When you think of Utah, you may picture great skiing, towering red rocks, or the Great Salt Lake. However, the state is also famous for some unique foods and dishes you might not find elsewhere.
The next time you find yourself in the Beehive State, be sure to eat local. Here’s a look at the best foods in Utah, in no particular order:
Invented in Utah in the 1940s, fry sauce is a fast food staple throughout the state. At its simplest, it’s a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup, but many recipes also call for pickle juice, hot sauce, or various spices.
As the name implies, fry sauce is a great dip for French fries, but that’s not its only purpose. Some restaurants will use it as a condiment on their sandwiches or offer it alongside chicken nuggets or corn dogs.
For many years, the only place to find fry sauce was Utah-born burger joints. That is no longer the case– you can now find the pinkish condiment in grocery stores across the country. In fact, Heinz recently released its own variant under the name “Mayochup.” But as any good Utahn will tell you, its original name is fry sauce.
Green Jell-O and Jell-O Salad
You may have heard the stereotype that Mormons love Jell-O and, well, there may be some truth to the statement. The sugary gelatin is Utah’s state snack. In 2002, the Salt Lake City Olympics sold commemorative pins shaped like bowls of green Jell-O.
Theories as to why Jell-O is so popular in Utah vary, but they generally center around Mormonism, the state’s main religion. Gelatin is a relatively cheap snack, making it ideal for large families, of which Utah has plenty. It also keeps well, and Mormons are encouraged by their leadership to keep several months’ worth of food storage.
While Jell-O is eaten as a dessert in Utah, it’s more commonly used in savory recipes. Visit any church potluck or family reunion and you’ll often find Jell-O salad. Made with lime gelatin, the salad’s other ingredients can include just about anything you can scrounge up, including:
- Crushed pineapple
- Cottage cheese
- Chopped nuts
- Whipped cream
The combination of ingredients often sounds strange to outsiders, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Don’t knock it till you try it, though– there’s a reason the salad continues to appear at Utah get-togethers.
Despite the depressing name, funeral potatoes are a dish that will cheer up just about any Utahn. Funeral potatoes also have connections to the Mormon faith. They got their name because they are often served at Mormon funerals and gatherings. The dish is a combination of hash browns, cream-based soup, cheese, butter, sour cream, and cornflakes.
It bakes into a crispy, cheesy casserole that will have you loosening your belt and going back for seconds. Funeral potatoes are easy to make in large batches, again making them ideal for big families or gatherings. For many, they’re a dish only eaten a few times a year but always enjoyed.
While homemade funeral potatoes are a must-try for anyone who has the opportunity, you can find them at a few restaurants in the state. Salt Lake City’s Garage on Beck offers a version of the dish as a starter course.
Drive through Utah today and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a route that doesn’t pass by at least one soda shop. The candy-colored drive-thrus go by names like “Thirst Drinks,” “Fiiz,” and “Sodalicious.” Started in the 2010s in southern Utah, Swig was the first shop of its kind. The popular drink establishment began by serving souped-up sodas and pink-frosted sugar cookies.
Their signature menu item, the Dirty Dr. Pepper, changed the landscape of Utah cuisine forever. The groundbreaking concoction had two simple ingredients: Dr. Pepper and coconut syrup. Thanks to the drink’s popularity, Swig opened more locations. Shortly after, new soda shops popped up throughout the state.
As the dirty drink craze spread, soda shop menus became more complex. Today, you can create drinks using dozens of sodas, syrup flavors, fruit purees, and more. The shops also serve food items, from popcorn and pretzels to donuts and slushies. The term “dirty soda” now generally refers to any carbonated drink with coconut, heavy cream, and/or lime.
Dutch Oven Dinners
When it comes to state symbols, perhaps even more interesting than the official snack is the state cooking pot. In Utah, the designation belongs to the Dutch oven. When Mormon pioneers traveled from Missouri to Utah, the Dutch oven was a necessity.
Dutch ovens are cast-iron pots with legs, allowing them to sit above the coals of a campfire. They also come with a rimmed lid, so you can put coals on top of the oven. The cooking pot’s versatility and durability made them especially useful while on the trail.
