Our 20 Best Midwestern Recipes to Capture the American Heartland

America's breadbasket is known for way more than just bread

Midwestern cuisine has simple roots—the region's strong connection to agriculture has defined its hearty, locally-driven cooking. In the American heartlands, find an abundance of fresh produce that's used to feed the entire hungry nation—from crisp vegetables to juicy fruits and leagues of heirloom wheats. While synonymous with "American food," Midwestern cuisine has historically been influenced largely by the cuisines of central and eastern Europe. Today, there are very few rules: the region is an incredibly diverse place that also celebrates the traditional foodways of immigrants ranging from Japanese to Filipino. From venison loin to beer cheese soup, here are our very best Midwestern recipes.

Wild Rice with Roasted Buttered Onions

roasted onions wild rice
Finish the rice by toasting it in a twirling barrel over a wood fire. Real wild rice like ours is delicate, light brown instead of black, cooks in a mere 20 minutes, and takes on some of the smoke from its parching fire. It's an entirely different beast (and species) from the black paddy rice commonly found in stores. Rice this fresh shines with a simple treatment—in this case just a buttery tangle of roasted garden onions. (If using black rice, add 20 minutes to the cooking time) Get the recipe for Wild Rice with Roasted Buttered Onions »Matt Taylor-Gross

Paw Paw Ice Cream

Paw Paw Ice Cream
This custardy ice cream gets its tropical flavor from paw paws, a musky-sweet fruit native to the American Midwest that tastes somewhere between a banana and a mango, with a plush, creamy texture. Get the recipe for Paw Paw Ice Cream »Farideh Sadeghin

Wood-Roasted Apples with Burnt Cinnamon Caramel

cinnamon caramel roasted apples
Cooking time will vary according to the apple variety you choose, but be sure to use a sturdy, very tart apple such as Honeycrisp or Zestar. The smokiness and char from the wood fire, together with the theater of roasting apples over the hot coals, really makes this dessert, but in a pinch you can roast the apples on a baking sheet at 400° uncovered for 30–35 minutes. Get the recipe for Wood-Roasted Apples with Burnt Cinnamon Caramel »Michelle Heimerman

Spice-Rubbed Venison Loin with Red Wine Sauce

red wine venison loin
Good venison is buttery and beefy, hardly gamey at all. Amy Thielen likes to freeze then wet-age wild venison to allow its fibers to relax, thawing it in its vacuum-sealed package in the refrigerator for at least a week. Because the loin is so lean, it is best cooked over a steady push of medium-high heat—not high heat, which creates a bull's-eye effect. To help the outside caramelize, Thielen adds malted milk powder to the spice rub, which also adds a subtle, nutty richness to the final sauce. Get the recipe for Spice-Rubbed Venison Loin with Red Wine Sauce »Matt Taylor-Gross

Boston Cooler

Boston Cooler
Despite the name, Boston Coolers are as about Midwestern as Marge Gunderson and repressed emotions. And they're our favorite kind of soda shake—a milkshake with a soft drink replacing the milk. Ginger ale adds a warm, spicy bite that cuts through all the vanilla richness. Get the recipe for Boston Cooler »Matt Taylor-Gross

Black Coffee Spike

black coffee spike
This is a darker, richer, cream-optional variation of homemade Bailey's—a popular below-the-kitchen-sink Midwestern recipe—which we use to spike hot coffees. With rosemary, juniper, and whiskey, it adds both woodsy flavor and punch. This recipe will keep for up to 1 month bottled in the refrigerator. Get the recipe for Black Coffee Spike »Matt Taylor-Gross

Japanese Pretzel Tonkatsu Burger

Amy Thielen combines her Midwestern roots with a Japanese fast-food favorite for this crunchy burger coated in pretzel and panko breading, fried in peanut oil, and topped off with a sweet-savory sauce made from browned butter, ketchup, sake, and a dash of fresh ginger. Serve it with a cold Swiss chard dish as a side. Get the recipe for Japanese Pretzel Tonkatsu Burger »Matt Taylor-Gross

