State Fair of Texas

State Fair of Texas announces 2023 Big Tex Choice Awards semifinalists

The top 10 entrees will be chosen based on uniqueness, presentation, creativity, and taste and will be announced in the coming weeks

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The State Fair of Texas has announced the 36 semifinalists who will move forward in the Big Tex Choice Awards competition.

There are 19 savory entries and 17 sweet entries, according to fair officials. In the next round, they will compete for one of three winning titles: “Best Taste – Savory,” “Best Taste – Sweet,” and “Most Creative.”

In the savory category, semifinalists include:

  • Butchers Block - If you want ALL THE MEATS, then this is the bowl for you. Start off with three-cheese macaroni and cheese, then pile on the good stuff. Topped with 15-hour smoked brisket, crispy fried chicken, candied bacon bits, jalapeño peppers, and a piece of sausage on the side. The macaroni is then drizzled with a brown sugar chipotle sauce that adds a bit of sweetness and a tad bit of spice. This is the ULTIMATE CARNIVORE bowl.
  • Cornbread Sausage Bombs - Incoming. Get ready for an explosion of smokehouse favorites in every bite. The southern-fried Cornbread Sausage Bombs are finally here. Representing the four major Texas food groups: cornbread, smoked sausage, pimento cheese, and jalapeño. Pecan-smoked Texas sausage slices are topped with a heaping portion of pimento cheese and a slice of jalapeño, then dipped in a fluffy cornbread batter. These savory treats are fried golden brown and served with jalapeño ranch dipping sauce. This Texas flavor explosion will leave you shell-shocked.
  • Creole Etouffee Beignets - Etouffee inside of a French doughnut? Oui. This creole classic begins with the holy trinity of big easy cuisine: onions, bell peppers, and celery. This etouffee sauce is mixed with shrimp, smoked sausage, and steamed rice. The savory Crescent City classic is then dipped into beignet batter and fried until golden brown, and topped with powdered sugar. It is a beignet, after all. Served with extra etouffee sauce for dipping. Bon Appétit.
  • Deep-Fried Birria Bomb - This culinary fusion combines the traditional flavors of Mexican birria and South American papa rellena, resulting in a flavorful and innovative snack for any occasion. Birria bombs are stuffed with birria, Oaxaca cheese, and home-style mashed potatoes. Then they are rolled into a ball of perfection, dipped in a special batter, and deep fried until they reach a golden brown. Lastly, they are topped with fire-roasted poblano ranch dressing and fresh cilantro, which pairs perfectly with this family consommé recipe. The end result is a savory snack that is sure to delight your taste buds with each bite, it will have you singing, "You dropped a bomb on me, baby.”
  • Deep-Fried Pho - Bringing a southern flare to this popular traditional Vietnamese comfort food that is both rich and savory. Deep Fired Pho is handcrafted, rolled up, and deep-fried Texas-style. This unique combination creates a perfect balance between flavorful and refreshing. With every bite, you get a harmonious and succulent mouthful of noodles, slices of beef, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and a taste of aromatic pho broth that has been slowly simmered for hours. To tie this experience together, it is served with a side of pho broth for dipping, lime, jalapeños, cilantro, hoisin sauce, and sriracha for a spicy, fiery kick.
  • Deep-Fried Surf and Turf Empanada - This popular street cuisine throughout Latin America and Spain is a modern dining palette's dream. The unique and authentic flavor profile of the Deep Fried Surf and Turf Empanada combines succulent pulled lobster and crab meat, Palacio Chorizo, sweet corn, heavy cream, cilantro, paprika, and a splash of lime juice wrapped in a traditional corn masa pastry. Deep fried to golden perfection, the empanada will be served with a side of garlic aioli infused with avocado oil.
  • Deep-Fried Sushi Bombs - You will not be disappointed with this BIG Texas twist on sushi bake with BIG flavor to match. Sushi rice is generously topped with imitation crab meat and perfectly seasoned salmon for a quick bake. The sushi bake is then rolled in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried until golden brown and served with a side of seaweed and Yum Yum dipping sauce.
