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The Texas State Fair’s best fried food finalists include spicy Sriracha balls, and a deep-fried loaded baked potato
It’s the most wonderful, deep-fried time of the year. Here's the deep-fried breakfast for dinner.
State Fairs are notorious for unusual fried foods. And the Texas State Fair is king of them all, selling some real artery-clogging doozies, from fried butter, to fried bubble gum. The Texas State Fair has just announced its finalists for best fried foods at the Big Tex Choice Awards, including deep-fried Sriracha balls made with chicken corn and green chiles; the chicken-fried loaded baked potato, which explodes with butter, bacon and cheese as soon as you bite into it; and a fried peach cobbler pie topped with ice cream.
One of the more creative (and overstuffed!) entries is the deep-fried “breakfast for dinner,” which loads up a tortilla with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, ham, onion, cheddar cheese and cinnamon roll pieces, which is all deep-fried and served with gravy. Ouch.
We couldn’t possibly choose which heart-stopping dish should take home the big prize, but luckily it’s not up to us — the winner will be chosen on Labor Day, September 1. Tickets to try each of the tasty fried finalists go for a pretty penny at $100 each, hospital bill not included.
For the latest happenings in the food and drink world, visit our Food News page.
Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on [email protected]
The Crazy Fried Food You Shouldn't Ignore This Summer
It's easy to go deep-fried blind at the fair&mdashand not just in a literal sense from all of the sugar and grease. When every stand touts half a dozen (or more) batter-dipped treats, it can be hard to figure out which ones are worth the minutes of your life.
Brian "the Deep-Fry Guy" Shenkman knows your struggle all too well. In fact, he's part of the reason why you can't make up your mind&mdashhe sells dozens of deep-fried treats. At eight fairs nationwide, people head to his stand to dare their friends to try fried cream-cheese larvets&mdashyup, crispy larvae rolled in cream cheese balls&mdashor grab a deep-fried Milky Way, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or the perennial favorite, deep-fried Oreos.
As epic as the Oreos are&mdashthey basically turn into a molten, cookies-and-creme-flavored dough in the center of a pancake-like fried ball&mdashShenkman says people rank it second-best once they try his Deep-Fried Buckeyes. They just have to be sold on what a Buckeye is first.
"We've started putting up signs that explain that it's basically a peanut butter dough ball dipped in chocolate, then batter-dipped and fried, because the name alone freaked people out," he said, as he pulled out five Oreos and five Buckeyes to treat us to a side-by-side taste test.
In Ohio, the Buckeye State, he sold 52,000 in one week&mdashcompared to 8,000 at the State Fair Meadowlands, where we met while I was scouring the grounds for the top carnival foods to try. Outside of Ohio, the Buckeye tends to be completely overlooked.
"When I came up with the idea, I called up the Ohio State Fair and asked if I could do it. I didn't hear back, so I thought they didn't take me seriously, and I forgot about it," Shenkman explained while he dipped each Buckeye in a funnel-cake-like batter.
About a week before the fair opened, officials came calling: Word had spread about the deep-fried Buckeyes, and they couldn't wait for Shenkman to debut them. The only problem? Since he hadn't heard back, he hadn't tried making them yet.
"The first tests were crazy. When I dipped the Buckeyes into the fryer, some were falling apart, some exploded," he said. "You want them to float, like these are."
He came up with a successful formula just in time for the Ohio State Fair nine years ago&mdashand he's been the fair's exclusive Deep-Fried Buckeye vendor ever since, with five stands spread out across its grounds to keep up with demand.
Once the battered Buckeyes and Oreos have become lightly golden, Shenkman pulls them from the fryer and dusts them with a liberal coating of powdered sugar.
Shenkman tries to introduce something new every year, though he says he'll probably slow down now that his other stand at the fair&mdashthe Bulk Candy Store, which sells 4,000 kinds of niche, hard-to-find sweets, like Purple Violets and caramel-cream Bullseyes&mdashhas become his main business.
"I bring 60,000 pounds of candy to each fair," he says. Many of the candies are also batter-dipped and deep-fried to see if they're worthy of being added to his menu. Many have failed&mdashhe shook his head as he recalls the neon gummy worms, which essentially dissolved when cooked.
"In the off-season, I set up a row of deep fryers and instituted 'Fry-Days,' where we went to the supermarket and grabbed anything we could find and tried deep-frying it," he said. The cream-cheese larvets were a more recent addition, though they weren't so much a Fry-Day Friday experiment as they were a challenge from Food Network's Carnival Eats to create something truly eye-catching.
"They definitely get people's attention," Shenkman said.
Turning back to the fried Buckeyes and Oreos, Shenkman added one final&mdashyet crucial&mdashtouch: A drizzle of Hershey's chocolate sauce on top of each.
As much as we love all things Oreo (and these pillowy bombs of gooey Oreo deliciousness took our obsession to the next level), we had to agree: The Buckeyes were one part cookie dough, one part melted Reese's Cup, one part gift from above.
"You see?" he asked, when I reached for a second Buckeye&mdashthe only confirmation he needed to know that the peanut-butter-chocolate-orb had stolen my heart. His voice suddenly dropped to a conspiratorial whisper: "One person who tried it said it was better than sex."
