Michigan is famous for its lakes (some of them are so good that they’re actually “Great!”). The Wolverine State is also well-known for its two peninsulas (the lower of which is shaped like a mitten), its thriving music scene (it’s the birthplace of Motown), and the headquarters of the U.S. automotive industry (Detroit is the Motor City, after all). And, along with all of that, there is the food! This state is a foodie paradise. Here’s a look at twenty-three signature Michigan foods.
1. Coney Dogs
The coney dog is arguably the most famous Michigan food. There are variations of coney dogs served throughout the United States, but Michigan is the center of the coney dog universe.
The coney dog is an all-beef hot dog topped with one of two sauces. Some folks prefer a chili-style brown sauce without beans. Others go for a drier, meatier sauce that is known as “coney.” Whichever sauce you choose, the dog is then garnished with diced white onions and yellow mustard. The tasty creation is served on a warm, steamed bun.
While it can’t be definitively proven, the coney dog was purportedly created in Detroit. However, the dish takes its name from Coney Island in New York City. As the story goes, Greek immigrants who were traveling through the Big Apple “borrowed” Coney Island’s name for their hot dog dish.
Whatever its origins, there is no denying that this hot dog dish is a Michigan icon.
2. Detroit-Style Pizza
If any food can give the coney dog a run for its money as the signature Michigan cuisine, it is the world-famous Detroit-style pizza. It was created in the Motor City in the 1940s.
Detroit-style pizza is a rectangular deep-dish pie that is covered end-to-end with a tomato-based sauce and cheese, ensuring every bite is packed with flavor. Speaking of cheese, there is also a layer of cheese on the underside of the crust, which caramelizes into crunchy deliciousness when the pizza is baked. Pepperoni is the most common topping on Detroit-style pizza.
One bite into the crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside crust of a Detroit-style pizza is all you’ll need to see why it is a Michigan staple.
For non-Michigan residents, we need to start with the pronunciation. The name of this dish is pronounced using the ă as in “past,” not the ā as in “paste.” So, when you order this signature Michigan food, make sure you say PAST-ee. A PASTE-ee is…well…something entirely different!
While pasties are available throughout Michigan, they are most connected with the Upper Peninsula, often known simply as the U.P. This dish is essentially a meat turnover. It features a pastry crust shell that envelopes fillings such as beef, pork, chicken, or venison. Potatoes and root vegetables are also commonly found in pasties.
Gravy is a common menu option to be served alongside pasties, but pasty purists will furrow their brows at such a notion. For them, ketchup is the only possible condiment or sauce for a pasty.
Pasties were used by Cornish miners who needed a practical meal. Since the pasty is a handheld meal of meat and potatoes, it was perfect for hungry miners. Yoopers (residents of the U.P.) will tell you that it is still perfect to this day!
4. Mackinac Island Fudge
Here’s another example where non-Michiganders may have a pronunciation problem. The island that is this fudge’s namesake is pronounced Mack-i-naw. Even if you find the spelling and pronunciation a bit strange, you can’t deny that this fudge is spot on!
Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Vehicular traffic is prohibited on the 4.3 square mile island, so biking, walking, and horsedrawn buggies are popular ways to get around.
This small island has a very big reputation for fudge, as seen by the disproportionate number of fudge shops located there. While a variety of flavors are available, chocolate is the most popular. When you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, Mackinac Island Fudge can’t be beaten.
Like a pasty, the chipati is another hearty meal that you can hold in your hand. It features fresh-baked pita bread that is stuffed with any number of fillings, such as seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, peppers, mushrooms, and the like. It is served with a “secret” Chipati sauce on the side. The chipati was reportedly created by Pizza Bob’s in Ann Arbor in the 1970s. Three variations of the chipati are available on their menu today.
6. Traverse City Cherries
Cherries are as synonymous with Traverse City as cheesteaks are with Philadelphia. In fact, the city has been dubbed “The Cherry Capital of the World.”
Traverse City sits on the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan in the northwest Lower Peninsula. The climate is perfect for growing these iconic cherries.
Tart varieties of the cherries are used in cobblers and pies. Cherry pie is a favorite dessert in Michigan. Sweet varieties are often enjoyed all on their own. It’s like nature’s candy!
Traverse City cherries reach their peak in early July through mid-August. The National Cherry Festival is an annual July event in Traverse City that celebrates the city’s most famous produce.
