A few years ago, when I went to the State Fair of Texas, the fair volunteer I was chatting with mentioned I might be interested in attending the Big Tex Choice Awards. Admission includes a swag bag of goodies, the opportunity to taste unique (and fried) Fair concessionaires, and be present during the judging to learn who the winners are before the general public. All the proceeds from ticket sales benefit the State Fair Youth Scholarship Fund. Earlier this spring I signed up for the Big Tex Insider email and, as soon as tickets went on sale, I snagged a set of tickets — one for me and one for bestie.
The Big Tex Choice Awards are held in the Tower Building on the Fair grounds before the Fair opens. There were no crowds and parking was free. After we checked in we received a wrist band and swag bag filled with fun prizes — a Big Tex sippy cup, ball cap, calendar, complimentary ticket for admission to the Fair, and a t-shirt. The first half of the program was commentary by the judges sampling each of the entries named as finalists. In the second half you went through a line, cafeteria style, and received a full-sized portion of each of the eight foods in the finals. We sat down at our own table and began taking photos and writing notes.
First — A disclaimer. We didn’t receive the food hot out of the fryer. It’s impossible to have it super hot for this many people at one time. That being said, it was difficult to fairly judge each food that probably depended on temperature. Second, some of the photos are mine, but some I took from the Choice Awards to best describe the food which is where you can find the complete description of the food. I am offering a brief summary of our opinion.
Caribbean Pineapple Korn-A-Copia. If you want healthy food when you visit the Fair, this would be your choice hands-down. We were not offered the full sized version of this on a half pineapple, instead our serving was in a small condiment cup. So, it was kinda hard to get the full monty on this. It had good flavor, but it wasn’t our favorite. However, we gave it the best in appearance award.
Deep Fried Pulled Pork “Funyan” Dings. I’m not quite sure how you stuff a Funyan, yes the childhood favorite snack, but they did. We give them kudos for that. It was sweet, savory and slightly gooey. It was an interesting blend of flavors, maybe a few too many to discern.
Fernie’s Down Home Chicken Pot Pie Pocket with Mac ‘n Cheese Dip. This was like a Hot Pocket only better. The crust was crispy and buttery. The filling tasted like potpie and at times we both tasted veggies that reminded us of the under cooked mixed veggies our mothers used to make us eat. The mac and cheese wasn’t our favorite. However, we did like the cute flag and the tiny spoon. One judge commented it was best eaten with a scoop of mac and cheese on top of the pie pocket.
Injectable Great Balls of BBQ. Think chopped BBQ sandwich with a crunchy coating. It was served on a bed of coleslaw and a tiny injector filled with BBQ sauce. Bestie, unfortunately, got a chunk of fat in her bite, so that ruined it for her. I liked it because it was interesting.
Southern Fried Chicken and Dumplins. This was my least favorite, but bestie wrote a note that she thought the flavor was good and the gravy was perfect. Our portion, just had one dumplin ball over a condiment cup of gravy with one, tiny biscuit ball. So, it was hard to get the full essence of flavors. I thought it tasted more like turkey and dressing, I didn’t get the chicken flavor.
State Fair Cookie Fries. This received the 2016 Most Creative Award from the judges. Indeed it was. We loved the little box they were served in, along side containers of strawberry and chocolate sauce. I think ours were a little over done, because we didn’t get the gooey cookie center, it was mostly crisp and dry. We were strangely attracted to these fries for some reason.
Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick. What does it say about me that this was my favorite?! Probably because it was basically a cheese burger and a hot dog, sandwiched between Hawaiian rolls, rolled in tempura batter and deep fried. This was the one food served that temperature didn’t affect it’s taste. It was delish. This was also the only sample we finished. It was garnished with a fried pickle and nestled over a basket full of lightly seasoned fries. Two thumbs up on this from both of us!
Fried Jello. This was named by the judges as the 2016 Best Taste Award. If you like Jello, this is for you. We were eager to try this because how in the world can you deep-fry jello? Again, this was strangely appealing and curious. It includes a top secret ingredient and process, making sure that when you bite into the ball of dough, the Jello is intact. It wasn’t runny or melted. There was solid Jello inside.
Bestie was hoping this was her favorite, but it wasn’t. We just couldn’t wrap our heads around dough filled with Jello. But, it worked for the judges which is why they didn’t ask us to do it. Cherry-flavored Jello gets a major sales boost during the fair for this food. Maybe a whole new generation of kids will learn to appreciate this childhood, and Luby’s, staple.
This was a totally fun experience and I will do it again next year. It was very well organized from the parking to the milling around of Big Tex during the meal. See you next month when the Fair which kicks off September 30 through October 23.
Check out all the details on the State Fair of Texas website.