The Fried Foods of the State Fair of Texas
Tomorrow, Friday, September 28, the best time of the year in Texas kicks off, the State Fair of Texas. For several weeks, visitors to Fair Park, the event’s site, will be treated to Midway games, livestock shows, carnival rides, and folksy arts and crafts. In the middle of it all, is the annual football game between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma. All of these elements draw loads of people to ride the Texas Star Ferris Wheel, get behind the wheel out of their price range at the Texas Auto Show, and take loss after loss at the ring toss.
But there’s no denying the pull of the State Fair of Texas’ fried food. Fried food is why people go to the state fair. Each year for the last 14 years, 10 of these fried foods to be sold that year, are celebrated as the Big Tex Choice Awards finalists. Those aren’t the only inventive fried foods or fried foods-inspired offerings. You can see the collection of those crazy concession offerings, here, but to give you an idea of what to expect, the list includes Corn Dog Ale, with a mustard-rimmed glass and Kool-Aid Pickle-Dilly Sangria.
Before the fair opens tomorrow, we’re giving you a preview of the substantial offerings beginning with my favorite Big Tex Choice Awards finalists.
We hope you have your cholesterol-lowering statins ready.
Arroz Con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice) (Best Taste – Sweet)
If arroz con leche was served coated in puffed rice ceral, deep fried, served with ice cream, and coated with powdered cinnamon and caramel, I would not have hated it growing up. It’s an incredible, delightful option deserving of the Big Tex Choice Award for Best Taste – Sweet. Get yourself some.
Corn bread crammed with grilled chicken-white bean chili sounds fantastic even if there are beans in the chili. And so, this item is fantastic, especially since it’s served with deep-fried corn bread fries and more chili.
Deep Fried Shepherd’s Pie
Concessionaire for the last 10 years and a finalist for five out of the last six years, Clint Probst’s deep-fried shepherd’s pie is precisely that: A mixture of mashed potatoes and cheese around the classic’s dishes stuffing of ground beef, vegetables, and gravy. It’s a comforting order, and a no-fail option for the State Fair of Texas.
Fernie’s Orange You Glad We Fried It
Essence of orange with a side of fried, Fernie’s Orange You Glad We Fried It is packed with citrus flavor perfect for the final scorchers of the season.
Cotton Candy Taco (Most Creative)
Deserving of the Most Creative award, this treat is something different. It’s something more. The Cotton Candy Taco begins with a marshmallow-glazed graham cracker waffle cone taco shell. It then gets a filling of chocolate, toasted marshmallow, and cotton candy before being topped off with chocolate cookie crumbles and chocolate-dipped bread sticks. What’s not to love?
State Fair Fun-L Cake Ice Cream
This is everything that’s joyful about state fair funnel cake as a frozen treat.
The Other Big Tex Choice Awards Finalists
Deep Fried Skillet Potato Melt in a Boat
Fernie’s Hoppin John Cake with Jackpot Sauce (Best Taste – Savory)
For more information on the State Fair of Texas, visit the event’s website.
Top 10 Most Unusual State Fair Foods
It's one of our top 10 wacky and wild state fair foods. After all, the fare's the best of the fair!
As the summer months approach, we look forward to ripe produce, long, warm days, and a classic American tradition: the state fair. The best part of the fair? The fare! We found wonderfully wacky, wild, and irresistible fried summer foods, from deep-fried bacon in Texas to Minnesota's spaghetti and meatballs on a stick. What are you waiting for? Read on to salivate in wonder over these unusual and calorie-laden foods awaiting at a state fair near you.For more fresh-air-friendly recipes, check out Backyard BBQ Party Eats.Speaking of fun foods, ever wonder what's really in your favorite snack cakes? Find out all 37 ingredients that make up a Twinkie.
Where It's Sold: State Fair of Texas, Dallas, TX
The Fried Facts: This ode to bacon won the award for Best Taste at the 2008 Big Tex Choice Awards. Creator Glen Kusak has been credited for helping make this dish the popular success it has become.
24 of the Craziest Foods at America’s State Fairs
As we all know, foods are generally more delicious when consumed in a large crowd of people gathered on straw-covered fields to celebrate agricultural life and to ride really fast-spinning rides with dazzling colored lights.
This week, the Iowa State Fair introduced 15 new foods it is adding to this year’s experience. And these aren’t the corn dogs and chicken fingers you know and love, or the fried oreos (or fried anything really) you once laughed at but secretly crave. Take a look through the glorious creations along with our favorite fair foods of all time.
Corn in a Cup: A shaved-down alternative to corn on the cob with mayo, chorizo and cheese topped off with a lemon wedge and what the fair calls “magic dust.” (Pictured above). Still delicious. Way easier to eat.
Photo: Iowa State Fair
Apple Pie on a Stick: A quintessential American dessert, deep-fried and on a stick.
Photo: Iowa State Fair
Nacho Balls: They’re exactly what you think they are — all the must-have ingredients of nachos, rolled into a ball, and deep fried. Plus a side of melted cheese!
Photo: Iowa State Fair
Toasted Coconut Caramel Cluster: Crumbled fudge and pretzel bits are bundled together under a blanket of frozen chocolate.
