, red chili and corned-beef hash, or hot-smoked salmon with cream cheese and green onions from Nova Cafe, this city has it all.
A state with a wide range of famous foods, Montana is sure to leave you with a full belly. No matter where you go or what you do, you’re sure to have a delicious meal while visiting Big Sky Country. And you never know, you might just find your new favorite dish!