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Step 1 to getting your mouth on this year's Big Texas Choice Awards finalists.
Step 1 to getting your mouth on this year's Big Texas Choice Awards finalists.
Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists

Can you smell the scent of deep-fried food in the air? Summer is nearing its end, which signals the start of fair season. Every year we’re treated to a new slate of crazy, sometimes questionable, calorie bombs as concessionaires try to outdo each other with their over-the-top treats. This morning, the State Fair of Texas announced the finalists for the 2018 Big Texas Choice Awards as they gear up for opening day of the fair, Sept. 28. Ten deep-fried, food coma-inducing finalists were chosen from 49 entries, five in the savory category and five in the sweet category.

On Aug. 26, the final winners will be crowned in three categories:

Best Taste – Sweet
Best Taste – Savory
Most Creative

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (9)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

Starting with the sweet finalists, the Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice) is a cinnamon-spiced rice ball coated in puffed rice cereal and deep fried. It’s served with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel. This dish comes from the Garza family, who have been serving food at the fair since 1983. They were last a finalist in 2012 with their Deep-Fried Divine Chocolate Tres Leches.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (7)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

Next is the Cotton Candy Taco by Justin and Rudy Martinez, who have two of this year’s finalists. It is a complex creation that involves a graham cracker waffle cone taco shell coated in marshmallow glaze, stuffed with chocolate, toasted marshmallow and organic cane sugar cotton candy. It’s topped with chocolate cookie crumbles and chocolate cream-covered biscuit sticks with marshmallows.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (3)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

Winter Family Concessions also has two entries in the finalist list, including Fernie’s Orange You Glad We Fried It?!, a deep-fried hand pie. Inside the flaky, fried puff pastry is chiffon orange cake, whipped cream and orange preserves. It comes with two dipping sauces and a double citrus twist slice.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (4)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

The State Fair Fun-L Cake Ice Cream is funnel cake-infused ice cream, with funnel cake pieces and powdered sugar, topped with whipped cream and strawberry sauce. The concessionaire behind this dish, Tom Landis, was inspired to begin making ice cream after the Viva Las Vegas Ice Cream won Most Creative back in 2005.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (5)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

Rounding out the sweet category is the Sweet Bakin’ Bacon, a sugary dish with a savory twist. Cream-filled sponge cake is wrapped in bacon and deep fried in funnel cake batter. Ed & Eddie Campbell are making their Big Texas Awards finalists list debut with this treat.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (10)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

If you’re missing a sweet tooth, keep an eye out for these savory finalists, including Deep Fried Shepherd’s Pie by Clint Probst. Inside each deep-fried mashed potato ball is grandma’s shepherd’s pie filling, made of ground beef, mixed vegetables and gravy.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (11)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

The Deep-Fried Skillet Potato Melt is a potato lover’s dream. A mini Babybel cheese is wrapped in a mixture of skillet potatoes and breakfast sausage and deep fried. The skillet potato melt is served in a potato skin topped with cheddar and bacon bites. It comes with sour cream chipotle sauce for dipping. Tom Grace is the creator of this dish and is the man behind last year’s Best Taste – Savory and Most Creative winner, the Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (2)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

Fernie’s Hoppin’ John Cake with Jackpot Sauce is the Winter Family Concessions’ second finalist this year. This iconic Southern New Year’s Eve dish gets a state fair makeover. Black-eyed peas, rice, smoked sausage and green onions are blended with breadcrumbs and eggs, dredged in flour and panko bread crumbs and deep fried. It's served with black-eyed pea relish and pickled okra.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (6)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

The Texas Fried Hill Country is a fried green tomato sandwich with fried mozzarella and basil inside. It’s served on field greens and drizzled with balsamic and sweet local Texas honey. Justin and Rudy Martinez won Most Creative in 2013 with their Deep Fried Thanksgiving Dinner.

From Cotton Candy Tacos to Deep-Fried Shepherd’s Pie: the 2018 Big Choice Awards Finalists (8)EXPAND
courtesy State Fair of Texas

Last on the savory list is the Texas Twang-kie, a savory take on the classic American snack cake. It’s a cornbread cake filled with grilled chicken and white bean chili. Cornbread fries and chili come on the side. Creators Chris and Sherri Howard were 2016 Big Texas Choice Awards finalists, with their Deep Fried Pulled Pork Funyun Dings.

The State Fair of Texas runs from Sept. 28 to Oct. 21.

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