Photo: Iowa State Fair
The Ultimate Bacon Explosion: 8 ounces of brisket entirely wrapped in bacon, covered in jalapeño cheese and barbecue sauce. Now that’s a lot more state-fair-like.
The Minnesota State Fair also released a list of 50 new food items you’ll find at this year’s fair. Here are some standouts:
Photo: Minnesota State Fair
Burger Dog: Hamburger, hot dog, bacon, cheese, and a dash of jalapeño are blended together and molded and eaten as a traditional frankfurter.
Photo: Minnesota State Fair
Italian Dessert Nachos:Cannoli chips replace tortilla chips, and are topped with ricotta cheese, fruit, chocolate, nuts, candy, and sprinkles, of course.
Photo: Minnesota State Fair
Mac & Cheese Cupcake: Macaroni and cheese is wrapped and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and frosted with Cheez Whiz.
Photo: Minnesota State Fair
Prime Rib To Go:Because who doesn’t want their prime rib to go? The steak is thinly sliced and stuffed in a soft bread cone with peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Choose au jus, horseradish, or Parmesan as your dipping sauce.
Photo: Minnesota State Fair
Totchos: Tater tots are covered in cheese, sour cream, scallions, and bacon bits, and come in chicken or beef varieties. Don’t worry though – it’s gluten free.
Photo: Minnesota State Fair
Wine Fried Kalettes: Kale is battered, fried to as crisp in wine, and served with sweet chili Thai sauce. Looks like the green superfood has found another place to dwell besides your $9 smoothie.
But could these foods trump the eye-catching (and often stomach-turning) dishes we’ve seen elsewhere?
Photo: San Diego County Fair
Deep Fried Starbucks – San Diego County Fair, 2015:Starbucks coffee is infused with pastry dough, fried, covered in sugar, and served with whipped cream.
Photo: Texas State Fair
Deep Fried Milk and Cookies on a Stick – Texas, 2014: A custard made of blended milk, sugar, and cookies is covered with an egg wash and Japanese bread crumbs.
Donut Burger – New York, 2011: Also known as “The Big Kahuna,” this burger has a quarter-pound patty nestled between two grilled glazed donuts. With a total of 1,500 calories, this sandwich lives up to its name.
Photo: Indiana State Fair
Spaghetti Ice Cream – Indiana, 2012: At first look it seems like pasta and sauce, but look again. The noodles are gelato, the tomato sauce is actually made of strawberry, the Parmesan is white chocolate, and the meatballs are actually chocolate.
Hot Beef Sundae – Tennessee, 2011: Marinated beef and mashed potatoes serve as ice cream, the gravy acts as chocolate syrup, grated cheese doubles as sprinkles, and a cherry tomato tops it all.
Pulled Pork Parfait – South Florida, 2011: These layers of pulled pork, mashed potatoes, and gravy in a cup almost had us fooled for ice cream.
French Fry Coated Hot Dog – Texas: Eat your hotdog and side of fries at once, conveniently on a handheld stick.
Deep Fried Beer – Texas, 2010: Little packets of dough filled with beer are deep-fried. Oddly enough, we can picture this as something you can snack on — rather than sip on — during a football game.
Deep Fried White Castle Burger – Orange County Fair, Calif.: Because a regular White Castle burger is not enough on its own, right?
Chocolate Covered Scorpions – California and Arizona: These crunchy “treats” are deep-fried and covered in chocolate. In Arizona, non-scorpion fans could go for cricket, grasshoppers, or lizards.
Fried Alligator on a Stick – Illinois: Though strange, this grub is not entirely rare. It’s also appeared in last year’s Bite of Seattle and previous New Jersey state fairs (along with shark kebabs). The Illinois rendition was served Teriyaki style and apparently, some people say it tastes like pork.
Chicken Fried Bacon – Texas: This lovechild of bacon and fried chicken can be enjoyed alone with a dip or layered within a cheeseburger.
Fried Jambalaya – Texas: These fried balls of the staple Cajun dish won the Big Tex best taste award in 2012.
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Pair an Oreo beer with your Deep Fried Froot Loops for a serious sugar coma The State Fair of Texas
Just when it doesn’t seem like the offerings at the State Fair of Texas can get any more indulgent — or absurd — the annual fried food bonanza has announced even more new food options for this year’s fair.
In addition to the deep-fried Froot Loops and fish bowls full of booze, the State Fair of Texas has announced a line-up of lesser-known snacks that are brand new to this year’s fair. When the State Fair of Texas kicks off on September 29, fairgoers will be able to score snacks like jalapeno popcorn, chicken-fried bites of SPAM, and deep-fried arroz con pollo.
These inventive new snacks, which also include beer flavored with sea salt caramel and a veggie dog for the meat-averse, will be scattered at snack stands across Fair Park, which means that fried food fans may have to do a little digging to find the deep-fried, cheesecake-stuffed apple ice cream sundae.
Check out the full list of new snacks (and their locations!) below. The State Fair of Texas is just a few short days away, which means that it’s already time to start saving room for these ridiculously decadent snacks.
Fried Sriracha tops the weirdness of State Fair 2014 fried food awards
A little earlier than usual, the State Fair of Texas has announced the finalists for the 2014 Big Tex Choice Awards — or as we like to call them, the fried food awards. This year's lineup hits on some big foodie trends, including tacos, craft beer and the hot condiment Sriracha sauce.
