Monday, October 6, 2014

71 More Crazy Foods at the State Fair of Texas.

The new Big Tex, complete with custom boots.
Since 2005, food vendors have been competing against each other to see who can come up with the craziest, the tastiest, the nigh-on-inconceivable dish to win the Big Tex awards at the State Fair of Texas.  This has resulted in an unusual vortex of strange delicacies offered by the annual event in Dallas.

In 2010 and 2011, Grav and I traveled to Dallas
to report on the most unusual fried delights.  This year, working with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, we made the journey back to the State Fair of Texas to catalog the few items we missed and the multitude
of new things vendors have come up with in the years since.

We also talked with several of these vendors, who shared with us how important the Big Tex awards are for business.  The ten items that make the list are proudly shared with the media and with patrons through informational booklets and signs displayed at each winning booth, placards that contain the
The informational booklet you get when you walk into the
fair contains coupons to use with your fair coupons (tickets)
- pick one up and see if what you want to try has a discount.
year and item that put that vendor on the map.  It's advertising money can't buy, and there are individuals who plan their fairgoing just to sample those particular foods.

Grav and I didn't expect to find too many new foods... after all, in 2011 alone we cataloged 80 items in just eight hours.  But we were delighted to discover so many new takes on old classics.  To our surprise and delight, this year's State Fair also featured a number of non-fried items, from pineapples and fruit cups to corn on the cob and Funnel Cake Ale.

So here's a run-down of the 71 edible things we discovered both on and off the Midway.

 1.  Golden Fried Millionaire Pie.  Of course, I have to start with a pie, and this one's a doozy.  Pineapple, pecans and sweet cream are wrapped in crust and deep fried, topped with whipped cream and served with more pecans and a caramel drizzle.  Tasty and surprisingly light.
2. Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll.  The 2012 winner for Best Taste in the Big Tex awards ticks most of the boxes: fried, bacon, sweet, on-a-stick.  Chocolate is the only thing missing from this pastry... and now that I've mentioned it, see what happens next year.

3.  Chocolate maple bacon Amazeballz.  Now, to be completely upfront about it, this concoction exists outside of the State Fair of Texas.  You can actually order these moist cake balls at this website.  But for the State Fair of Texas, the company has put together three loud fair flavors -- chocolate, maple syrup and bacon -- to entice fairgoers.

4.  Fried Collard Greens.  Sometimes, maybe, a dish goes too far.  But if you think about it, stuffing greens in a wonton and dropping it in the fryer makes sense.  Maybe.

5.  Deep Fried Milk and Cookies.  This sounds very exotic, but isn't as crazy as you might thing -- in fact, it utilizes the same sort of concept as the Deep Fried Klondike Bar from last year's Arkansas State Fair.  Take Oreo ice cream (cookies already in milk), deep freeze, batter, fry and serve.  Voila.

6.  Deep Fried Philly Cheesesteak.  Take something already awesome -- thin shaved beef cooked with peppers and onions in its own juice -- and wrap it tight in a wonton wrapper.  Now the sometimes messy Philly becomes a neat, compartmentalized finger food.  It's dippable, too.

7. Deep Fried Sweet Tea.  Impossible?  Actually, no, it is possible, with a little creative thinking.  These squares are actually a sweet tea custard that's frozen, battered, frozen again, deep fried and doused with sweet tea concentrate.

8.  Fried Thanksgiving Dinner.  Everything you expect from a Thanksgiving dinner, in a small round ball.  It's turkey, stuffing and corn, deep fried and served with cranberry chipotle sauce and giblet gravy.  This is too crazy to make up.

9.  Fried Beef Brisket.  I didn't think you could improve on beef brisket, but this is an attempt to do so.  Tender slices of beef brisket battered and fried, drizzled with barbecue sauce, served with onion rings drizzled with ketchup.

10.  Southern Fried Meatloaf.  Well, meatloaf does seem like something you can batter and deep fry easily.  Think of a break-apart version of chicken fried steak.  It's served with a brown sugar-ketchup glaze and gravy on the side.  Now, I heard it came with garlic mashed potatoes, but I didn't see that (though there was a line and they may have run out).  One of this year's Big Tex finalists.

11.  Fried Sriracha Balls.  In answer to the nation's latest craving for the popular Thai-style pepper sauce, this offering of chicken, corn, green chiles, tomatoes and tortilla chips formed into balls and served deep fried is reminiscent of 2011's Salsa Balls, but hotter.  If you like, you can have more Sriracha on the side.  Questioning of your sanity's up to your dining companions.

12.  Funnel Cake Fries.  Okay, this is something I can really get behind.  It's strips of funnel cake dough fried and powdered with sugar.  Easier to eat than funnel cakes, and if you go in the morning, you have something marvelous to dip in your coffee.

