Fair vendors and judges are well into preseason form. The first round of judging is complete, which included 51 entries from 36 different concessionaires. To enter, the vendor needed to have at least one year of experience at the fair as a concessionaire.
Interestingly, for this first round vendors only submit the name of their fried food creation along with a description and photo. Judges base their choices solely on that. So, if you had a dream of tasting 51 different fried foods, no, you won't be able to find that job on ZipRecruiter.
The entries were whittled down to 36 semifinalists, which were announced July 6. Over the next few weeks, the prelims will begin, and at that time the judges will sample each entry and rank them based on uniqueness, presentation, creativity and taste. No, burning the holy hell out of the roof of their mouth doesn't cost a deduction. These are professionals.
Per the judges' manual, one main question drives the rankings: How likely is a fairgoer to buy the item?
The finalists will be announced in August and the top 10 entries will compete in the final round at a fancy ceremony closer to showtime at the fair.
You can see all 36 semi-finalists' foods here, but below are the six winners we're putting our money on, three each from both the savory and sweet categories, based on descriptions only. Unfortunately, the photos aren't available. Visualize.
Top Three Picks the Savory Semi-Finalists
Deep-Fried Brisket Cheese Sticks
Why haven't we had these already? It makes us excited and angry at the same time. If we were in a casino and there was a spot for these on the roulette table, we'd put all seven of our chips on it. Here they'll use mozzarella and "dress it" with chopped brisket then dip it in an egg wash, dredge through secret family recipe breading and fry it up. A dusting of Parmesan finishes it off, and it's served with a side of a smoked marinara dipping sauce.
Fried Charcuterie Board
Oh my, the distance charcuterie boards have come. At the fair, you can get meat, cheese and fruit all stuffed together in a wonton wrapper, deep-fried and topped with a dollop of goat cheese along with a drizzle of hot honey for a charcuterie bite.
The bayou bowl has a three-cheese macaroni base with both shrimp and crab meat cooked in a garlic scampi butter, topped with a Cajun cream sauce along and a slice of andouille sausage. It's served with a side of French bread to sop up the juices. Let the good times roll.
Top Three From the Sweet Semi-Finalists
Deep Fried Buc-ee’s®
We love Buc-ee's clean bathrooms and so might vote for them to sponsor some lavatories at the fair. (They should totally franchise that.) This concoction is based on their Beaver Nuggets, which taste like the cereal Corn Pops. The snack will be "woven into a batter" then deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar and topped with caramel and Beaver Nugget sprinkles. This gets high scores for ingenuity and pop-culture, but a lower score for technical difficulty.
We'd prefer "Happy with Himself and Not on Opiates Elvis." (OK, he was none of that, and all of that. Just don't take a deep dive into the issue, as you'll lose your appetite.) Anyhoo. This concoction is a freshly baked biscuit with creamy peanut butter and strawberry jelly, layered in marshmallow fluff, which is fire-roasted. Then they put a fat piece of bacon on top of the fluff, along with fried caramelized plantain. Hunk of Burning Love would have been another good name, but we're not here to quibble.
Deep Fried Southern Dessert Dumplings
If you love Thanksgiving and fall, this will be up your artery. They'll stuff sweet potato, pecan pie (including the crust) and dark chocolate into a wonton wrapper, deep fry it and dust it with powdered sugar. The wonton certainly has its work cut out for it. And it comes with a rum-raspberry chipotle sauce, which really might put this over the top. Wonder if they experimented with a cranberry chipotle sauce. Maybe that was too tart.
You'll get your chance to be the judge yourself starting Friday, Sept. 30, which is when the fair opens. It runs through October 23. A party tip we learned from watching the docu-series on the fair, Deep Fried Dynasty, get a poncho and go on a rainy day. There's literally no wait and the vendors will welcome you like royalty. But that's assuming it ever rains again.