Festivals

State Fair Announces Semifinalists in Cardiac Sweepstakes (aka Big Tex Choice Awards)

It takes a lot of work for a State Fair vendor to win one of these babies. (Is it just us, or is Big Tex looking a little ... not entirely cis here? Maybe not, but we're telling all the conservatives we know that he is, just to annoy them.)
It takes a lot of work for a State Fair vendor to win one of these babies. (Is it just us, or is Big Tex looking a little ... not entirely cis here? Maybe not, but we're telling all the conservatives we know that he is, just to annoy them.) Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas®
click to enlarge It takes a lot of work for a State Fair vendor to win one of these babies. (Is it just us, or is Big Tex looking a little ... not entirely cis here? Maybe not, but we're telling all the conservatives we know that he is, just to annoy them.) - COURTESY OF THE STATE FAIR OF TEXAS®
It takes a lot of work for a State Fair vendor to win one of these babies. (Is it just us, or is Big Tex looking a little ... not entirely cis here? Maybe not, but we're telling all the conservatives we know that he is, just to annoy them.)
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas®
At just after 1 a.m. Thursday, the State Fair of Texas announced the 32 dishes that will advance to the semifinal round of the Big Tex Choice Awards this year.

With 70 days till opening day, the time frame during which you could read food news in Dallas and simultaneously pretend the fair doesn’t exist has officially expired. The fair has earned a nationwide reputation as a place for innovative eatables, and while some call them ridiculously nonsensical, many of us (raises hand) consider them outrageously delicious.

This year’s semifinal slate of 19 sweet and 13 savory dishes, from Bacon Jam Corn Bombs to Twice-Fried Albondigas, are all fully described in the press release, allowing fair food disciples to analyze their potential, make predictions about the finalists, start mapping out eating plans for fair day or just place wagers. But things won’t really get serious until 10 finalists are announced in mid-August.

The Big Tex Choice Awards have been a part of the State Fair of Texas since 2005, and the stakes are high for the concessionaires who participate. Three titles — Best Taste Sweet, Best Taste Savory and Most Creative —  are awarded each year, and a winning entry can mean thousands of additional dollars in revenue during the run of the fair.

The road to the trophies is long and begins with the stiff competition to become a state fair food vendor in the first place. This year, 130 applicants vied for just a few spots as new food vendors. New vendors must complete a season at the fair before they can enter the Big Tex Choice Awards the next year.

The first round of competition requires a catchy name and a description of the food. Competitors also submit a photo of the dish to a panel for “blind” judging. Judges don’t know which vendors are behind each entry, and they base their choices for the semifinal round on which ones look and sound best to them.

This year, 26 concessionaires submitted 43 entries. The 32 entries announced today will be whittled down to 10 finalists in a taste test by a private judging panel, again with no knowledge of who submitted which dish.

After the finalist dishes and vendors have been announced, it’s time to taste the food, and the ultimate competition takes place. The Big Tex trophies for Best Sweet, Best Savory and Most Creative Dish are coveted, and the financial boon is no joke.

“With food as a cornerstone of the annual State Fair, these contenders are more than just successful small business owners; they have proven themselves to be authentic representations of the dedication and passion brought to the table each year,” Karissa Condoianis, spokesperson and senior vice president of public relations said.

A panel of Dallas celebrity judges will select the winners at a ticketed awards event that’s open to the public. Ticketholders will have a chance to taste all of the dishes.

All of the finalists will sell their food items at the fair, and plenty of other vendors whose entries didn’t make the cut may also sell their food items at the fair, minus the award. If you’d like to get an idea of what you might be noshing on at this year’s fair, here’s a little taste.

Deep-fried items dominate the entries list. Of the semifinalists, nine have “deep-fried” in the name and “fried”, “country-fried,” “Texas-fried” and “twice-fried” show up in several more. Some of the dishes that don’t have “fried” in the name are nonetheless fried.

Foods from Texas feature prominently, and combinations of both seem to have a good shot at advancing.
Country Fried Shrimp Grits are battered and fried squares of shrimp, grits and cheese served with shrimp and crawfish sauce. Brisket Brittle is pretty self-explanatory while Texas Easter Eggs don’t actually contain any eggs, but are a fried, egg-shaped mass of meats, spices, cheeses, peppers and “all things Texas”.

Fall flavors tend to sell well at the fair, so we’re looking forward to the Texas Pumpkin Poke Cake. Deep Fried Halloween, on the other hand, sounds absolutely frightening.

For this over-the-top dish, a deep-fried pretzel is coated in candy corn syrup and covered with sprinkles, buttercream frosting and all manner of Halloween candies. It's topped with marshmallow whipped cream and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. We get it; some people like monsters.

The hottest food trends often show up in the dishes, and that’s happening literally in the Takis Locos, made with Takis Fuego chips. They’re reimagined much like nachos, covered with melted cheese, refried beans, sour cream, pico de gallo and cilantro with a crowning topping of serrano pepper.

The Hawaiian Luau has some fried ingredients including Spam (of course) and pineapple with slow-roasted pork, honey-mustard slaw and more on a Hawaiian bun. Frozen Ranch Water, a Texas BBQ Brisket Banh Mi and a Lobster Corn Dog require little explanation.

The Dallas Hot and the Deep Fried I-35 both capitalize on local themes, but the names don’t say much about what to expect. The Dallas Hot is a turkey frank fried in spicy seasoned batter and topped with mac and cheese, fried jalapeños and Cholula sauce.

The Deep Fried I-35 is deep-fried kolache dough filled with smoked beef brisket and barbecue sauce made from peaches and Dr Pepper. Garnished with peach slices and powdered sugar, this one’s gonna be hard to beat for putting the most Texas into one entry.

That’s just a sample of the dishes vying for the top Big Tex Choice Awards prizes. The full list of savory and sweet semi-finalists is below.

If all of this is making you hungry, you’ll be able to read all of the taste-tempting descriptions on BigTex.com. If you’re going to need several visits to the fair to try all of this mouthwatering food, you can buy a season pass on the website while you’re there.

Best Taste – Savory Semifinalists

Bacon Jam Corn Bombs
Country Fried Shrimp Grits
Crawfish Étouffée Stuffed Turkey Leg
Crispy Crazy Corn
Dallas Hot
Deep Fried I-35
Deep Fried Seafood Gumbo Balls
Deep Fried Shrimp Étouffée
Frozen Ranch Water
Hawaiian Luau
Lobster Corn Dog
Lucky Duck Dumplin’
Pork Shots
Takis Locos
Texas BBQ Brisket Banh Mi
Texas Chicken Fried Steak Flauta Basket
Texas Easter Eggs
Texas Fried Surf and Turf
Twice-Fried Albondigas (Mexican Meatballs)

Best Taste – Sweet Semifinalists

Brisket Brittle
Deep Fried Pancakes
Deep Fried PB & Razbrûlée
Deep Fried Peach Cobbler Soul Rolls
Deep Fried Ritz
Deep Fried Toffee
Deep Fried Halloween
Fried Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding)
Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake
Going Bananas
Southern Fried Lemon Ice Box Pie Balls
Texas Pumpkin Poke Cake
The Armadillo
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By day, Kristina Rowe writes documentation that helps users navigate software, and as a contributor to the Dallas Observer she helps people find their way to food and fun. A long-time list-maker, small-business fan and happiness aficionado, she's also been an Observer reader for almost 40 years.
Contact: Kristina Rowe