Bacon Fried Rice

Bacon Fried Rice
This simple fried rice is as good for breakfast as it is for dinner. Thick-cut bacon will make for more meaty, chewy bits. Cookbook writer Amy Thielen often adds a little sauerkraut for a further Midwestern touch. Get the recipe for Bacon Fried Rice »Matt Taylor-Gross

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie

Indiana Sugar Cream Pie
As Indiana's state pie, this rich, nutmeg-dusted custard pie also goes by the name "Hoosier Pie." Get the recipe for Indiana Sugar Cream Pie »Farideh Sadeghin

Birch Syrup and Soy Sauce-Glazed Roast Duck

syrup wine roast duck
Amy Thielen's take on traditional teriyaki uses a bit of birch syrup in addition to mirin (sweet rice wine). Compared with maple syrup, birch is more feral—darker, less sweet, and more acidic—and she prefers it for cooking. It also doesn't hurt that she can harvest it at home: Every spring she taps the silver birch trees in her yard and boils down the syrup over a wood fire. You can find birch syrup online, or use maple. (If doing so, omit the teaspoon of sugar.) Get the recipe for Birch Syrup and Soy Sauce-Glazed Roast Duck »Matt Taylor-Gross

Beet Kvass Gimlets

beet gimlet
Kvass is a fermented drink traditionally made from rye, but in this version, we use beets, which lend their beautiful red color to the finished cocktail. Get the recipe for Beet Kvass Gimlets »Matt Taylor-Gross

Braised Paprika Kraut

Paprika kraut
This hearty, chicken stock—braised kraut is smoky, spicy, and well balanced, with sweet onions, garlic, and bacon fat nicely contrasting the brightness and brininess of jarred sauerkraut. If you prefer the end result even more sour, feel free to add a splash more brine from the jar. Get the recipe for Braised Paprika Kraut »Matt Taylor-Gross

Japanese-Style Swiss Chard and Sesame Salad

Turn tough chard leaves tender by giving them a light pounding, then dress them in this light sesame-flavored vinaigrette. It's the perfect side to Amy Thielen's Japan-meets-Midwest tonkatsu burger. Get the recipe for Japanese-Style Swiss Chard and Sesame Salad »Matt Taylor-Gross

Peanut Butter Buckeyes

Peanut Butter Buckeyes
These chocolatey confections—popular in the Midwest, especially the Buckeye State, Ohio—are like a Reese's cup with extra filling. Get the recipe for Peanut Butter Buckeyes »Matt Taylor-Gross

Cincinnati Chili

Redolent of warm spices, deeply flavored Cincinnati-style chili, whether prepared two-way (chili over spaghetti), three-way (with cheese), four-way (with onions), or five-way (with a finishing flourish of kidney beans), is an enduring American classic. Get the recipe for Cincinnati Chili »Matt Taylor-Gross

Beer Cheese Soup

Beer Cheese Soup
Invented by Mark Schiffler, the original chef of Wynkoop Brewery in Denver, Colorado, this Wisconsin-inspired soup has been traded and tweaked over the years into its current state: a thick, cheddar-based soup cut through with piquant Gorgonzola. Get the recipe for Beer Cheese Soup »Matt Taylor-Gross
Cheddar Cheese Biscuit

Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

When making these buttery little biscuits, opt for a true American cheese—fourth-generation Wisconsin cheese maker Sid Cook, of Carr Valley Cheese, advised us to use a 3-year-old extra-sharp cheddar. Get the recipe for Cheddar Cheese Biscuits »Vanessa Rees
Buttermilk Cookie Salad

Buttermilk Cookie Salad

The addition of buttermilk in this ultra-retro dessert keeps it from being too cloying and renders cookie salad totally appropriate for the adult palate. Get the recipe for Buttermilk Cookie Salad »Matt Taylor-Gross

Kansas City-Style Chili

Kansas City-Style Chili
Pulled pork stands in for the burnt ends of barbecued brisket in this robust Kansas City-style bean chili. Get the recipe for Kansas City-Style Chili »Todd Coleman

Green Bean and Peach Salad

Green Bean and Peach Salad
Summer peaches pair remarkably well with sweet caramelized onions and crisp green beans in this salad from Deb Miller of Lawrence, Kansas. Get the recipe for Green Bean and Peach Salad »James Oseland