There’s so much to do at the State Fair of Texas -- rides, exhibits, games and taking the obligatory photo next to Big Tex. But what tends to grab the most headlines: the fried fair food concoctions.
It can be impossible to try all of the Big Tex Choice finalists in one trip, especially when there’s so much to do.
KERA staffers are taste-testing this year’s group so you can plan your own trip to the Fair. We’ll outline where you can grab each dish, how much it costs, and our take on the finalists.
Meet the taste-testers!
- Molly Evans, assistant digital producer/first-time fairgoer: “I eat three meals a day, but dinner is always the largest and most well-balanced. I would choose to eat ice cream over anything, but I like healthier sweet foods, too — fruits and vegetables, granola and cheese (lots of cheese). Since I’ve moved to Texas, I’ve upped my spice tolerance, eating roughly 90 percent more salsa and peppers than when I lived in Oklahoma. And, I’m not a big meat-eater but I’ll be making a well-deserved exception for a Fletcher’s corny dog.”
- Becky Fogel, statewide newscaster: "If I had to compare my eating habits to an animal, I’d say I’m like a vulture. I won’t just clean my plate – I’ll help you finish your meal, too. While, it’s hard for me to nail down a favorite food, I’m all about things that are fried and sweet. And you can never go wrong with a cheeseburger."
- Rachel Osier Lindley, statewide coordinating editor: "I love to eat, and have three healthy size meals a day. My favorite foods are spicy Thai and Japanese food, lots of noodles and fresh vegetables. I don’t often eat heavily fried foods (besides fries, because fries are delicious.) I’m curious to see how my stomach will handle the fair food! I was also a vegetarian or vegan for 20 years and only recently started introducing meat into my diet. Overall, I’m nervous about this taste test. I feel out of my element!"
- Rhett Hamilton “Hambone” Lindley, 4 years old: “I like to eat fruit, like strawberries and bananas and apples. I like steak and fries and pineapples. I don’t liked mashed potatoes.” His mother reports he’s a very picky eater. “He prefers snacking and sweets to actual meals, so it’s always a struggle to get him to eat. He’ll usually only take one or two bites of something. Every meal is a taste test.”
- Krystina Martinez, Morning Edition producer/reporter: “I’m a light eater who eats small meals every few hours. I gravitate towards salty or well-spiced foods. I love Asian cuisine, and I can eat my weight in chips if left to my own devices. I’m not a big sauce person. If a meal has sauce, I usually prefer it on the side. I’ll try new things, but there are certain foods that are a no-go for me. I dislike gravy, potatoes, whipped cream and I’m also allergic to pineapple. Needless to say, this taste-test will be a major challenge for me!”
- Hady Mawajdeh, arts reporter: "I love food! In fact, I like to consider myself a bit of a foodie. I cook just about every day. I love trying new things. And I worked at two of the nation's largest gourmet grocers over the course of a decade. So you can say that I know my way around a plate. When it comes to the sorts of foods I eat, I like to believe that I'm pretty trendy. I read Bon Appétit and follow some incredible chefs on Instagram, so I know what trends to follow. Unfortunately, festival food does not usually come across my radar. That means I am flying in blind. I have no idea what to expect and I'm a bit intimidated by choices like Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick and Deep Fried Pulled Pork Funyun Dings. Anyway, wish me luck and here's hoping the Southern Fried Chicken & Dumplins don't kill me!"
Southern Fried Chicken & Dumplins: Shredded chicken, seasoning, dough and a touch of gravy is rolled into balls, coated in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Fried ‘”biscuit bites” and gravy are served on the side.
Location: Crazy Otto's
Verdict from Hady: “Oh that’s good! That’s really good! It’s kind of like having Thanksgiving stuffing and turkey fried and put in a delicious sauce.”
— hady mawajdeh (@hadysauce) September 30, 2016
Injectable Great Balls of BBQ: These deep-fried brisket balls come with a pipette to inject bock barbecue sauce.
Location: Hans Mueller and Yoakum Packaging Co.
Verdict from Becky: "This isn't my favorite way to showcase brisket but it was surprisingly juicy. Plus jabbing BBQ into a fried ball of meat is pretty fun. But I'd stick with a tried and true corn dog over this odd meatball."
Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick: This triple-threat features a beef patty stuffed with cheddar cheese, bacon and a beef hot dog between a Hawaiian Roll. The whole thing is then fried and skewered.
Cost: 18 tickets
Location: In front of the Crazy Mouse ride on the Kidway.
