Chances are, when you think about “ballpark food,” the first things that come to mind are peanuts, crackerjacks, hot dogs and similar fare. For over a hundred years, this kind of simple, no-frills food was just about all you’d find for sale at ballparks. Increasingly, though, MLB ballparks are serving up wider varieties of food, ranging from gourmet takes on local cuisine to gut-busting monstrosities of fried meats.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when parks began shifting over from simple grilled foods to more complex fare, but Bennett Jacobstein, author of The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine, tracks the change to the 1990s, when a new wave of MLB ballparks began cropping up. Almost all of the 20 “retro-style” stadiums that opened in the wake of Baltimore’s Camden Yards included dedicated concession areas with expanded offerings. Over time, parks began serving everything from tacos to vegetarian options to distinctive local cuisine.
On the other hand, the trend of ballparks serving the most fattening food possible mostly looks like a game of one-upmanship on the ballparks’ hands. One of the earliest instances came about in 2006, when Sauget, Illinois’ minor league Gateway Grizzlies began serving a bacon cheeseburger with a Krispy Kreme donut for a bun. The burger, inspired by R&B artist Luther Vandross, is still served at the ballpark today. Since then, parks have been practically daring each other to come up with more and more fattening foods. It’s led to creations like Chase Field’s D-Bat Dog, a deep-fried Frankenstein clocking in at 3,000 calories.
With baseball season in full swing, we’ve tracked down each ballpark’s best offerings and pitted them against each other by division. Below are the best things you can expect at each MLB ballpark.
American League East
Your best bet in the American League East is at Camden Yards with their crab dip fries. The Baltimore stadium started the trend of gourmet MLB ballparks and is still carrying the torch, piling fresh Chesapeake Bay crab on top of waffle fries. Fans have penned odes to this excellent ballpark offering. Other great choices include Yankee Stadium’s meatball parm fresh from New York’s beloved Parm, and Rogers Stadium’s sausage poutine fries, cooked up by Top Chef Canada contestant Elizabeth Rivasplata.
Down south, be sure to check out Tropicana Park’s ode to the Cuban sandwich with it’s Cuban burger. Ranking lowest on the list is Boston’s Fenway Park with the Fenway Frank. As delicious as that is, Fenway loses some points for not expanding into more interesting fare throughout its century-long history.
American League Central
Fittingly for the Midwest, the American League Central is barbecue heavy, with the top pick being Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium’s all-star BBQ dog, topped with pulled pork, sauce, coleslaw and pickles. It’s basically an entire barbecue dinner on a footlong dog. Target Field, meanwhile, boasts a plate of slow-smoked pork rib tips from its Butcher and the Boar.
Other Midwestern stadiums are less into barbecue than they are bacon. Chicago’s U.S. Cellular field offers maple-glazed bacon on a stick, while Detroit’s Comerica Field recently introduced a plate of Sriracha bacon and deviled eggs. Cleveland’s Progressive Field, meanwhile, boasts a combination of the two, the Parallax burger, topped with bacon and barbecue mayo.
American League West
Leave it to Texas to think up one of the most bizarre, but satisfying foods in the MLB. This season, Houston’s Minute Maid Park debuted a chicken waffle cone, marrying chicken and waffles with the waffle cone. Each cone also comes with a generous portion of mashed potatoes and honey mustard. Also in Texas, Globe Life Park in Arlington introduced chicken-fried bacon and fried corn-on-the-cobb.
One of the best dishes to spotlight local cuisine is Safeco Field in Seattle with its Dungeness crab sandwich. In California, Angel Stadium of Anaheim offers the barbecue-topped Legends Dog (no coleslaw, though), and O.co Colluesium in Oakland sports the all-star mac and cheese dog, topped with pickled jalapenos.
National League East
The National League East might just have the best menu in the MLB. Every ballpark has something great, but every park in the National League East has something outstanding, usually indicative of local cuisine. Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia offers The Schmitter, a souped-up cheesesteak loaded with salami and special sauce on a Kaiser roll. In New York, you’ll find that Shake Shack, in its quest for world domination, has set up shop at Citi Field, offering its signature double ShackBurger.
Southern states in the region have some excellent offerings as well, with Atlanta’s Turner Field featuring hashbrowns “all the way” at its in-house Waffle House. In Miami’s Marlins Park, the street cart turned official vendor Papo Llega y Pon sports its pan con lecón, a crispy roast pork sandwich to die for.
The victory in this crowded League, however, goes to Nationals Park’s chili half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl simply for being a D.C. icon. The restaurant is powerful enough that just about anyone campaigning in D.C. has to stop in for a photo op.
National League Central
In St. Louis, Busch Stadium features another new take on a classic southern dish, the chicken and waffles sandwich. PNC Park in Pittsburgh has gained some media attention with their take on the Gateway Grizzlies’ classic, the brunch burger. The Pirates’ addition? A fried egg. Chicago is famous for its hot dogs, and at Wrigley Field, the High Plains Bison hot dog has been called the best in the park. If a hot dog doesn’t leave you feeling medieval enough, the Great American Ballpark in Cleveland offers a smoked turkey leg.
Milwaukee’s Miller Park, though, tops this division with an invention that’s simultaneously ingenious and idiotic: nachos on a stick. They feature sticks of meat and refried beans covered in Doritos and deep fried, making it possible to hold nachos in one hand and a beer in the other.
National League West
In the National League West, you’ll find one of the most intimidating meals at any MLB ballpark, Chase Field‘s D-Bat Dog. The corndog is packed with bacon, cheese and jalapeno and served on a bed of fries weighing an entire pound. It’s emphatically not for the faint of heart. If you’re seeking a fried hot dog that doesn’t contain enough calories to feed two people, Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles carries the deep-fried Dodger dog, a more intense version of their classic hot dog.
The League’s other standout, Petco Park in San Diego, serves a Cardiff tri-tip sandwich, a steak sandwich filled with Seaside Market’s “Cardiff crack” steak. And while the Crazy Crab hasn’t been the San Francisco Giants’ mascot since the ’80s, he’s alive and well at AT&T Park, giving the Crazy Crab Sandwich its name. The grilled sandwich is filled with Dungeness crab and not to be missed. Finally, Colorado craft brewery Oskar Blues operates its own restaurant in Coors Field and offers its CHUBurger, featuring grass-fed angus beef.
Have you had any of these gut-busting monsters? Did it live up to the hype? Or did we leave out your favorite ballpark bite? Sound off in the comments and let us know!