The Big Tex Choice Awards at the State Fair of Texas are a celebration of several things: gluttony, culinary ingenuity, the deep fryer, and the sentiment (best expressed by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park) that when you’re so busy thinking about whether you can do something, you often forget to ask if you should. This year’s semifinalists are an example of all four, with 36 items—19 savory and 17 sweet—stretching the human capacity to conceive of (and digest!) increasingly improbable foodstuffs.
While we await the state fair’s opening in September, we’ve gone through the list to identify the items from each category that we expect might have an impact on our self-esteem, our enthusiasm for innovation, and—indeed—our very will to live. Let’s get into it!
The Butchers Block
The base of this bowl is three-cheese mac and cheese, with an increasingly impractical assortment of meats dropped on top: brisket, fried chicken, candied bacon bits, and sausage, plus jalapeños and a drizzle of brown sugar–based barbecue sauce.
Will to Live: About normal. This is basically a three-meat plate with a side, just all piled into the same bowl. We’re including the Butchers Block on this list mostly to set the baseline for State Fair fare.
Creole Étouffée Beignets
This is like if you went to New Orleans, were determined to sample the city’s famous cuisine, and only had one dish to do it. Étouffée sauce is mixed with shrimp, spicy sausage, and rice, then dipped in beignet batter, fried, and topped with powdered sugar.
Will to Live: Look, folks in New Orleans have been making beignets and étouffée for centuries. If this were a good idea, someone there would have thought of it before now. We would anticipate a slight dip in our sense of well-being after trying these, if not a major impact on our sense that the world is still a good place.
Deep-Fried Birria Bomb
Birria started climbing the viral food power rankings around 2018, as Instagram and TikTok expanded awareness of the stewed meat dish—most commonly in cheesy tacos. The subject is controversial. Does that mean the Deep-Fried Birria Bomb is behind schedule? Maybe! Regardless, this offering wraps birria, Oaxaca cheese, and mashed potatoes in a batter and deep fries them before topping it all with ranch dressing.
Will to Live: Up! The potatoes—a twist on Peruvian papa rellena—are a nice touch here, and recognize that you need a bit more than just birria to be interesting in 2023. This actually sounds pretty good.
Loaded Fries Pizza
This is a slice of New York–sized pizza dough with ranch dressing instead of red sauce. There’s still mozzarella, but then the only toppings are french fries, cheddar cheese, and bacon.
Will to Live: Way down. Does a slice of sixteen-inch pizza dough even have the structural integrity to support all of these toppings?
Taki Ramen Tostada
This isn’t soup—the ramen here is a packaged noodle cake, which is flash-fried and covered in taco meat and sesame slaw, garlic lime aioli, queso blanco, and crumbled Takis.
Will to Live: Seriously affected. We didn’t eat this when we were 22 and our roommates made this in a late-night feat of stoned desperation, and we’re not eating it at the State Fair.
The Tomato-Tomahto Potato-Potahto Slyder
This is almost certainly a dish that started with the name and then was reverse-engineered to make it fit. What we’ve got here is a mini cheeseburger with fried green tomatoes for the bun, drenched in queso, and served atop a bed of french fries.
Will to Live: Severely impaired. Setting aside how it would feel to eat this, we don’t even want to have to order it by name.
The official listing from the State Fair of Texas includes an exclamation point, so we will too. Did you know turkey ribs aren’t actually the ribs of the turkey? They’re turkey shoulders, with a taste and texture that resembles pork ribs. In this case, they’re fried and served with french fries, seasoned like either Thanksgiving stuffing or with barbecue sauce.
Will to Live: Pointing up! These sound good—a chance to try a cut we don’t usually eat, served in a form that sounds tasty but not godless.
Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopaipillas
Okay, so take a basic sopaipilla, then top it with bananas, bourbon syrup, candied pecans, mascarpone cheese, Nilla Wafers, and powdered sugar.
Will to Live: Setting the baseline for the sweets, we are happy to try these. Sopaipillas are delicious, and all the items added to this one seems like they should go well together.
This is a cotton candy–infused margarita served in a pink cup, topped with additional fresh cotton candy.
Will to Live: Down. If this sounds good to you, you probably aren’t old enough to drink it.
Deep Fried Honey Butter Brisket Swirls
These are basically like cinnamon rolls, but with brisket where the cinnamon sugar mix would be? Then they’re deep fried and glazed with “secret honey butter sauce.” (Is honey or butter the secret?)
Will to Live: Seriously impacted. It is possible these taste good, but even if you like it, imagine having to explain what it was you enjoyed.
Deep Fried Texas Oatmeal Pie
If you assumed this was just an oatmeal cream pie battered and fried, well, you underestimated the Big Tex Choice Awards. These oatmeal cream pies get dipped in Dr Pepper–flavored pancake batter, fried, drizzled with a Big Red reduction, and then covered with marshmallow sauce.
Will to Live: Our will to live is up at the moment, in that we want to live until at least late September so that we can try these. The jury’s out on how we’ll feel after that.
Not’cho Average Nachos
These are not nachos. These are wontons with fruit filling that are deep fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Then they’re covered in whipped cream, brownie crumbs, and more fruit. Then they’re drizzled with citrus and chocolate sauce. Then they’re topped with a cajeta-filled churro.
Will to Live: Honestly, even imagining how messy these would be to eat in public makes us want to die a little.
Things are getting weird at this point. Here we’ve got seasoned chicken wings battered in funnel cake mix and deep fried, then sauced in a honey-garlic blend, spiraled, infused with strawberries, sprinkled with powdered sugar and lemon rub, and finally covered in whipped cream and strawberry syrup.
Will to Live: If these were presented as a savory item, they’d sound terrible. As a dessert, they still don’t exactly sound good, but adding chicken to a funnel cake sounds kind of intriguing in a way that eating an entrée full of fruit and sugar does not.
The Fruity Pebble Pickle
A big ol’ pickle, wrapped in both a Fruit Roll-Up and Fruit by the Foot (wait, there’s a difference?), then additionally sweetened by drizzling it in sugar syrup, and then coated in Fruity Pebbles, before sweetening once more with strawberry snow cone syrup.
Will to Live: Severely impacted. Pickles deserve better.
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