The contest, which premiered in 2005, has seen such novelties as fried butter, fried bubble gum and fried beer. The 2013 winners were Fried Thanksgiving Dinner, for most creative, and Fried Cuban Roll for best taste.
This year's judges are pretty "foodie" too: Top Chef contestant Tiffany Derry, BBQ Snob and Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn, Dallas lifestyle blogger Cynthia Smoot and 1310 The Ticket personality Donovan Lewis. Emcee is Hawkeye from 96.3 KSCS.
This year, for the first time, a non-celebrity will be added to the judging panel. The fair held a contest in which anyone could submit a video to apply for a spot at the judge's table. And for the first time, a limited number of people can also attend the judging on Labor Day, September 1, at 10 am and get to sample the entries tickets are for sale here.
Without further ado, this year's finalists in the Big Tex Choice Awards:
Chicken Fried Loaded Baked Potato
The creamy and moist insides of a baked potato — loaded with butter, bacon and cheddar cheese — are coated and battered with a blend of spices and flour to create a combination of fried crispy crust and creamy loaded baked potato. Served with a ranch dipping sauce.
Deep Fried "Breakfast for Dinner"
A twist on a favorite American dinner. This is a 10-inch flour tortilla stuffed with eight favorite breakfast items: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, ham, onion, cheddar cheese and gooey cinnamon roll bits. It is deep fried until golden brown and served with a creamy country gravy, salsa and a pico-queso dip.
Deep Fried Texas Bluebonnet
The Deep Fried Texas Bluebonnet is a blueberry muffin, scone-style batter stuffed with cream cheese, blueberries and white chocolate chips. It is baked and deep fried, then topped with whipped cream, chopped white chocolate morsels, powdered sugar, blueberries and blueberry glaze.
Fried Gulf Shrimp Boil
Everything you would expect in a shrimp boil — baby Gulf shrimp, diced red potatoes, onion, lemon and seasoning — rolled into a ball around a cocktail shrimp, dusted with fish fry and fried to a golden brown. The tail sticks out for a handle. Served with remoulade sauce.
Fried Sriracha Balls
A combination of shredded chicken, corn, green chilies, tomatoes and Sriracha, formed into balls and coated with crispy tortilla chips, then flash-fried until golden brown. For those who like their food higher on the Scoville scale, extra Sriracha sauce is available.
Fried Sweet Texas
Traveling across Texas to try the best and most popular desserts provided inspiration for this fried treat. Fried Sweet Texas starts with fresh pie dough filled with crunchy pecan pie, juicy peach cobbler and creamy buttermilk pie. It is deep fried until the crust is golden brown and flaky, then served with a side of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.
Original State Fair Brew – Funnel Cake Ale
A light and delicious ale brewed to be reminiscent of one of the telltale flavors of the State Fair: funnel cake. The English-style summer ale has been brewed to be ready and crisp, with just the right amount of toastiness and sweetness, finishing with delicate notes of natural vanilla — all flavors you find in a funnel cake. You can get the rim of your cup coated with powdered sugar. Must be 21 years of age.
Twisted Texas Tacos
This is what you get when you combine the four major food groups of Texas: chicken fried, barbecue, Tex-Mex and chili. The taco starts with hickory-smoked Texas beef brisket, double-dipped in a barbecue-spiced buttermilk batter and deep fried. It is served in a warm flour tortilla, layered with a Mexican cheese blend, crispy fried okra, and a sweet and crunchy tri-color slaw accented with zesty poblano and sweet pepper corn. Served with a creamy country gravy, spicy Texas chili and a miniature salute from the Lone Star flag.
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The 10th Big Tex Choice Awards were held inside the Tower Building at the State Fair of Texas this year. Unlike in previous years, there was a huge crowd usually it's just the finalists, the judges, their families, and media, but the State Fair sold tickets to the public to this year's event. For a measly $100 (a portion of which was donated to the State Fair of Texas Youth Scholarship Fund), you could stand in line to taste every single one of the eight foods in the Big Tex Choice Awards finals. When you do the financial math, it's actually a deal. (Don't do the caloric math.)
Also, this year, the judging panel was super fancy. In previous years, the panel has been local journalists, radio personalities and someone representing Chevy or another large sponsor of the State Fair. This year, they went with a whole new panel, except for Donovan Lewis (who they kept around because he's the most entertaining fried food judge who has ever lived).
Daniel Vaughn (A.K.A. BBQ Snob, A.K.A. Texas Monthly's BBQ Editor, A.K.A. That Dude On The End Who Chugged His Funnel Cake Ale) was joined by Chef Tiffany Derry (A.K.A. Top Chef Alum, Hungry Investors and Bar Rescue star, and all around badass), Cynthia Smoot (local fashion blogger at OhSoCynthia and self-professed beer-disliker), Donovan Lewis (A.K.A. The Great Donovan from The Ticket's BaD Radio and Big Tex Choice Awards judging alum), and Tim Bennett (A.K.A. The Dude Who Won The Video Contest As The State Fair's Biggest Fan).
