Our Deep-Fried Decade: Ten Years Of Gluttony And Progress At The State Fair
After 10 years, this is where we ended up: four deep-fried butter balls topped with garlic and grape sauce. How did we get to the point where we'd actually eat this?
Photos by Patrick Michels
In the early 2000s, we came to the State Fair of Texas with a doe-eyed, innocent kind of hunger. We'd get a corn dog, maybe a funnel cake or a fried candy bar. Ten years later, we emerged with bellies full of grease, and eyes opened to amazing new possibilities from the deep fryer.
Today, Texas. Tomorrow, the world. That's how it went in the '00s.
Over the last decade, the state fair has been on the cutting edge of the extreme grease movement. Every Major League Eater, every chef featured on This Is Why You're Fat owes a debt to culinary chemists like Abel Gonzales, Jr., -- the man behind fair favorites like fried Coke -- who urged us onward in the '00s to the point we should've seen coming a mile away, the fried food singularity that captivated a hungry nation earlier this year.
2000 and before: The Corny Dog
The original. It's still the face of fried Texas fair food, and for years we were satisfied with one of these and an occasional funnel cake.
Fried Green Beans
A relic of a time when we still struggled with guilt over fried foods, the fried green beans recall earlier attempts to eat our grease and batter with a side of something healthy. We wouldn't stay conflicted for long.
Chocolate Strawberry Waffle Balls
These gooey blobs of fried goodness mark the intersection of the original fried Oreos and Twinkies, deep-fried health food like the green beans above, and the food-on-a-stick influence of the corny dog. Even in 2008, it was our pick for the best of the fried fair food. 2005: The Fried Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana Sandwich
For the first half of the decade, years of casual deep fryer innovation led to the establishment of the Big Tex Choice Awards, which named winners for "Most Creative" and "Best Taste" among the new fair foods. The modified fried Elvis won for overall taste, and offered a hint at what later years would bring.
2006: Fried Coke
Winner for "most creative," and hailed as the "new way to get fat in Texas," this inspired turn by Abel Gonzales dramatically broke the liquid barrier previously blurred in 2005 by "Viva Las Vegas Fried Ice Cream."
2007: The Deep Fried Latte
This year's "most creative" winner riffed on the previous year's beverage with a fried-up fancy drink, incidentally around the same time McDonald's rolled out its McCafe espresso bars.
2008: Fire and Ice
Another Gonzales innovation, it's a deep-fried fusion dish with fried fruit topped with a groundbreaking pineapple whipped cream concoction engineered to avoid melting on top of the hot grease. 2008: Chicken Fried Bacon
With chicken fried bacon, the State Fair of Texas really came into its own as a national gluttony punchline. An obvious pick for the year's "best taste" award, CFB debuted in the year of the Bacon Explosion and other landmarks.
2009: Fried Butter
The decade ends the only way it could have. It took years of new deep-fryer know-how to create it, and years of creeping ambivalence to be willing to eat it. It came at just the right moment, and hints at even greater, greasier things to come.
So what will we dip in the fryer next year? We tackled that question earlier this year on City of Ate, and while it's possible we'll go the super-healthy vegan cupcake route, history suggests three-fried beans (deep-fried re-fried) are more like it. So long as there's a cook willing to drop a ball of lard in the fryer, there'll be an adventurous diner willing to eat it.
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