To this day, many Mormons are sure to pack a Dutch oven for church-sponsored campouts. Many dishes can be made in the pot, from savory casseroles (remember funeral potatoes?) to decadent desserts. Peach cobbler, in particular, is a popular Dutch oven treat when camping in the mountains of Utah.
They don’t call it the Beehive State for nothing– Utah is home to some excellent honey. Like many of the food items on this list, Utah honey owes its start to the Mormon pioneers.
When settlers came to Utah in the mid-1800s, the land was unforgiving. Because sweeteners were hard to come by in the area, Brigham Young began importing honey bees in the 1850s. By the 1870s, the Utah beekeeping industry was in full swing. When Utah became a state in 1896, it was almost named Deseret– a word from The Book of Mormon, meaning “honeybee.”
Utah is not the top producer (or even in the top ten producers) of honey in the US, but it is home to dozens of major honey farms. At state and county fairs, you’re sure to find sweet local honey for sale. Even better– see if you can find it drizzled atop a homemade Utah scone.
Bear Lake Raspberries
The Bear Lake Valley in northeast Utah is famous for its raspberries. So much so that the town dedicates a days-long celebration to them every year. Utahns travel from all over the state to participate in the festivities. The Raspberry Days Festival lasts three days and includes live concerts, a boat parade, and a pie-eating contest.
All summer long, Bear Lake raspberries are sold at roadside stands and in farmers’ markets. They’re mixed into honey and baked into pies. No raspberry dish, however, is as famous as the raspberry milkshake.
Visit Bear Lake in the summertime and you’ll see drive-ins and diners all along the main highway. Every night, each one has a line of hungry people stretching out the door, waiting to get their hands on a raspberry shake. Signs outside proclaim that every establishment has the best shakes in town.
The shakes are made with fresh Bear Lake raspberries blended right into the ice cream– no fake syrups to be found here. The resulting mixture is the perfect balance of tangy and sweet. They’re thick, creamy concoctions, usually piled much higher than the rim of the cup (as is Utah tradition).
Green River Melons
Similar to Bear Lake raspberries, Green River melons are home-grown fruit that can’t be beaten. Green River is a small town in east-central Utah, nestled along I-70 and the river for which it is named. It’s hundreds of miles from any major town, but it’s certainly not unknown. For more than 100 years, the town has been famous for its gigantic, juicy melons.
Not just watermelons, either– the town is a hotspot for honeydew, cantaloupe, and Crenshaw melons, to name a few. Each year in August and September, the melons fill grocery stores throughout the state.
And just like Bear Lake, Green River is proud of its fruit-growing prowess. During the third week of September each year, the town holds Melon Days. With a golf tournament, a 5K, wild west dancing, and a parade, the event draws hundreds of people from Utah and Colorado.
Utahns are known for being passionate sports fans, and many fall into one of two camps: Ute fans and Cougar fans (sorry Aggies). No matter who you cheer for though, a trip to LaVell Edwards football stadium at Brigham Young University isn’t complete without a Cougar Tail. The 15-inch long maple donuts were first sold in 2006, and have been a bestseller ever since.
In fact, they’re so popular that the university prepares two miles’ worth of the pastries before every home game. In 2021, they sold an average of 8,500 donuts at each game. Cougar Tails are ranked the number-one selling specialty concession for all collegiate athletics in the nation. With approximately 2,200 calories in one donut, it’s a good idea to share with a friend– or several.
Cougar Tails went viral after ESPN filmed 8 BYU students passing one around, each taking a bite before moving it along. Whether you’re splitting your Cougar Tail with others, saving some for later, or downing the entire thing in one sitting, the donut is a can’t-miss if you find yourself at a BYU game.
If you’re planning to visit Utah, you’re likely traveling to enjoy a powder day in the mountains or spend time in the state’s five national parks. While you’re here though, don’t forget to enjoy the distinctive local flavors– from fresh fruit to sweet treats aplenty, Utah’s got you covered.