13.  Funnel Cake Ale.  Determined the Best Tasting at this year's Big Tex award, props go to Community Beer Co. for creating a non-fried, non-covered-in-chocolate original entry for the decade-old contest.  This English-style summer ale comes served with a powdered sugar rim.

14.  Fried Potato Ball.  This Cuban-inspired dish (also known as Para Rellena) pairs mashed potatoes with a Creole-spiced beef center, deep fried and served with a Cuban sauce.  Crispy on the outside and extraordinarily filling.

15. Fried Sweet Texas.  Can't make up your mind on your favorite Texas sweet?  Mash them together and see what you get. This is pie dough filled with pecan pie filling, peach cobbler and buttermilk pie filling, deep fried, topped with pecans and served with Blue Bell Ice Cream -- all in a serving a little larger than your average pie

16.  Spinach Dip Bites.  A 2013 finalist, these are dollops of spinach and artichoke dip coated in tortilla chips and deep fried and served with a side of salsa -- from the folks that once brought us fried beer.

17.  Fruit Cup.  Yes, you can get healthy foods at the State Fair of Texas.  We were heartened this year to see several fruit and vegetable options that didn't involve chocolate, batter or a fryer. Of these, the most visually shocking was the Fruteria Fruit Cup.  It comes with your choice of fruit -- mango, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, jicama, or coconut -- and a splash of lime juice.  You can even get Cajun pepper added.

18.  Bennie's Deep Fried Stuffed Gordita. A lovingly fried pouch of dough, opened up and stuffed with chicken or beef, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato,cheese and sour cream.  A handhold full of wonder.

19.  Chili Lime Pistachios.  There are some foods you get at the State Fair of Texas that you don't get other places but which still aren't deep fried or covered in chocolate.  These nuts (along with lots of other nuts available in the shopping halls around site) come spiced in the shell.

20.  Polynesian Luau on a Stick.  Chicken, bell peppers, pineapple, onion, battered and deep fried and served drizzled with a pineapple sauce.  Oh, and decorative umbrellas, because you apparently can't have a luau without fancy beverage umbrellas.

21.  Deep Fried Texas Bluebonnet. First baked, then deep fried, this blueberry white chocolate chip scone ring is then topped with more white chocolate, blueberries and whipped cream.

*I actually heard someone coming up to the stand ask if a flower was in the batter.  I don't know what to make of that.

22.  Fried Gulf Shrimp Boil.  This one's like a big Cajun hush puppy, stuffed with tiny shrimp, corn, diced potatoes and seasoning and served with remoulade.  This year's Big Tex winner for best tasting.

23.  Earl Campbell Hot Rope.  The Heisman Trophy winner from Tyler, TX came up with his own line of sausages, and this is reportedly the hottest.  Simple, straightforward and served with Gulden's mustard, this is a nice spicy eight inch link guaranteed to get you sweating.

24.  Alligator Sausage on a Stick.  Not as spicy as the Earl Campbell Hot Rope but definitely exotic, this is an eight inch stretch of gator and pork in a casing packed with spices.

25.  Chicken Stuffed Jalapeno Pepper. Long before frozen cheese-stuffed peppers hit the market, the folks making these were putting them out at a local Mexican restaurant.  Spicy but marvelously flavorful.

26.  Cowboy Burrito.  Rustled up in a gigantic cast iron skillet, this is a big fat tortilla packed with skillet fried potatoes and steak, sprinkled with cheese and griddle-pressed, served with salsa and tomatillo sauce.

27.  Deep Fried Cuban Roll.  The 2013 Big Tex winner for Best Tasting puts all the porky goodness of a good Cuban sandwich into a wonton wrapper.  Served with Cuban sauce on the side.

28.  Deep Fried Mac and Cheese Slider.  Let's face it, macaroni and cheese is marvelous.  We've all accepted it can be battered and deep fried.  This version take it to the next level, serving it up on a slider bun with condiments and waffle fries.

Deep fried macaroni and cheese

29.  Chicken Fried Loaded Baked Potatoes.  Elevating the potato skin to a new level, these are fingers of baked potato stuffed with cheese, bacon, and butter in a spicy batter, served with ranch dressing or sour cream.

30.  Jerky.  What better says Texas than jerky, anyway?  Several vendors around the fairgrounds sell the dehydrated spice meat in all sorts of flavors (including Dr. Pepper) and animals (elk, moose, pork, chicken and even possum in addition to the traditional beef).

31.  Fudge.  The Fudge Company has been serving up fudge at the State Fair of Texas for 32 years.  These big slabs of chocolate, chocolate nut, peanut butter chocolate, pecan chocolate and other sweet flavors are available each year -- and if you're lucky, you can see fudge being made in person.  You can also order it online.