All of the judges were extremely positive reviewing each dish as they tasted it. It makes sense that they would be: everyone here has worked very hard to become a finalist in the competition, and it would be rude to bash people for their food in front of a live audience. But at the same time, it was hard to believe that every single bite of food they were eating was "THE BEST EVER!" Which is why I was so excited to stick around for the tasting of Mark Zable's entry: Sriracha Balls.
The Sriracha balls would be The Great Smiling-Bullshit-Let's-All-Be-Nice-To-All-The-Competitors Killer. They saved them for last for a reason, right?
I've attended this judging for a few years now, and I remembered that in the past, Donovan Lewis was quick to call Alan Weiss' Buffalo Chicken In A Flapjack "spicy." Which it really wasn't. It was standard buffalo wing medium hot at most. I remember Lewis' bald head sweating after a bite of it. He downed like three waters right after one bite of that thing that day. I knew that watching Lewis try to pretend that the Sriracha balls weren't spicy -- that was going to be hilarious. You could tell he was prepared for the worst right from the beginning, too: he had more water on the table than any of the other judges.
Sure enough, when the Sriracha balls came out, so did the sweat on Lewis' bald head. When asked what he thought of them, he said, "Wow. Those are HOT. Cleared out my sinuses." From the other end of the table, Derry gave him some much deserved crap. "Donovan, it's meant to be spicy -- it's called 'Sriracha.'" Now, this is the judging panel I had hoped for. Thanks for bringing them out into the glorious fried light, Mark Zable.
At the end of the 2014 judging, Fried Gulf Shrimp Boil went home with the Best Taste title, and Funnel Cake Ale received the Most Creative award. Congrats to the winners, and of course, to all the finalists. What a massive fried honor.
After the official judges judged, the attendees were allowed samples of all of the food. So, I shoved one of everything into my face. Below, you'll find my picks for the 2014 Big Tex Choice Awards:
Chicken Fried Loaded Baked Potato:Butch Benavides brings you this kickass item. (You remember him from Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll and Fried Cactus.) He has the best hair at this event, and this item was my second favorite of the day. It wins my vote for Most Portable. It's essentially a fried twice-baked potato, served with Ranch Dip instead of just Ranch dressing. The dip will be nice if you're walking and eating -- gotta prevent spillage. Cheap Bastard's vote: YES BUY.
Deep-Fried Breakfast For Dinner: Brought to you by Tom Grace and Edna Sutton. They appear to be newbies in this competition, and I'm excited for some new blood. But this wasn't the best entry of the group. I found it to be really heavy (which isn't shocking, considering it is a tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, ham, onion, cheese AND CINAMMON ROLL BITS. THEN, THEY FRY IT. Oh, and then it's served with queso, salsa and cream gravy. Because obviously it is). I know complaining about something being "heavy" in a fried food competition is a dick move, but I'm a dick. Cheap Bastard's vote: If you're stoned, this thing is perfect. It's the SNL Taco Town sketch come to life.
Deep Fried Bluebonnet : Isaac Rousso (Fried Salsa, Fried Cuban Roll, Fried Pop Tart man) brings you what sounds like a Matt McCallister invention. Alas, it's not actual bluebonnets foraged from White Rock Lake-- it's a blueberry muffin stuffed with cream cheese, blueberries and white chocolate. THEN, THEY FRY IT. Then they top it with whipping cream, more blueberries and more white chocolate, a blueberry glaze and powdered sugar. Your dentist is already mad at you for just reading that. And it's just as sweet as it sounds. Mine felt a little under-done in the middle. Cheap Bastard's vote: Get Isaac's Fried Cuban or Fried Pop Tart instead.
Fried Gulf Shrimp Boil: Clint Probst (brother of Survivor's Jeff Probst, just kidding that's not true, but wouldn't it be awesome -- wait I'm the only person who still watches that show -- but still, can you imagine a fried challenge on Survivor? They'd be like, starving, and then Probst would be like, "Your challenge is to run eight miles and then eat a pound of fried cookie dough! To the death!!" OK I'm done. Clint Probst brought you Southern Style Fried Meatloaf in the past) grabs the win this year for Best Taste. I thought the shrimp ball was good. The sauce was nice, too. And it's probably something they can serve up quickly, so their line will move fast at the fair. Cheap Bastard's vote: Try it out, and imagine Jeff Probst feeding it to you.
Funnel Cake Ale: Justin Martinez wins the Most Creative award for this one, and partnered with Community Beer to create it. In the past, Martinez has brought you Deep Fried Thanksgiving and Fried Bubblegum. Dude is smart with naming his entries, and has good concepts. However, this one was not my favorite and here's the easiest way to explain it: After one sip, Judge Cynthia Smoot said, "I'm not a real beer person, but I liked this a lot!" Turns out, I'm a real beer person. I like beer to taste like beer, and funnel cake to taste like funnel cake. I need clear separation of beer and foods. This is probably why I also wasn't a fan of fried beer. Cheap Bastard's vote: 1) I think the Most Creative category is bullshit. It's not required to taste good, it's just required to be an interesting concept. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I think there's a huge flaw in that award, and it should be changed in the future. Do Best Sweet and Best Savory awards, or Most Portable -- I dunno. But Most Creative allows for a product to get a lot of hype without delivering good taste. And I think that's unfair to fairgoers. That said, 2) If you like sweet beer, you might enjoy this funnel cake and beer combo. It's rimmed with powdered sugar, so know ahead of time: this bev is 100% sweet-forward.
