An afternoon sitting behind home plate isn’t complete without a snack or three from the stadium concession stand. Even in baseball’s early days, mid-inning munchies were the norm, and while some snacks like tripe and onions have faded from popularity, these 15 ballpark eats are too classic to disappear.
1. HOT DOGS
Hot dogs are a baseball stadium staple, but they first became popular at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The “dachshund sausages” were served with bread, making them easy to eat, and within the same year hot dogs became available at baseball games. Legend has it that Chris Von de Ahe, a German immigrant and owner of the St. Louis Browns baseball team, introduced the sausages into the stands in St. Louis. As for the name, hot dog historians are split on where it came from. One story credits New York Journal sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan, who drew a scene of stadium vendors selling the snack in 1901. Unsure of how to spell dachshund, Dorgan simply wrote “hot dog” as the caption. Another tale says the name comes from college towns in the 1890s, where “dog wagons” peddled hot dogs to students.
Nachos didn’t appear in ballpark concession stands until 1976, where Frank Liberto sold them at a Texas Rangers game. “The Father of Nachos” revolutionized baseball game snacks by creating a cheese sauce that could be served quickly from a pump and on the cheap. Liberto’s condensed cheese formula only required water and leftover juice from jalapeño toppings; this mixture doubled the amount of cheese and profits. Liberto initially had a hard time getting his cheese-covered chips into stadiums since concession operators feared nachos would be too successful and detract from other snack foods. Their fears were valid—the first year of offering nachos at Arlington Stadium brought in $800,000, compared to $85,000 in popcorn sales.
Baseball is considered a family-friendly sport, but that wasn’t the case during the late 19th century. During the summer of 1883, St. Louis Browns owner Chris Von der Ahe created his own league called the American Association, which offered cheap baseball games with readily available beer. Edward Achorn, author of The Summer of Beer and Whiskey, says Von der Ahe’s Sunday games helped many immigrants and baseball newcomers enjoy the sport. But the ample beer made crowds a little rowdy. “Fans would drink heavily. They would scream at the umpires. They would go out onto the field after games if they were upset and try to attack him.”
In true American fashion, any portable, handheld snack should be integrated into baseball culture, and large, sturdy pretzels were an obvious addition. Philadelphia lays claim to the first American soft pretzels, and considering the city’s hundreds of baseball clubs in the sport’s early days, it was inevitable that the street carts who sold these baked snacks to passersby would eventually end up selling them in the stadiums as well.
Peanuts are perhaps the most classic baseball snack, and the reasoning dates back to the Civil War. During the early 1800s, peanuts were grown for livestock or oil, and considered a food only eaten by the poor. But during the long years of war, soldiers packed boiled peanuts as a cheap snack—they tasted better than hardtack and provided ample protein. After the war, street vendors peddled boiled peanuts, and roasted peanuts soon became a popular sporting game snack.
6. CRACKER JACK
Hot dogs weren’t the only baseball eats to star at the 1893 World’s Fair—Cracker Jack became popular there, too. The simple snack made from popcorn, peanuts, and molasses has become such a cultural icon that it can’t be replaced with similar brands. In 2004, Yankee Stadium made a failed attempt to replace Cracker Jack with Crunch 'N Munch. The switch only lasted a month.
7. COTTON CANDY
Sugary "fairy floss" (as it was first called at the 1904 World’s Fair) is a simple arena treat at baseball games, circuses, and carnivals. But in 2015, vendors at the Texas Rangers Globe Life Park stadium decided to mess with a good thing, and tried to merge two staple snacks: cotton candy and hot dogs. Their “Sweet Spot Cotton Candy Dog” creation is a hot dog topped with cotton candy-infused mustard and a clump of the airy sweet. Some reviewers said the $10 concoction was "surprisingly delicious."
Not every stadium offers burnt ends and pulled pork, but many stadiums in well-known barbecue cities such as Kansas City and Memphis offer up grilled and seasoned plates. And while some former athletes launch businesses or franchises far from the dugout, former Orioles player and two-time World Series champion Boog Powell started his own barbecue joint inside Camden Yards.
9. SUNFLOWER SEEDS
In the early days of baseball, many players chewed tobacco in the dugout and on the field. But in 1968, baseball legend Reggie Jackson began chewing sunflower seeds, and though he wasn't the first player to do so, his popularity helped make the roasted achenes a top choice amongst fans. Many players and fans who enjoy spitting during the game made the switch from tobacco to sunflower seeds, though this ballpark snack comes with its own safety hazards. In 1995, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society declared “Sunflower Seed Finger” a new ailment caused by athletes reaching into their pockets with three fingers to grab seeds, stressing the pinky finger.
Popcorn is a classic snack that isn’t going away anytime soon. At the 2015 All-Star Game, fans chowed down on an estimated 1,026,000 pounds of popcorn. And as a bonus, a stadium popcorn bucket can also act as a built-in mitt—game-goers have been known to catch foul balls in their buckets of popcorn (or their beer).
11. CORN DOGS
Corn dogs are a deep-fried twist on the classic ballpark hot dog. But if you’re looking to take it a step further, head to the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field where you can buy a $25 corn dog called The D-Bat Dog. This jumbo, batter-covered frank is 18 inches long (three times the size of a traditional corn dog), packs a whopping 832 calories without any toppings, and has the added novelty of resembling a baseball bat.
12. ICE CREAM
It's one of the better novelty items you can buy at the ballpark, and vendors have been dishing out soft serve in tiny novelty team helmets since around the early '70s. The Chicago White Sox stadium featured three-pound ice cream sundaes in oversized helmets in 2014, though the team’s marketing department encouraged fans to split the frosty treats.
Whether deep-fried or deep-brined, pickles have become a popular stadium snack. Beyond taking an inning or two to finish, pickles can help athletes (or overly exerted fans) recover from muscle cramps. But brined cucumbers also have another use—lending their name to baseball teams. The recently created Portland Pickles are a college summer league that received its name from an online poll.
Soda pairs perfectly with a hot dog or popcorn, and Coca-Cola even credits some of its success to baseball stadiums. During the late 1890s, Coca-Cola was only available from a soda fountain. Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead, two thirsty, frustrated fans, complained that they couldn’t enjoy a cold pop at baseball games, and they began bottling their own to take along. Realizing the potential, Thomas and Whitehead approached Coca-Cola and were granted rights to bottle and sell the cola nationwide. Now, not only is Coke a major concession stand seller, its logo and name are highly visible advertisements at stadiums across the country.
15. BUBBLE GUM
Like sunflower seeds, bubble gum is a baseball snack that started in the dugout before becoming popular in the stands. One of the most popular brands, Big League Chew, was started by Portland Mavericks pitchers Rob Nelson and Jim Bouton who both thought chewing tobacco was an unhealthy habit. Together, the pitchers spent two years trying to get the shredded chewing gum off the ground. The idea eventually caught on, and even tobacco-chewing players were urged to switch to gum by girlfriends and wives. Since there’s a lot of standing around and waiting in baseball, having a slightly healthier chew habit wasn’t such a bad idea.
All photos via iStock unless labeled otherwise.