Dennis Jansen and Cassandra Jaramillo take a selfie with Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas.

Dennis Jansen and Cassandra Jaramillo take a selfie with Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas.

Rose Baca/Staff Photographer

If you’ve recently moved to Dallas, you’ve surely been told you have to check out the State Fair of Texas.

Could it really be as great as the locals say?

I visited the fair this week with two other Dallas newcomers. Our verdict: The fair exemplifies the state’s mantra that “everything’s bigger in Texas” and is a must-do.  

My colleagues and I are new to North Texas, moving here within the last three months. Multimedia producer Benjamin Robinson is from North Carolina, mobile news editor Dennis Jansen is from Minnesota and I was raised in southeast Texas, which sometimes feels more like Louisiana than Texas.

We all grew up going to state or county fairs and thought that we had seen everything a fair had to offer in greasy fried foods and carnival rides. But it wasn’t until we went to the State Fair of Texas that we realized this city’s definition of a fair would fall under our definition of an amusement park.

Here are six things for newcomers to know about the State Fair of Texas:

Big Tex: The character

Visits to amusement parks usually involve taking pictures with characters. When the family goes to Six Flags, pictures with Bugs Bunny are a must. Or if you go to Disney World, you can’t leave without snapping a photo with Mickey Mouse.

At the State Fair, that character is Big Tex. Since the 1950s, he’s been the central figure of the fair that waves to crowds and greets them all with a “Howdy, y’all.”

It might seem embarrassing to take a selfie with a 55-foot-tall mechanical cowboy, but nearly everyone does it.

Dennis Jansen eats a turkey leg at the State Fair of Texas at Fair Park in Dallas on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News)

Dennis Jansen eats a turkey leg at the State Fair of Texas at Fair Park in Dallas on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News)

“It’s a corny dog, not a corn dog”

State Fair of Texas taste test: This year's winning foods are a letdown

You’ll find your staple fair foods like funnel cakes, turkey legs and fried Oreos. And then there are unique options like this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards finalists, including Fried Jell-O, Deep-fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick or Injectable Great Balls of BBQ. There are so many food choices that the crowds tend to even out among them.

“It’s very busy. But I’m surprised that lines for food weren’t so bad — except for the corny dog —because there’s so many options,” Dennis said.

Many people said we needed to eat a Fletcher’s Corny Dog. It’s well worth the wait. A word of caution if you’re new here: Get the name right. I once called it a Fletcher’s corn dog and was immediately corrected with “you mean corny dog.”

The Grand Champion steer was auctioned to $131,000.  (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)

The Grand Champion steer was auctioned to $131,000. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)

Get to know Texas livestock

Obviously, agriculture is a large part of Texas. Going to the State Fair offers an opportunity to see educational shows like a cow-milking demonstration or seeing the livestock auction where a steer can sell for more than $100,000. One tip: If you’re squeamish, beware of some explosive barnyard moments.

See the stars at the Texas Star

Ferris wheels are essentially at every fair, but the one at the State Fair is called the Texas Star. It’s a good name, because you’re nearly as high as the stars when you ride it. It offers a breathtaking view of this city we all just moved to.

The fun but unusual aspects of the fair

State Fair of Texas 2016

The games are on the midway. You don’t have to play them, but you do have to visit the midway barker. He’s a real guy, whose disembodied torso sits on a pole as he delivers jokes and comments. Where are his legs? It sounds bizarre, but he’s so entertaining. Just try to figure out how they do it. There’s also a unique butter sculpture every year at the fair that’s worth seeing. Surprisingly, it doesn’t melt in the October heat.

Fairgrounds require comfortable shoes and map

“This fair feels more like an amusement park,” Benjamin said. “That’s how big it is.”

It’s dozens of acres with exhibits, concerts, contests and demonstrations at every corner. It's so big it would be impossible to do everything in a day. Luckily, the fair still has more than a week to go, through Oct. 23.

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