Fried Sweet Texas: This item also comes from Justin Martinez, and it was a food carnival in my mouth. Which is exactly what you want from the fair. It's pecan pie, peach cobbler, and buttermilk pie, AND THEN YOU FRY IT. AND THEN YOU SERVE IT WITH BLUEBELL ICE CREAM, YOU GUYS. Cheap Bastard's vote: GET THIS IN YOUR FACE NOW AND SHARE NO BITES WITH NOBODY.
Twisted Texas Tacos: Christi Erpillo (FRIED PEACHES LADY. ) brings you Twisted Texas Tacos this year. The taco itself is not fried, but it's filled with fried okra and fried brisket and cheese and peppers, and it's served with "a new tasty blend of creamy country gravy and spicy Texas chili." I was not a fan of this item. I think it was too many ideas at once. And the combination of cream gravy and chili tasted like a post-Whataburger burp. But this is the 10th year of this competition, and Erpillo has brought so much to it over the years. Her Fried Peaches are one of my favorite things at the fair. This taco just isn't what I'm looking for when I want a crazy fair item. Cheap Bastard's vote: Skip the taco. Get in line early and get Erpillo's Fried Peaches, then proceed to love life.
Fried Sriracha Balls: Mark Zable (A.K.A. bringer of the Fried Beer and my all-time favorite thing, the Fried Chocolate-Covered-Strawberry Waffle Balls) claims the title of State Fair Ball King with the addition of Fried Sriracha Balls to his menu. As he says, "I've got sweet balls, savory balls -- all the balls." And if you have any balls, you'll try these Fried Sriracha balls. They're a fun dare food this year, and they're an enjoyable bite. The balls are filled with chicken, corn, green chiles, tomatoes and the aforementioned cock sauce. I was excited these balls included actual filling aside from breading. And I think as a foil to the Chocolate-Covered-Strawberry Waffle Balls, they're perfect. I think this should have won for Most Creative, but, I'm a self-professed ball-lover. Cheap Bastard's vote: GET THIS. ADD EXTRA COCK SAUCE. MAKE 2014 THE YEAR OF THE FRIED BALLS.
Go to the State Fair of Texas this year and enjoy a corny dog, a funnel cake and a beer. Top it off with one of these new, Big Tex Choice Finalists and a ride on the Texas Star, and you've got yourself some Pure Texas Entertainment. Happy Fried Christmas, everybody.
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John Tesar Eats the Most Absurd Fried Foods in Texas
John Tesar has a lot of opinions. And whether it’s a 3 a.m. expletive-filled tweet directed at a food critic or an interview dishing on his old pal Anthony Bourdain, the Dallas-based chef — who slings 420-day-aged steaks at his acclaimed restaurant Knife and is preparing to publish his first cookbook — isn’t shy about expressing them. So who better to offer a critical evaluation of the weird and (sometimes) wonderful deep-fried foods of the State Fair of Texas?
As the biggest state fair in the nation, the annual event — founded way back in 1886 — draws an estimated 2.5 million visitors for carnival rides, livestock shows, live music, and an auto show, but the biggest attraction is undoubtedly the food. Every year, the fair’s vendors up the ante with a successively more outlandish lineup of (mostly deep-fried) novelty foods: Previous years’ standouts have included deep-fried baked potatoes, chicken-fried lobster with Champagne gravy, funnel cake beer, and fried sriracha balls, just to name a few of the oddball offerings.
Here to help us wade through the vast sea of fryer oil and things-on-a-stick is Chef Tesar, sampling eight foods that are brand new to the fair this year. Each item will be scored on a scale from one to five corn dogs: the elusive five corn dog rating means it’s on par with the pinnacle of all fair foods, while a measly one corn dog means save your tickets for the Tilt-a-Whirl.
First, an important note: All foods were sampled fresh out of the fryer. A few minutes under the heat lamps can turn even the crispiest deep-fried foods into a soggy, greasy mess — s o using charm, flattery, and/or bribery to convince concession stand workers to freshly fry one to order highly advised.
And now, onto the deep-fried extravaganza:
INJECTABLE BBQ BALLS
With approximately 8,000 orders sold during the first two weeks of the fair, these deep-fried orbs are shaping up to be one of 2016’s biggest sellers. Essentially just shredded smoked brisket that’s been breaded and deep-fried, the fritters are impaled with mini plastic pipettes full of barbecue sauce, allowing fairgoers to inject them with said sauce before eating. Creator Glen Kusak says he smokes the brisket himself rather than outsourcing it, which is fairly impressive in its own right when feeding crowds of this size.
For Tesar, they perfectly encapsulate the deep-fried spirit of the fair . "We’re at the State Fair — there’s nothing better than fried barbecue," he proclaims. "Where’s Aaron Franklin when you need him?" He has only one suggestion, which he admits is hyper-critical given the setting: "If the breading could be just one to two millimeters thinner, it’d be an even better experience. But when you’re churning out thousands a day, good luck."
