Surviving the World’s Hottest Jerky on A Stick at the State Fair

Carolina reapers and exotic meat abound at the Wisconsin State Fair.

There are two women sitting behind the counter at the stand. One wears a nametag that says “Taran.” The other says “Tula.”

“Enjoy,” Tula tells me with a genuine smile, as she hands me the World’s Hottest Jerky on a Stick. “Don’t share it with small children.”

A tone is being set here that epitomizes All Things Jerky and its sister location, the Exotic Meats Grill. A tone of mystery, intrigue, maybe even a hint of danger. The World’s Hottest Jerky on a Stick is the kind of extreme item that I’ve come to expect from the Wisconsin State Fair. For the most part, it lives up to its billing.

The jerky prioritizes flavor over gimmicks, using real peppers rather than extracts. Its most prominent pepper is the Carolina reaper, which spice aficionados should recognize as a formidable addition. The reaper generally carries anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million Scoville units, probably three times hotter than the hottest habanero you’ve ever eaten. To cut through the jargon, it’s the hottest chili pepper in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Photo by Matt Martinez, Milwaukee Magazine

While I can’t confirm it’s the world’s hottest, the jerky packs a hell of a punch. The flavor is excellent, as it retains the flavor of the peppers by incorporating seeds and seasons itself properly to complement the beef. Packaging it on a stick is a genius idea as it does prevent customers from getting too much residue on their hands, although it is tricky trying to clean the last few pesky bits off the stick. But believe me, the jerky was good enough to prompt me to get every last bit of it.

For the average joe, proceed with caution. It’s certainly not a pedestrian effort at the world’s hottest jerky. For the avid spice lover, I’d still say proceed with caution. It’s not as hot as eating a dried reaper straight-up (I can attest to that personally) but it will give you the smack in the mouth you’re asking for. It’s not the spiciest thing I’ve ever had in my life, but it’s hands down the spiciest jerky. The flavor is good enough to justify it.

The jerky was by far my favorite, but I enjoyed myriad items from their stock. For instance, out of what really amounts to morbid curiosity I went to Exotic Meats for some rattlesnake soup.

The rattlesnake soup is a tougher sell for the average customer. First of all, its August and the soup is served piping hot, as it should be. It’s kind of a heavier broth, with some carrots and celery in it that make it taste more like a soup you can get at a family restaurant. Rattlesnake meat itself, to use a cliché, does taste like chicken. All in all, it was a very inoffensive offering where I was hoping for something more drastic.

Of course, maybe that was the point. Maybe that was the overarching message that I missed: this soup has rattlesnake in it but it tastes like your grandma could have made it. It certainly changed my perspective of the rattlesnake.

Photo by Matt Martinez, Milwaukee Magazine

I was able to get back to the more extreme offerings when I went back to ATJ to grab some Cajun alligator jerky. Much to my delight, Taran and Tula were still working and Tula recognized me and gave me a sample of their Carolina reaper popcorn. While I personally prefer the jerky, the popcorn is also an excellent exhibition in dry heat and is packaged in a contrarily sweet kettlecorn.

The popcorn is packaged by itself or in what they call “popcorn roulette,” where reaper popcorn is weaved in with regular kettlecorn, Tula tells me.

Not terribly spicy, the Cajun alligator jerky was great. While there were hints of beef mixed in, it retained its own flavor quite nicely and was actually very enjoyable. There’s something poetic about the only apex predator to survive extinction being dried out and covered in Cajun seasoning for my enjoyment.

In conclusion, don’t fear the reaper.