7. Wet Burrito
While Michigan is about 1,800 miles from Mexico, its take on a traditional Mexican dish has become a favorite among Michiganders and visitors alike.
The wet burrito was reportedly created in Grand Rapids in the 1960s. Like many burritos, it features a tortilla stuffed with ground beef or other meats, rice, beans, and cheese. It is then covered in a tomato-based sauce. It can also topped with sour cream, lettuce, and tomatoes if you like. After it is constructed, the burrito is baked in an oven.
The gooey cheese, yummy fillings, and rich, delicious sauce have made the wet burrito a Michigan tradition for nearly 60 years.
8. Double-Baked Rye Bread
The foundation for this delicious Michigan fare comes courtesy of Jewish immigrants who moved to Detroit and Ann Arbor in the nineteenth century. These immigrants brought their favorite recipes, including bread recipes.
However, the famous double-baked rye bread didn’t come into its current form until the 1960s. A former Army cook named Jack Goldberg opened a deli in a Detroit suburb. He became frustrated because bread from local bakeries was delivered hot first thing in the morning, but his customers didn’t arrive until lunchtime. By the time they walked in, the bread was cold and unremarkable.
Goldberg started ordering his bread to be under-baked. He would then finish baking the bread for the lunch crowd, who flipped for the warm, delicious rye bread. He also cut it into thick slices that could hold the corned beef that he served. Other delicatessens began to copy the process, and the double-baked rye bread became a Detroit favorite.
9. Olive Burger
Hamburger toppings are essentially limited only by your imagination. Have you ever considered topping your burger with chopped olives? That is exactly what you’ll get when you order an olive burger.
The burger may have been created in Flint or Grand Rapids. No one is certain. However, what is certain is that it has become a go-to dish for many burger aficionados in the Wolverine State.
Olives are blended into a paste that is spread on a grilled burger. Additional chopped olives are often added, as well. The brine from the olives can also be mixed into the hamburger meat before it is grilled.
The burger is then topped with chopped onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and mayo. It is a unique burger creation that you won’t find at many locations outside of Michigan.
Michigan is the third largest producer of blueberries among all U.S. states. Over 20,000 acres of Michigan real estate are dedicated to growing blueberries. Most of Michigan’s blueberries are grown near Lake Michigan. The climate and soil of western Michigan are perfect for blueberry cultivation. Michigan’s top counties for blueberry production are Allegan, Berrien, Muskegon, Ottawa, and Van Buren counties.
Blueberries are among the healthiest fruits on the planet. They are rich in antioxidants and high in vitamin C. They are also delicious, and Michigan blueberries are some of the best anywhere!
11. Superman Ice Cream
This ice cream is famous for its colors, which mirror the outfit worn by the DC Comics superhero. It is said that this famous frozen confection was created by Stroh’s Ice Cream in Detroit.
The ice cream is usually a mixture of different flavors, such as lemon, strawberry, and Blue Moon. Flavors can vary by location, though. This ice cream is more famous for its superhero colors rather than its uniform flavor. It is especially favored by kids who love the vibrant colors, although adults can enjoy it, too. No judgment here.
Lake Michigan is the only state that touches four of the five Great Lakes. Only Lake Ontario does not connect with the state. There is no point in Michigan that is more than six miles from an inland lake. There is also no point in the state that is more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes.
With so many lakes, it’s no surprise that fish is a mainstay of Michigan’s menu. Whitefish from Lake Michigan is especially popular. The mild fish has a medium-firm texture and a large flake. It is delicious when fried and is often served in a sandwich. Smoked whitefish, whitefish dip, and whitefish chowder are also popular.
13. Vernors Ginger Ale
This soft drink was created by James Vernor, a Michigan pharmacist, in the 1860s. The precise details of its creation are fuzzy. One of the most interesting tales is that of a young James Vernor, who was seeking to create a tonic to soothe an upset stomach. He used vanilla, spices, and ginger. As the story goes, he left his concoction in an oak barrel when he left to fight in the Civil War. After the war, he returned home and opened the barrel to find a delightfully delicious surprise. The ingredients aged in the wooden barrel were sweet, spicy, and refreshing.
While that story cannot be verified, James Vernor did indeed create the soft drink that is now known as Vernors Ginger Ale. It is a favorite thirst-quencher for Michiganders. It is also still often used to settle an upset stomach. Some folks drink it hot to soothe a sore throat, as well.