Score: 4 out of 5 corn dogs
FRIED CLAM CHOWDER
As a self-proclaimed "clam chowder snob" hailing from the East Coast, asking Tesar to sample a fried version at the fair was admittedly a bit of a setup. But creator Allan Weiss — who was also the driving force behind the fried guacamole that took the 2013 State Fair by storm — takes his chowder seriously, sourcing it from Maryland rather than making it himself.
Served on a bed of fried clam strips with a side of sriracha ranch, Tesar is impressed by the ingenuity: "It’s a little commercial, but it’s definitely real clam chowder. They really thought outside of the box, frying soup — and that’s a gutsy move, taking on such an iconic dish ," he muses. "You could elevate this too, it’d be delicious. That was fun to eat, I could knock that back with a glass of chardonnay."
Score: 3 out of 5 corn dogs
Though it sounds like a physical impossibility — tossing a mixture of gelatin and water into boiling oil should almost certainly result in serious injuries to humans and/or their kitchen — this weird-sounding concoction has been well-received, snagging the coveted trophy for "Best Taste" at the annual Big Tex Choice Awards that precede the fair. Its inventors aren't spilling the beans on the "proprietary secret" that makes Jello deep-fryable, but did say it was the result of plenty of trial and error and a happy accident or two.
In this case, however, Tesar couldn't disagree more with the judges who came before him: "I'm sorry, but there’s nothing redeeming about this at all. It’s like a really bad doughnut. If you’re on a diet and you’re worried about eating too much fried food at the State Fair, just order the fried Jello first. You’ll be fine."
Score: 1 out of 5 corn dogs
Finally, something that's not deep-fried: It's a cup — filled with sugary soda, naturally — that you can eat. (Why you would actually want to is anyone's guess.) Billing itself as the "first and only edible disposable cup," this strange product made by a startup called Loliware promises to be "100% all natural, non-GMO, gelatin-free, gluten-free, plastic-free, BPA-free, non-toxic, and FDA approved" — whew — and also appeared on entrepreneur competition show Shark Tank , where local billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban ponied up a few hundred thousand dollars to invest in it.
Tesar appreciates the innovation, but likely won't be plonking down any of his own cash to invest: "It’s a work in progress. It's interesting from the imagination standpoint, but it still lacks a lot in execution. I would love to see someone like Grant Achatz or Ferran Adriá take this on and refine the idea," he muses. "The cup itself was stable but it didn’t eat very well. If you took Twizzlers and left them in the trunk of your car for three years, that’s what the cup tastes like. Maybe Mark Cuban should fund a little more research on this."
Score: 2 out of 5 corn dogs
DEEP-FRIED BACON BURGER SLIDER ON A STICK
Sounding not unlike something created with Eater’s State Fair food generator , this one is essentially just an amalgam of several fair food buzzwords: Deep-fried! On a stick! Bacon! Burger! Slider!
This fried absurdity comes complete with (highly unnecessary) directions for eating: Remove the stick, squish the whole thing down with two hands, then devour. "I don’t know about this one. I’d like it better with a slice of American cheese on it, and it could definitely benefit from a dip in ketchup. The general fried-ness is just overpowering, you can’t taste the burger aspect at all. It's kind of like a threesome: It looks very exciting from the outside, but once you try it, it’s just all out of balance and ultimately disappointing."
Score: 1 out of 5 corn dogs
Texans love their tacos perhaps even more fiercely than residents of the other 49 states, but merely serving a taco wouldn't befit the fair. Instead, this taco shell is artfully "hand-woven" out of bacon strips before being stuffed with ground beef, shredded cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and, yes, more bacon. The bacon trend that reached a fever pitch in the early aughts may be dead, but it's still alive and well at the State Fair of Texas.
"It’s a little bacon overkill, a little cliché, but the bacon really does mirror a taco shell, and it has real taco flavor," Tesar says. "Way better than Taco Bell. This is the best thing I've had since the barbecue balls — it's really fun to eat."
Score: 4 out of 5 corn dogs
DORITOS BACON MOZZARELLA CHEESE STICK
Sounding like a late-night Jack in the Box drive-thru spectacle that only a stoner could love, this odd concoction involves a mozzarella stick that’s wrapped with bacon and crusted with Doritos before being plunged into the deep-fryer.
Weirdly, a combination that sounds like it’d be an assault on the tastebuds turns out mostly flavorless. "I don’t know how you take all these ingredients and make it taste so ambiguous," Tesar wonders. "It’s like the Doritos and the bacon somehow just cancelled each other out. It’s amazing. You don’t get Dorito flavor until like 15 minutes after you eat it. This is ambiguity on a stick."
Score: 1 out of 5 corn dogs
FRIED FUNYUN DINGS
What, pray tell, is a "Funyun ding"? This creation combines the crunchy onion-flavored snack food with pulled pork, pepper jack cheese, pineapple, and bacon, and then, naturally, throws it all into the deep-fryer. Slices of mercifully un-fried pineapple are served on the side, though we didn’t see anyone actually eating them. (Conveniently, these are sold at the same booth as milkshakes that have an entire slice of pie blended into them.)