32.  Smoked Turkey on a Stick.  Forget the mess of gnawing on a turkey leg.  These are succulent chunks of turkey breast, deliciously marinated and roasted and served with Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce.

33.  Smirnoff Ice Preparada.  Unlike so many frozen alcoholic beverages out there touting fruity flavors, this one's fresh, matching your fruits of choice with a Smirnoff Ice of choice and some pepper on the top.  I saw dozens of these going around on our visit.

34.  Pineapple on a stick.  Not deep fried, not battered, not covered in chocolate.  It's just a pineapple liberated of its prickly skin and top, skewered on a stick.  Another healthy choice.

35.  Pepperoni Pizza Pretzel.  Seriously.  Instead of the traditional dough, the marinara's brushed on as a glaze for this big soft pretzel, then it's sprinkled with cheese and pepperoni and baked.

36.  Deep Fried Mexican Firecrackers.  Spicy chicken, cheese and jalapenos wrapped tightly in corn masa, deep fried and served with TNT sauce.  HOT.

37.  Lava Flow.  Not spicy, but probably a good thing to drink if you try one of the above Firecrackers, it's a bend of Pina Colada and strawberry in a whipped cream-topped smoothie.

38.  Twisted Texas Taco.  Don't let the exterior food you -- this is a tortilla packed with brisket that's been battered in a barbecue buttermilk sauce, deep fried and served up with fried okra, slaw and cheese.  There's even a gravy-chili concoction served on the side. One of this year's Big Tex finalists.

39.  Frappe Vino.  Okay, this isn't something you'll find on the midway but something available in the Grand Place.  Yes, someone's making wine slushees, and you can, too.  Free samples, by the way, if you're 21 or older.

40.  Giant Smoked Turkey Wing.  Everyone does smoked turkey legs.  This covers the more impressive portion of the bird, which can actually be split and shared.  More tasty smoked skin, too.

41.  Cajun Peppered Pineapple.  The idea of this is so foreign to me, I had to give it a separate listing.  Apparently Cajun spices and pineapple go together like chocolate and strawberries.  Who knew?  Well, folks in Texas knew.

42.  The King.  Back at the 2005 Big Tex Awards, the Fried Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana Sandwich took top praises -- and in many places it's been dubbed The Elvis.  Now you can have it with bacon -- which just makes it even grander, right?

43.  Dr. Pepper BBQ Beef Brisket.  Folks in Texas sure love their Dr. Pepper.  This sandwich combines that with the fascination of Texas barbecue by uniting brisket with a Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce.

44.  Jalapeno Cheese Hot Link.  Not quite as hot as the Earl Campbell Hot Rope, this eight inch sausage still packs a punch and comes served on a stick with Gulden's mustard.

45.  Tamale Balls.  These seem very simple and straightforward, yet they require a great deal of effort -- as anyone who's ever made tamales by hand knows.  These tamales are made by hand, crushed, mixed with masa and spices, formed into balls, frozen, deep fried and served up hot.

46.  Fletcher's Corn Dogs.  Okay, these aren't new, but they are good, and they are legendary (think the State Fair of Texas answer to Randy's Superdogs).  Battered right before being fried, they're hot and fresh and so good there's ALWAYS a line out into the thoroughfare.  Expect a wait.

47.  Corn on the Cob on a Stick.  Well, it's kinda simple, right?  Except you can add to it for no extra cost, a dousing in butter and/or topping with about half a dozen different spices.  I'm still hoping someone starts caramel-coating these things.

48.  Chocolate covered cashews.  Texans love their nuts, and that's apparent all over the campus of the State Fair of Texas.  Chocolate-covered ones are sold out of barrels, perfect to take home.

49.  Beer.  Just beer.  In Texas, everything's bigger, including the selection of ales, stouts, bitters and IPAs you can find on the State Fair of Texas campus.  The Magnolia Beer Garden is a tree-covered expansive patio that caters to those who venture beyond Busch and Michelob.  This is a great place to discover local brews.

50.  Barbecue Stuffed Baked Potatoes. Massive one pound potatoes packed with almost as much beef brisket soaked in sauce, with cheese and sour cream and chives.  This is my kind of fair food.

51.  Peppered Fruit Beverages and Smoothies.  These fresh-squeezed fruit delights are served up with a pepper-encrusted straw for a strong spicy burst of flavor.  Yes, this is a thing.

52.  Giant Greek Salad.  Yes, I talked about this before, and yes, it's still my favorite thing at the State Fair of Texas.  The Greek To Me folks just know how to put a good Greek salad together right, and the thing is MASSIVE.  This is the only food I consumed in its entirety this visit.  I mean, lettuce and tomatoes and olives and bell peppers and onions and Feta and a great Greek dressing?  Can't beat that.

