Sunflower Showdown: Popular Foods Across Kansas

Chili and cinnamon rolls - it's a Kansas thing

If you’re a Kansan, we’re willing to bet you have (at least a small) stake in the Sunflower Showdown. The rivalry between the Kansas State University and University of Kansas sports teams goes back decades, and folks from the Sunflower State are a passionate bunch! Now, we’re not here to start fights, so we won’t ask whether you’re a Wildcat or a Jayhawk (or a Shocker or a Hornet or a Gorilla or a … you get the idea). But we are here to teach you about food, so whether you’re decked out in purple or covered in red and blue, get ready to tuck into some delicious facts. 

Instead of focusing on the things that divide us — like, say, our favorite sports team — we’ve decided to highlight the winning offerings from all corners of our state the best way we know how: popular foods and how they came to be!

Hays: German Dishes

The Volga German family line has shaped much of Hays’ culture and food scene, and their descendants continue to do so to this day. After immigrating from Germany to Russia, the group ultimately planted roots in Kansas because of cheap land and their ability to farm. Thanks to their influence, traditional foods like bierocks, grebble (or greble or grebel, depending on where you are) and potatoes and dumplings are easy to find at local restaurants in Hays.

While especially popular in this region, bierocks are a well-known Kansas tradition. And if you’ve ever wondered why, we have the scoop.

Kansas City: Barbecue

This wouldn’t be a story about Kansas cuisine without mentioning barbecue! Kansas City is one of the best places in the country to savor this beloved dish. Kansas City-style barbecue is known for its combination of sweet and tangy flavors, as well as its focus on burnt ends. Take a bite out of history and find out how burnt ends went from humble handout to treasured delicacy.

Lindsborg: Swedish Foods

Fondly referred to as "Little Sweden," Lindsborg is home to a thriving Scandinavian community. In the late 1800s, Swedish immigrants came to the United States to seek a better life, and Lindsborg became a popular hub for settlers. Their influx impacted the area’s culture and food scene, which is still evident today. One of the most popular dishes you’ll find is Swedish meatballs, which are typically made with a mixture of ground beef and pork, then topped with a rich and creamy gravy.

Wichita: The Fast-Food Hamburger

While the concept of hamburgers on a bun debuted in 1904 at a St. Louis fair, the first official hamburger joint was started in Wichita during the 1920s. What began as a small food stand operation turned into White Castle: the nation's first fast-food outlet. Today, there are countless places in Wichita offering a prime burger, and we’re drooling just thinking about trying them all.

Other Iconic Kansas Dishes

Of course, there are many foods tempting folks all across Kansas, no matter the region. Our strong agriculture scene means we produce high-quality goods, and here are just a few additional favorites using home-grown ingredients. 

  • Bread: Since we’re one of the biggest producers of wheat in the United States, it’s only natural to have a deep love for bread products. Kansans are especially partial to cinnamon rolls, often pairing them with the next item on our list.
  • Chili: A favorite during cold Midwest winters, this warm dish is packed with flavor and can be tweaked to please any palette. Kansas-raised meats like pork and beef add a hefty — and tasty! — helping of protein. 
  • Zwiebach: This sweet, sturdy bread was popularized in Kansas by the Mennonite community. While technically a bread, we thought this staple deserved its own slice of recognition for its unique shape and rich history. 

Hopefully, this gives you a taste of some of the local specialties across the Sunflower State. Do you have a particular favorite? Share it with us on Facebook or Instagram!

More Kansas History