The State Fair of Texas revealed this year's winners of the Big Tex Choice Awards on Monday and they are (drumroll please) ...
A deep-fried Cuban roll filled with chopped ham, pork shoulder, cheese and pickles drew "Best Taste" honors at the State Fair of Texas' fried-food contest.
Meanwhile, the three-judge panel for the Big Tex Choice Awards chose for "Most Creative" honors a Thanksgiving dinner of stuffing, turkey and cream corn rolled into a ball and deep fried.
At the Labor Day event, the judges tasted the culinary creations from eight fair food vendors before picking the winners. A committee had selected the finalists from among 54 entries.
All eight finalists' dishes will be for sale during the State Fair of Texas, which runs Sept. 27 through Oct. 20, fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said.
"Most Creative" winner Justin Martinez said his inspiration came as he was filling his plate last Thanksgiving. He said he immediately thought "How can I put this together and fry it?" and headed to the kitchen.
As the judges tucked into the fried Thanksgiving dinner, emcee Brad Sham, the longtime Dallas Cowboys broadcaster, quipped, "By the way, there are two balls of Thanksgiving dinner -- after they finish the first one they take a nap and a football game comes on."
"Best Taste" winner Isaac Rousso said he spent about two years perfecting the deep-fried Cuban roll. He said they took all the ingredients, wrapped them in a pastry shell and deep fried it.
"What comes out is just an explosion of flavor," Rousso said.
Other entries included: whipped Nutella wrapped around dough and deep fried with toppings including strawberries and bananas; a fried millionaire pie made of cream cheese filling, pineapple and pecans with toppings including whipped cream and coconut; fried spinach artichoke dip bites; chicken-fried meatloaf; a fried fireball of pimento cheese, pickles, cayenne pepper and bacon; and a deep-fried King Ranch casserole.
Christi Erpillo said the fried casserole was a nod to Big Tex, the towering, cowboy-hat-wearing icon of the State Fair that went up in flames last year. A rebuilt Big Tex is set to be unveiled at this year's fair.
"We said this is our love letter to Big Tex," Erpillo said.
Erpillo, who calls herself the CFO -- "chief frying officer" -- of her family's restaurants at the fair, fries the dish that includes cheese, chicken and chips into the shape of Texas. "To me, King Ranch casserole is the state casserole of Texas," she said, adding, "It's pure comfort food."
Each year, eight new contenders battle it out for a Big Tex statuette and a place alongside notable fried foods at the State Fair of Texas. This year's fair runs Sept. 27 - Oct. 20 and is held, as always, at Dallas' Fair Park.
Take a look at the descriptions of this year's contenders:
Awesome Deep Fried Nutella® – Cream cheese and Nutella® are whipped and spread over flaky Phyllo dough sheets, rolled up and deep-fried. Served with a drizzle of honey and shaved almonds.
Deep Fried Cuban Roll – A filling of slow-cooked pork shoulder, chopped ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and secret sauce is spread onto a slice of Swiss cheese, rolled up in pastry dough and deep-fried. Roll is served with a side of majo sauce for dipping.
Fernie’s Deep Fried King Ranch Casserole – This stick-to-your-ribs TEXAS-SHAPED creation is melted cheese, salty, spicy goodness that is dipped in a zesty southwestern egg wash and coated in panko bread crumbs. Deep-fried golden brown and crunchy on the outside, steamy and creamy on the inside! Served with a side of red, white and blue tortilla chips and your choice of our homemade “salsafied” sour cream or cheesy queso. Each one proudly flying the flag of the Lone Star State and deep-fried in the Heart of Texas!
Fried Thanksgiving Dinner – Mama’s homemade stuffing and diced roasted turkey are rolled in a ball. Next it’s dipped in southern cream corn and rolled in seasoned corn meal — all fried to a crispy golden brown and served with old-fashioned giblet brown gravy. The zesty orange cranberry sauce fills your dipping needs and results in a complete Thanksgiving dinner, FRIED!
Golden Fried Millionaire Pie – Sweetened, fluffy cream cheese filling is loaded with golden pineapple and Texas pecans, then wrapped in a flaky pie crust and fried to a golden brown. Topped with whipped cream, toasted coconut and candied pecans.
Spinach Dip Bites – Creamy and delicious spinach-artichoke dip bites are coated with crispy tortilla chips and flash-fried until golden brown. Bites are served with salsa for an additional kick.
Southern Style Chicken-Fried Meatloaf – Homemade meatloaf slices are coated in an authentic Texas chicken-fried breading and deep fried golden brown. Served with garlic mashed potatoes, Texas cream gravy and a ketchup/brown sugar glaze for dipping.
Texas Fried Fireball – Pimiento cheese, pickles, cayenne pepper and bacon are rolled into a ball, dipped in buttermilk, covered with a jalapeno-infused batter and deep-fried. Served with chipotle ranch for dipping.
AP's Jamie Stengle and NBC 5's Greg Janda and Keaton Fox contributed to this report.