There are plenty of reasons to admire the State Fair of Texas. There’s Big Tex! He’s basically immortal. There’s the free concert series headlined by stars like Kacey Musgraves, Jazmin Sullivan, and AB Quintanilla! There’s the livestock competition! The car show! The Red River Showdown! But if we had to summarize the appeal of the State Fair in only two words, they wouldn’t be “Big Tex,” “live music,” or even “college football.” Those words would be “fried foods.”
Texas Monthly has devoted a fair bit of space to the legend of fried food at the State Fair. Take a look at our archives. But the 2016 edition of the event breaks from tradition in one key way: normally, the list of soon-to-be-iconic foodstuffs (deep-fried butter, bacon cinnamon rolls) that are going head-to-head in the Big Tex Choice Awards competition are unveiled during the event itself. This year, however, Big Tex and friends opted to tease us by unveiling a list of 34 semi-finalists nearly a month before the winners (we’re all winners) and losers (that too, if you ask our arteries) are determined. But the catch is that these 34 items are released by name only, with no photos or additional information available.
For some of this stuff on this year’s list, that’s fine. “Bacon-wrapped churros” are presumably churros wrapped in bacon. They sound very good. “Bacon-wrapped pork belly on a stick” describes not just the food, but also the serving instrument. Also, it sounds very good. “Funnel cake sundae”? That also sounds very good, and you have a clear idea of what that will look and taste like. But the list of 34 also includes some pretty esoteric names that, while certainly evocative, don’t give us much to go on.
In the name of baseless speculation, then, we’ve taken a handful of the more abstractly named foodstuffs and attempted to determine what they might actually be all about.
Crunchy Fried Oinkers
Googling the word “oinkers” brings up a series of photographs of adorable baby piglets. Which, not gonna lie, kind of makes us want to go vegan.
But we’ll focus on the weird CGI monster pig on the far left and assume that this will taste good, because “crunchy” and “fried” are great words to see as a descriptor for a State Fair food item. The question, then, is what kind of pork product is getting the crunchy-fried treatment? Bacon seems like the obvious guess here—of the 34 semi-finalists, a whopping nine of them have bacon right there in the name. On the other hand, if these suckers were made with bacon, they’d probably just be called “crunchy fried bacon things” and cruise to an easy victory. It could be pork belly—a regular of high-end State Fair foods—but if you’re using one of the fancier parts of the pig, you’d probably say so. We’re going to guess, then, that “oinkers” are either pork rinds with a cuter name, or maybe, like, a bunch of pulled pork that’s then mashed into a ball, battered, and then deep-fried.
Barn Yard Burger
Here is a fun fact: Did you know that Wendy’s has a secret menu? On that menu is something called the Barnyard Burger, which features a selection of all of the different meats you might find from animals living in, uh, a barnyard. It’s chicken breast, a beef patty, and bacon, along with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. We’re going to assume that the Barn Yard Burger at the State Fair is a riff on that—there’ll be a bun, and we’ll say that the chicken patty comes deep-fried. There’s likely to be bacon, but they don’t need to stop there—why not a ham slice, or maybe some pulled pork? Then presumably a really good hamburger patty that turns the chicken and pork products on the bun basically into condiments. Yes, we will eat this sandwich.
Injectable Great Balls of BBQ
More stirring than descriptive, the “Injectable Great Balls of BBQ” have certainly fired up our imagination. “Balls of BBQ” sound very good, even if they make our inner thirteen-year-old snicker; the word “great” here suggests that these suckers are large, which they probably need to be if you’re going to be injecting something (probably BBQ sauce, but maybe pickles and onions? Who knows!) into the mix. We’re going to go with a selection of smoked meats, dropped in a puff pastry shell and fried, then injected with sauce for a unique BBQ confection, and we’re hope we’re right.
Texas Fried Pinatacolupa
Okay, this one is tough. “Texas” is a great word, we love seeing “Texas” in print, but it tells us nothing at the State Fair of Texas. Literally every item on the list of 34 semi-finalists could start with “Texas.” It’d be pretty funny if they all did, actually. (There are only two—this, and the Texas Fried Buffalo Quail) But when we’re trying to parse a foodstuff based on the handful of words made available to us, “Texas” doesn’t get us very far. “Fried” is better, but given that this is the State Fair, it actually doesn’t get us much farther. It’s a fried thing made in Texas called a “Pinatacolupa.” We’re going to guess that the key component there is either “Pina,” and this is made with pineapple, or “Pinata,” and something about this thing resembles a pinata. We’d lean heavily on the “colupa” part, but that’s not much more help, frankly. Go to Colupa.com and you get the Luxembourg Coalition For Peace, which sounds like a very good cause, but not a delicious one. Maybe it’s a reference to “chalupa”? We’re going to roll with that, since we are otherwise baffled. So this is probably a pineapple, deep-fried, that you hit with a stick, then collect the pieces in a boat-shaped tortilla. Delicious and interactive!
Fried Prime Rib Quesadill”O”
This one wasn’t a mystery at all except for the very last letter, but that throws everything we think we know about the otherwise very clear foodstuff into doubt. Obviously this involves fried prime rib and cheese, presumably in some sort of tortilla, but can we be sure? “Fried prime rib quesadilla” makes perfect sense—but a “quesadillo” is a mystery. Does the prime rib lie tall under the top tortilla, so that the concoction itself sort of resembles an armadillo? That seems sensible. But who can be sure? Maybe “quesadillo” is a false cognate of “quesadilla” and it’s actually a well-loved dish in Norway that is just making its debut on American shores for the first time. We can’t know just yet.
State Fair Cookie Fries
Intriguing! “State Fair” is a similarly evasive descriptor at the State Fair, but we can toss that out and take a moment to ponder the compelling mystery that is “cookie fries.” This almost definitely involves some sort of raw cookie dough being deep-fried, but “cookie fries” suggests that they’re shaped kind of like french fries, and that it’s not battered, or this would probably be called “Deep-Fried Popcorn Cookie Bites” or something, which also sounds very good. So we’re going to go with cookie dough that’s rolled out, then cut into strips, and flash-fried into something that tastes like heaven in your mouth. Whoever came up with this is a genius.