Our verdict from Krystina: “I was really hungry, so this may skew more favorable. The mix of spices in the beef was great, but I didn't taste any bacon, and the beef wasn't stuffed with the hot dog. Rather, it was skewered like a kabob. The best part of this was the deep fried Hawaiian roll. I'm a sucker for Hawaiian rolls. The fries were crispy enough, but not evenly seasoned. Overall, it was tasty, but it wasn't entirely as it was described. Also, it's pretty small for an 18-ticket item.” (That’s $9 – each ticket costs 50 cents.)
State Fair Cookie Fries: Essentially cookies in fry form, complete with the crinkle-cut look. You get your choice of chocolate chip or sprinkle flavors, along with a strawberry or chocolate sauce for dipping. (Cookie Fries won the Big Tex Choice most creative award.)
Cost: 14 tickets
Location: Magnolia Beer Garden
Our verdict from Molly: “I tasted the sprinkled cookie fries. They were served warm with strawberry dipping sauce. They were crispier than I had expected and had less flavor. The dipping sauce was the best part. I probably wouldn't buy them a second time unless you wanted to try the second flavor -- chocolate chip.”
— KERA News (@keranews) September 30, 2016
Fried Jell-O: It wouldn’t be a State Fair without something unusual as a Big Tex Choice finalist. Cherry- flavored Jell-O is covered in panko breading, fried, and then topped with powder sugar, whipped cream, and cherry garnish. According to the judges, “this dish has the perfect amount of crunch to compliment the jiggle.” (Fried Jell-O won the Big Tex Choice best taste award.)
Cost: 16 tickets
Location: Ms. Ruth's by the Cotton Bowl
Verdict from Molly: "I was really skeptical (and full) before eating this one, but it really deserves 'Best Taste.' The breading was warm and soft. The Jell-O inside was fruity and the consistency of jelly from a jar. It's one the pricier side but I recommend if you want a better version of a funnel cake."
Deep Fried Pulled Pork Funyun Dings: This dish takes a gas station-favorite snack and adds some heft. It’s stuffed with pulled pork, pepper jack cheese, pineapple slices and bacon before it’s deep fried in batter.
Cost: 18 tickets
Location: Inside the food court in front of Big Tex Circle at the Scrumbscious Pieshakes stand.
Our verdict from Krystina: “The first bite you take is packed full of flavor. I'm not even sure where the funyuns are, but it doesn't matter because the mix of pulled pork, cheese, and pineapple bits works so well. This is so delicious, it doesn't even need the barbecue sauce. I have no review of that, or the pineapple slices that come with. I'd say it's worth the 18 tickets.”
Caribbean Pineapple Korn-A-Kopia: Served in a pineapple half shell, the Korn-A-Kopia features marinated grilled chicken and shrimp served over yellow Caribbean fried rice, topped with salsa and pineapple rum glaze.
Cost: 40 tickets
Location: Near the rides and carnival games on the backside of the Cotton Bowl.
Verdict from Rachel: "She had been looking forward to this all day. It was hard to find. The price tag was high — 40 tickets, but it feeds a lot of people. The chicken is dry, but shrimp is amazing."
Verdict from Becky: "It's a flavor explosion of tropical delight, and the shrimp is top-notch...for a state fair."
Verdict from Rhett: "It looks good, but I'd rather not try it."
Fernie’s Down Home Chicken Pot Pie Pocket with Mac-n-Cheese Dip: Chicken pot pie ingredients are folded “hot pocket” style into pastry dough and deep fried. Comes with a side-serving of mac ‘n cheese-inspired dip.
Cost: 16 tickets
Location: The Dock and the Funnel Cake Factory
Our verdict from Rachel: "Upon first bite, I found the texture on point. The crust had that pot pie flavor but was a bit too greasy. The filling was chunky and enjoyable, but could have been more salty or spiced. The mac and cheese sauce helped jazz it up. It was creative, but I didn't want to eat the whole thing."
Rhett: "Eww. I don't want it. It smells disgusting!"
The Fried Jell-O, Southern Fried Chicken and Dumplins and the Deep Fried Pulled Pork Funyun Dings rose above the rest of the pack. Molly loved the Fried Jell-O for its warm breading and the jelly-like consistency of the Jell-O. Becky and Hady voted for the Chicken and Dumplins for its 'Thanksgiving-like' flavor. Despite being unable to find the Funyuns, Krystina enjoyed the Funyun Dings because it packed a lot of flavor into a small, deep-fried package.
Video: Meet the State Fair of Texas food creators
Have you tried the Big Tex Choice finalists? Tell us your thoughts!