53.  Jack's Frys.  They're long hand-cut fries that are fried and served hot.  That's all.  Does there need to be anything else?  Jack doesn't seem to think so.

54.  Papa Loca.  We call these Tater Twisters here in Arkansas, but it's the same idea -- a potato spiral-cut and skewered then deep fried.

55.  Texas Nachos Supreme.  Other than the little flag, I'm not really sure what makes them Texas.  It's a pile of tortilla chips covered in beans (and meat if you want it), nacho cheese
sauce, taco sauce, jalapenos and sour cream.

56.  Pineapple Rings in a Cup.  Yeah, I'd buy the crap out of this.  Five coupons ($2.50) for a big cup of fresh-cut pineapple rings and bits.  That's all -- no pepper, no sugar, no salt and no batter.  Cheap and refreshing.

57.  Root Beer.  Sugar-sweetened (or not, if you get sugar-free), refreshing and cheap.  That's root beer.

58.  Salt-Water Taffy.  Always a State Fair of Texas favorite, and I do mean always -- as in taffy's been a fair favorite since 1919.  Can't make it this year?  You can always buy yourself a box and have it shipped from Sutter's, but then you don't get to see this neat machine work.

59.  Frozen strawberry margarita.  This year's list has a lot more alcohol than normal, no?  Well, we weren't testing everything, which is good, since by this point in the list I'd be under the table.  Anyway, this is a classic, and it's something I haven't included before, so it's here.

60.  Fresh Hot Mini Tacos (Taquitos).  Little bitty fresh corn tortillas topped with spiced meat, onions, lettuce and peppers.  Addictive, quick to eat and fresh.  

61.  Wine.  No, really, I mean it.  There was so much alcohol available at the State Fair of Texas, I thought I was in Louisiana.  Big bottles of wine were in evidence at several different stations around the fairgrounds, mostly from Texas wineries.  I wonder if a red or a white is a better pairing for a corn dog.

62.  Deep Fried Oreos.  Yes, they've been around a long time, but not quite like this, These are wrapped in dough rather than dunked in batter, and they are huge.  You really can eat just one, but they don't sell them separately, so go share with someone, why don't you?

63.  Baklava.  Once again, bigger is better in Texas, so these triangles of pastry magnificent are actually about as large as half a hamburger.  Tall, too -- almost two inches.
64.  Cheese Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers.  Yes, fresh peppers stuffed with cheese, cornmeal battered and deep fried.  They're still a good stand-by for just about any other spicy deep fried fair food you're going to find.

65.  Churros.  Who doesn't love a churro?  Rather than the extruded pre-packaged mess we often get at Mexican restaurants, this is a fresh made deep fried and cinnamon-and-sugar coated golden rod of gorgeous desserthood.

66.  Fried Green Tomatoes.  You can't go wrong with a Southern classic like this.  These flash-fried cornmeal-encrusted rings are served with Ranch dressing.  Get them hot and prepare to pucker.
67.  Kool-Aid Pickles.  These have gained notoriety since the first time I wrote about them, and now they're a staple.  You can't mistake a person who's had one -- look for the telltale red lip ring.

68.  Fresh Squeezed Lemonade.  Bigger in Texas?  Sure, where lemonade is sold in cups and TUBS.  I could totally do a tub of lemonade right now.

69.  Ice Cream Confections.  This Nutty Bar photo is my favorite... there's something about the face the vendor was making in the background that makes me giggle.  These aren't actually the Nutty Bars -- they're pieces of wood painted to look like Nutty Bars with sawdust applied -- but it was 97 degrees by this point and any attempt to photograph one would result in a quick and melty demise.
70.  Fried Chicken Skins.  This is the State Fair of Texas answer to fried pork rinds (a favorite at the Arkansas State Fair).  Fresh-fried and salty, they do away with the chicken meat for that full-of-fat flavor.

71.  Big Tex Cups.  The last item's not a food or beverage but a vessel.  The Big Tex Cup is the currency for refills across the fairgrounds.  Vendors offer discounts on refills from several locations, and there are even free-standing soda stands where folks can top off their cola.  Other Tex-able refillables include water and iced tea, both sweetened and unsweetened.  Besides, don't you want the disembodied head of Big Tex to take home as a souvenir?

71 items seem like a lot, but we shot a lot more.  Let's end with a Deep Fried Snickers Bar (okay, THERE's your #71) and a reminder that the State Fair of Texas comes to an end October 19th.  Better get down to Dallas. Learn more about the big event at

1 comment:

  1. Love the list of foods to try at the State Fair of Texas!
    A few notes....
    #10. Southern Fried Meatloaf was a Big Tex Choice Award finalist in 2013, not 2014.

    #34 and #41 are mangoes on a stick, not pineapples.


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