If you serve it, they will come
July 24, 2018
The South Dakota State Fair (SDSF) attracts 212,000+ visitors to Huron, South Dakota, each year, and in between carnival rides, cattle shows, rodeos, concerts and camping, there's plenty of food to feast on.
With fan favorites like the Indian tacos, strawberry smoothies, wine slushies and beef Gyros, the humble smoked beef sandwich melt still reigns supreme. Each year, the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association (SDCA) booth sells 1,500 pounds of beef to fair-goers who line up to enjoy a sandwich or two.
"These beef sandwiches are great," said Carol Millan, a fairgoer from Mitchell, S.D. "They've got good flavor and are a lean and healthy choice when choosing between all the fair food."
Amanda Larsen, of Wolsey, S.D., added, "The beef sandwiches are one of the few reasonably priced fair foods, prepared and served by area cattlemen, and the melts with cheese and peppers are delicious!"
“These beef sandwiches are great. They’ve got good flavor and are a lean and healthy choice when choosing between all the fair food.”Carol Millan, fairgoer from Mitchell, S.D.
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Recently, the SDCA's beef melt was featured on Food Network in an article titled "50 States of Fair Food."
The Food Network's Layla Khoury-Hanold contacted each state fair about which food item sold best and was considered the most popular dish at the fair. From Alabama's tamales to Minnesota's Sweet Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies to Oregon's hemp burgers to New Hampshire's lobster rolls, the cuisine wildly varied based on regional differences and consumers' taste buds.
So it should come as no surprise that a simple beef sandwich rose to the top in South Dakota, where the cowboy population is high and the cows are plentiful.
Khoury-Hanold described South Dakota's most popular fair food like this:
"To say that South Dakota is a state that likes beef is an understatement: cows outnumber people by nearly five to one. To wit, one of the most sought-after dishes at the South Dakota State Fair is a smoked roast beef sandwich. The SDCA has been serving its signature creation at the Huron-based fair for more than 15 years, to the tune of one thousand sandwiches per day. Locally-raised beef is seasoned with a top-secret rub and slowly roasted on a hickory wood-fired pellet grill for eight hours. Sandwiches are made to order, so still-warm slices of the beef served in au jus are tucked into a bun right before being handed over to the customer. You can customize your sandwich with pickles, barbecue sauce, ketchup or mustard, or upgrade to a Beef Melt that brings roast beef together with sautéed peppers, onions and cheese, all piled onto a hoagie bun."
The mouth-watering sandwiches are only available from SDCA booths at SDSF and DakotaFest. Already, the organization is prepping for these two upcoming events, purchasing 3,000 pounds of roasts to serve to hungry attendees at both events.
"We roast and slice the meat on sight," said Scott Slepikas, SDCA member and rancher from Huron, S.D. "We purchase eye of rounds from County Fair in Mitchell for DakotaFest and through a wholesaler for the State Fair. The sandwich sales are used to raise funds for the SDCA. When we first got started serving these sandwiches, it was on a pretty small scale, but in the last 10 years, the growth has been incredible."
In recent years, SDCA has added a second menu item — a ribeye steak sandwich — which has increased overall sales and attracted even more customers to the organization's booth at the state fair.
"Last year, we sold about 2,000 pounds of ribeye steak sandwiches at the fair, but our roast beef melt is still the most popular," he said. "About 90 precent of our workers at the fair are volunteers from our organization, and our local affiliate will be handling all of the smoking and meat preparation this year."
Even as SDCA nears 25 years of serving sandwiches to beef lovers at the fair, Jodie Anderson, SDCA executive director, says it was a surprise when the Food Network called the office.
"We are very honored to be included in this list of best fair foods," she said. "There are so many great foods at the very, so it's awesome to be featured. We certainly have some very friendly competition with our friends at the South Dakota Pork Producer's booth, so we appreciate the nod from the state fair."
With DakotaFest less than a month away and SDSF drawing closer, as well, Anderson encourages producers to consider purchasing tickets for sandwiches ahead of time. With an advance purchase, the beef sandwiches are $7.50 instead of $8. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.sdcattlemen.org/beefcoupon.aspx.
"Folks can save fifty cents if they pre-pay, and we honor the tickets at both DakotaFest and the state fair," said Anderson. "Producers and companies often buy tickets in bulk to give to customers or employees, so buying in advance is definitely convenient. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the office at 605-945-2333."
SDCA's smoked roast beef sandwich may not be as exotic as South Carolina's Shrimp n Grits Sundae or as complicated as the Injectable Great Balls in Texas, but it's become an iconic staple at the South Dakota State Fair enjoyed by cattlemen and city slickers alike.
Cutlines (Photos by SDCA): Customers line up at the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association booth to grab a smoked roast beef sandwich melt at the South Dakota State Fair.
The classic smoked roast beef sandwich is considered a fan favorite at the fair and was recently featured on the Food Network.