14. Boston Cooler
If you want to take the refreshment of Vernors to the next level, pour it over some vanilla ice cream. This treat is known as a Boston Cooler. It does not hail from the city in Massachusetts, though. This frosty creation is Michigan, through and through. The Boston moniker comes from the name of the street where this beverage was first served. The spice of the Vernors and the sweet creaminess of the ice cream are perfection in a glass.
This Polish treat is found most often around Fat Tuesday, though they are available in certain locations throughout the year. A pączki is deep-fried dough, similar to a donut. It is stuffed with sweet jellies. The treat is then covered with icing, glaze, powdered sugar, or dried orange zest.
16. Better Made Potato Chips
Who doesn’t love potato chips? While everyone has their favorite, many Michiganders will tell you that Better Made chips are just that…better. The chip maker claims their product is “Detroit’s Best Potato Chip.” Who are we to argue? These chips are everywhere in Michigan grocery and convenience stores, and they are packed in thousands of school and work lunches every day.
The chips are mainly made from Michigan-grown potatoes, except during seasons when the potato harvest isn’t large enough to support the demand. The potatoes are sliced thin and fried to a delicious golden brown. They are lightly salted pieces of snacking heaven!
Better Made Snack Foods has expanded to include other items such as tortilla chips and popcorn, but potato chips are still the brand’s flagship product. While the classic original flavor is the most iconic, Better Made chips are also available in Sour Cream & Onion, Salt & Vinegar, Honey BBQ, and more.
17. Bumpy Cake
This cake was created in 1913 by the Sanders Chocolates company in Detroit. It is a decadent devil’s food cake with “bumps” of rich vanilla buttercream. The cake is then topped with fudge icing. What part of that does NOT sound amazing?!?
18. Vlasic Pickles
This famous pickle brand got its start when Franjo “Frank” Vlašić emigrated from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Detroit. He started with a humble creamery. His son later launched a dairy delivery business. The business then added pickles to its delivery options. The pickles were a hit, and the first Vlasic factory was opened in Imlay City.
The famous stork mascot (supposedly named Jovny) was created for the pickle brand in the mid-1970s. The campaign used the stork’s mythical role in delivering babies to promote its product, claiming that pregnant women often have a strong craving for pickles. They claimed their product was “The pickle pregnant women crave…after all, who’s a better pickle expert?”
Vlasic pickles date back to the 1930s. Today, they are a best-selling brand of pickles in the United States.
19. Kellogg’s Cereal
You may have a box or two of this Michigan staple in your pantry right now. The company’s world headquarters is located in Battle Creek. Kellogg’s cereal lineup includes Special K, Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Honey Smacks, Raisin Bran, Corn Pops, Froot Loops, Rice Krispies, and many others. The iconic brand also produces Pringles chips, Eggo waffles, and Cheez-It crackers.
While not as well-known or widespread as Vernors, Faygo is another beloved Michigan soft drink. The company was founded in Detroit in 1907 by brothers Ben and Perry Feigenson. These two Russian immigrants were bakers, and they had a vision for soft drinks that featured cake frosting flavors. Today, there are over fifty flavors of Faygo, ranging from grape to root beer to cotton candy.
Michigan is the third-largest apple producer in the United States, trailing only Washington State and New York State. More than 14.9 million apple trees are growing on 34,500 acres in Michigan. Most of Michigan’s apples are grown in the western part of the state.
Apple picking is a favorite pastime, peaking in September and October. A wide variety of apples are grown in the state, with Honeycrisp being among the most popular.
22. Pickled Bologna
This is a pretty divisive Michigan food. You either love it or hate it. There’s not much middle ground here.
The bologna is packaged in a spiced vinegar brine that seeps into every part of the meat. It is often served with cheese and crackers. It’s a popular food for football parties where attendees are cheering on their beloved Michigan Wolverines or Detroit Lions. Just do us a favor and have a mint before we chat during halftime!
Grand Rapids is known as “Beer City USA.” However, the beer scene throughout the state is vibrant. Craft beers and microbreweries proliferate in Michigan. So, while Wisconsin may be the first state that comes to mind, don’t sleep on Michigan when it comes to the suds!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Palplaner/Shutterstock.com
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