Texas' biggest state fair is going even bigger on food this year. For the first time in the 13-year history of the State Fair of Texas' Big Tex Choice Awards, 10 dishes, up from eight, have been named finalists for 2017.
What this means: Everything really is bigger, including the concessions competition, at the State Fair of Texas, which will run Sept. 29 through Oct. 22. If you're the type who taste-tests every Big Tex Choice Awards finalist -- as many devoted fair fans do -- you'll be tasting two extra dishes this year. Wear pants with an elastic waist.
The list of Big Tex Choice Awards finalists proves State Fair concessionaires have tried to fry almost everything on Earth. But they still came up with some surprising additions.
The list of Big Tex Choice Awards finalists for the 2017 State Fair of Texas:
a.k.a., the 10 dishes you'll be talking about this fall in Dallas
Deep-Fried Chicken Noodle Soup on a Stick
Deep-Fried Froot Loops
Fernie's Fried Texas Sheet Cake
Funnel Cake Bacon Queso BurgerThat's a lot of fair foods in one dish! The top and bottom of the burger, the "buns," are made of funnel cakes. Inside, there's a beef patty, bacon and queso. Powdered sugar gets dusted on top.
Gulf Coast Fish Bowl
Pinot Noir Popcorn
Surfin-Turfin-Tator BoatLobster has returned to the State Fair of Texas. Unlike in 2015, however, this dish isn't fried. The Surfin-Turfin-Tator Boat is lobster and steak, grilled and stuffed into a baked potato with cheese and garlic butter. A single lobster claw sticking out of the top gives it a dramatic look.
Texas Fajita FriesMost everything in this dish is fried: the beef fajita strips as well as the onions and jalapenos they sit on. Pico de gallo and sour-cream-guacamole sauce come on the side.
The Tamale Doughnut
Do you think these foods are more or less wacky than past years' Big Tex Choice Awards? Tell us on Twitter at @guidelive.
This year's Big Tex Choice Awards include a few usual suspects like Erpillo, whose parents are credited with bringing funnel cake to the State Fair of Texas. She started working at the State Fair at 17 years old, some 50 years ago. Her finalist dish, Fernie's Fried Texas Sheet Cake, is named after her 91-year-old mother, who still visits the fair nearly every day.
"As far as I'm concerned, the State Fair of Texas has the most elevated fair food, period," Erpillo says.
The Big Tex Choice Awards finalists include some newcomers, like David and Melissa Harrison, who entered the contest for the first time this year. Unlike some concessionaires who fuss with recipes for nearly all 11 months of State Fair off-season, the Harrisons came up with the Surfin-Turfin-Tator Boat, never actually made the dish, and submitted the idea.
"I'd never put that potato together until the night before I had to serve it," says David, speaking of when he had to submit his food for tasting. But he'd been dreaming of a lobster- and beef-stuffed baked potato ever since his blackened shrimp baked potato was a hit at the fair in 2016.
How does it taste? "Oh my goodness," David says. "Oh, it's good."
State Fair concessionaires have been selling wacky ingredients for more than a half-century. (See this story about the "4 essential State Fair of Texas" foods and you'll see that the State Fair food biz has a deliciously rich history.)
Much newer is the famous Big Tex Choice Awards, the annual who-fried-the-strangest-thing contest that earns concessionaires serious bragging rights. In just over a decade, Texans have been introduced to fried Coke and fried beer, fried cookie dough and fried bubblegum. Perhaps the quintessential gut-busting Big Tex Choice Awards winner was fried butter, which took home the 2009 prize for Most Creative.
How do you fry butter? Or beer? That's part of the puzzle, and part of the fun, for concessionaires.
For the 2017 Big Tex Choice Awards, judges are going to pick three winners, not two on Aug. 27. There's Best Taste - Sweet, Best Taste - Savory and Most Creative. Concessionaires who made savory or sweet dishes formerly had to compete against one another for one Best Taste title. Judges won't have to compare deep-fried lobster to carrot cake, as they had to do in 2015.
Last year, 82-year-old Ruth Hauntz won Best Taste for her Fried Jell-O, a simple dish of cherry Jell-O battered and dipped in the fryer, then topped with powdered sugar, whipped cream and a cherry. Serial concessionaire Isaac Rousso won Most Creative for his Cookie Fries.