When it comes to fair food, we think of indulgence—deep-fried delicacies, juicy meats off the grill, and sweet, sweet desserts. Every year, the State Fair of Texas puts fair food to the test with their annual Big Tex Choice Awards, where a panel of judges determines the fair’s best savory, sweet, and most creative dishes. Coined after the annual fair’s beloved 55-foot tall mascot, Big Tex, the competition shows why everything is better in the Lone Star State.
In the 18th installation of the coveted competition, 10 finalists created original, unique foods to not only take on the title of the best at the fair but to potentially introduce new dishes to the public. The contestants in each respective category are vendors at the fair, and the winners are announced weeks ahead of the State Fair’s opening date to prepare hungry fairgoers with all new treats available to purchase, and where to get them.
The panel of celebrity judges included Hiawatha Williams, the founder of Williams Chicken, Emmy Award-Winning CBS Sports Producer Lance Barrow, Maricsa Trejo, pastry chef and founder of the James Beard Award-winning La Casita Bakeshop, Rob “Big Rob” Maiden, Captain of the Mavs ManiAACs, State Fair of Texas Board Chairman, Bruce Sifford, and co-founder of Karbach Brewing Company Brad Batson.
Tasked with the difficult-yet-satisfying duty of weighing in on the best of the best fare at the fair, the judges tasted everything from chicharron explosion nachos to deep-fried Blue Bell ice cream. After carefully tasting dishes from the 10 finalists, the judges narrowed down the winners, and the results will have your mouth watering (and ready to make a trip to the fair.)
Best Taste: Savory
Tami Nevins-Mayes and Josey Mayes, of Nevins Concessions, have been a part of the State Fair since 1949. The Nevins family is known for selling the classics—cheeseburgers, cotton candy, fried chicken, the works. The pair took home the award for the best taste: savory, winning with their fried charcuterie board—the family’s greasy take on cheese and crackers. Mozzarella, salami, and green apples tossed together in balsamic vinegar and Italian herbs, only to be wrapped up in a wonton wrapper and fried golden. Topped with goat cheese and hot honey, it’s an inherently southern take on the classy appetizer.
Best Taste: Sweet
Becoming a food vendor at the State Fair is no easy feat, and you have even slimmer chances of winning the Choice Awards on your first try. But Chris Easter and his wife Nicole Stearns are defying the odds. Their local restaurant, Southside Steaks and Cakes, only a stone’s throw from the fairgrounds, won the title of best taste: sweet, for a heavenly dish they like to call peanut butter paradise. At its core, the dessert is a deep-fried honey bun. The honey bun is injected with caramel, topped with peanut butter, and layered with your favorite peanut butter candies like Reese’s Pieces, Butterfinger crumbles, topped off with peanut butter cups, drizzled caramel, and a cloud of powdered sugar. If that’s not paradise, we don’t know what is!
One of the great things about living in Texas is being able to embrace multiple cultures at once. The Garza family, who crafted the Cha Cha Chata, is proof. The family first introduced fajitas to the fair in 1984 and has since expanded their menus to include everything from sweet to spicy. In the past, the Garza’s won the award for best taste: sweet with their Arroz con Leche, and the family is back with another decadent treat. As a play on the Latin dance Cha Cha, coupled with their love for horchata, the family uses their top secret horchata recipe and ice cream blended together in a cup with a caramel and cinnamon rim and topped off with whipped cream. The drink is then sprinkled with crushed candy, galletas de gragea and deep-fried Arroz con Leche bites. But wait—you’ll be sipping the sweet treat through a churro straw.
Each of these winning dishes will be available for purchase for the duration of the State Fair, September 30 through Sunday, October 23.
For tickets and to learn more, visit Big Tex’s website.