"Ridiculously unctuous and crazy," Tesar proclaims. "This is one of those things that tastes really good, but you just know it’s really bad for you. It’s decadent. This is probably the most balanced culinary experience I’ve had at the fair." In fact, he liked it so much, he suspected it may have been spiked with something: "What is this sprinkled on top of the sauce? Is that molly? " (It's not.)
Score: 5 out of 5 corn dogs
FRIED CANNOLI BITES
After the fried Jello debacle, it seemed only fair to go for dessert round two — and as a born-and-raised New Yorker, getting Tesar to eat a deep-fried version of an iconic Italian-American dessert just made sense. Instead of being stuffed into a cannoli shell, ricotta studded with citrus zest and mini chocolate chips is battered and deep-fried, then assaulted with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce.
Tesar approves: "They’ve taken the creativity of the State Fair and turned it into this fried sphere, but it actually still has the essence of a cannoli. It’s not Arthur Avenue, but as State Fair desserts go, this is excellent."
Score: 4 out of 5 corn dogs
And so this concludes another year at the State Fair of Texas. What will they deep-fry next year — Skittles? Ranch dressing? A literal kitchen sink? In the meantime, Tesar's probably headed for a juice cleanse.
Whitney Filloon is Eater's assistant news editor.
Photographer: Robert Strickland
Special thanks to the State Fair of Texas
Check Out The Most Insane Fried Foods From The Texas State Fair
They say “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” right? Well, the State Fair of Texas just released their 2017 food finalists lists and it’s definitely bigger, greasier, sweeter and even more deep-fried than ever. On Sept. 29, fairgoers can enjoy classics like corny dogs and turkey legs, but there are some new, out-of-this-world, pretty-much-insane, “what were they thinking?”-type foods, too.
Let’s start with the deep fried foods:
Deep Fried Froot Loops®
Basically a fried cereal burrito with whipped marshmallow on the inside and a glaze sauce with powdered sugar to top it off. Sounds just about perfect… but is it sweet enough?
Deep Fried Chicken Noodle Soup on a Stick
The next time you’re under the weather, take the non-traditional route and get your dose of chicken noodle soup fried and on a stick. Sadly, there’s no guarantee that it’ll actually make you feel any better.
Three deep fried cream puffs stacked on a skewer, sprinkled with powdered sugar and a chocolate and caramel sauce. Definitely getting New Orleans vibes. Also… diabetes vibes.
Fernie’s Fried Texas Sheet Cake
This is not your traditional brownie. It’s fried and mixed with ground cocoa puffs, panko and cinnamon sugar. Then it’s glazed with an icing made by Dr. Pepper® and is topped with Texas pecans, whipped cream and a strawberry for a pop of color.
Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger
A burger patty with bacon and queso is wedged between two crunchy funnel cakes aka the buns? Genius! Why did we never think of this?
Gulf Coast Fish Bowl
Ever wanted to drink in an aquarium? Well now is basically your chance. A special blue alcoholic drink with Swedish Fish swimming through, a pineapple as the lid and Nerds on the rim as the “on the rocks.”
Pinot Noir Popcorn
Santa Monica Kettle Corn mixed with cheddar cheeses and a Pinot Noir burgundy wine powder all in one bite. Some of the wine flavor with none of the wine sophistication!
Surfin’ Turfin’ Tator Boat
Juicy lemon butter lobster meat, grilled steak, and a blend of cheeses all stacked into a baked potato, with melted butter running down the side.
Texas Fajita Fries
Deep fried fajita strips doused with a sriracha space overflowing in a breaded cone. Sitting on top of “Texas toothpicks” (fried onions and jalapenos) drizzled with pico de gallo and a spicy sour cream hot sauce.
The Tamale Donut
This donut is stuffed with slow-cooked pork, mixed with masa (corn flour) and fried until it’s the perfect “crispy on the outside soft on the inside” combination. Topped off with a trickle of jalapeno salsa.
Check out the rest of the new foods on the list, then make a plan to see them in person!
Fried Sriracha Balls
WHAT IS IT?: This Big Tex Choice Award finalist is more complicated than it sounds — after all, you can't just squirt rooster sauce into a deep-fryer. A mixture of shredded chicken, corn, green chilies, tomatoes and Sriracha sauce is rolled into balls, breaded with crushed tortilla strips and (duh) fried.
LUSCHER WEIGHS IN: "From the guy who brought you my all-time favorite fair food, chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls, comes the sriracha ball. He's the king of balls. It smells like a chicken enchilada. You can definitely taste the green chilies. There's a little heat on the back end but I'm not catching too much spice. It's Sriracha-y, Sriracha-esque — this would satisfy you if you're a Sriracha junkie. If you bought the Sriracha t-shirt at Old Navy, this is probably for you. This guy knows what he's doing when working with balls."
Oh, and just in case you're looking for a little bit more State Fair guidance: Luscher never misses the Dippin Dots, says the Midway's water gun game is the easiest route to winning an enormous stuffed animal, and insists that the Oak Farms stand inside the food court offers one of the best deals at the fair — bottled sweet tea for a mere three coupons. Have fun out there, and don't forget the sunscreen (and maybe some Tums).
Will you be brave enough to try the Texas Fried Chicken in a Waffle Cone? What fair foods will you be sampling this year? Head on over to the Eater Dallas discussion forum and weigh in.