  • Deep-Fried Cheesy Crab Tater Bites - This delicious dish starts with a blend of minced crab meat, shredded potato, cheese, and spices that are formed into tater bites. As they go in the fryer, they become golden brown, and you can smell the seasonings coming together with the crab meat. A cheesy Cajun sauce is simultaneously made, which starts off with the holy trinity: onions, bell peppers, and celery. These ingredients are sautéed perfectly with melty American cheese and a secret Cajun spice mix. As it all comes together, crawfish are added to enhance the flavor experience. These delicious golden tater bites are ladled with rich, silky, cheesy crawfish sauce on top, making sure each bite is topped with Cajun gold.
  • Fried Monte Qristo - Texas BBQ’s spin on the classic specialty sandwich. Layered with brisket, American cheese, and smoked turkey breast with Swiss, then golden fried and dusted with powdered sugar. Served in a recyclable paper tray with raspberry chipotle BBQ sauce for dipping.
  • Fried Texas BBQ Shotgun Shells - This cheesy, savory roll-on-a-stick is the perfect State Fair treat. Made with slow-smoked, shredded, Texas BBQ beef brisket, melted, gooey Velveeta®, and cream cheese, seasoned with Meat Church Texas Sugar Rub®, then rolled in a pasta sheet, wrapped up in hickory smoked bacon, and rolled in jalapeño breadcrumbs. It’s a savory bomb that’s going to be nearly impossible to put down. Take a bite and enjoy the crunchy exterior with the addictive mix of flavors inside, not to mention a kick of heat.
  • Loaded Fries Pizza - Daily, fresh-made pizza dough is classically hand-tossed and stretched onto a giant 16" pizza screen. After ladling on a healthy amount of Texas' favorite condiment, house-made buttermilk ranch dressing, the pie is covered with a layer of freshly shredded mozzarella. Then a pile of yummy, crunchy, salted French fries is added, and in comes a smothering blanket of cheddar cheese. Finally, nothing tops off cheddar fries better than a ton of crunchy chopped bacon. This bakes, and out comes your loaded fries…ON A PIZZA topped with some fresh chopped chives. Dive into this tangy, cheesy, crunchy, satisfying, one-of-a-kind pizza pie.
  • Ox'cellent Soul Roll - Savory beef oxtails are slowly simmered for hours until rendered tender, juicy, and full of flavor. Tasty chunks of meat and crumbled homestyle cornbread are then added and paired with rich butter, celery, and sweet onions. The hearty beef mixture is rolled into a light and flaky, crispy spring roll and served deep-fried. Come and take a bite of this classic Southern staple with a twist.
  • Raspberry Chipotle Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese - The satisfying crunch of grilled bread, the heat of a roasted jalapeño pepper, and the savory richness of bacon come together in this specialty grilled cheese with a touch of sweetness and smoke. This is the Raspberry Chipotle Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese. Fresh jalapeños filled with cream cheese & raspberry chipotle jam are wrapped in bacon and roasted until crispy. Then, they’re sandwiched between slices of white bread and cheddar cheese and finally griddled until golden brown — just like mom did. It’s a new take on something iconic, with just a touch of the unexpected that’s sure to put a smile on your face.
  • Taki Ramen Tostada - A ramen noodle cake is flash-fried, smothered with made-from-scratch savory seasoned taco meat, and topped with crispy Asian sesame seed slaw and a drizzle of garlic lime aioli. Finally, Mexican queso banco and crumbled Takis® are sprinkled on top to complete this Mexican-Asian fusion dish.
  • Texas Thai Up - Deep fried pad Thai with a Texas twist. A combination of pork and beef that’s battered and rolled in pad Thai noodles, then deep fried. This is then dipped in a pad Thai sauce that is a real Thai-up between sweet and savory and finally topped with crunchy cashews and freshly chopped green onions.
  • The Balboa - The Balboa is a pizza sandwich made with Italian flour from Naples to create the lightest, fluffiest bread you have ever tasted. Once the bread has been cooked and rested, it is sliced open, and garlic aioli is spread on the top and bottom, then layered with pepperoni, capicola, soppressata, smoked provolone cheese, tomatoes, banana peppers, artichokes, onions, black olives, mushrooms, and arugula greens. This is finally topped with a balsamic reduction glaze to create the freshest, mouthwatering flavors you’ve ever had in one hand-held sandwich.
  • The Tomato-Tomatoh Potato-Potatho Slyder - It’s a food-centered debate as old as time, and who better to settle this iconic debate once and for all than Big Tex and his friends after they taste the Tomato-Tomahto Potato-Potatho Slyder. The buns are created with Southern fried green tomatoes that are tender and juicy on the inside yet golden and crispy on the outside, creating the perfect base for the two-ounce ground beef patty seasoned with a secret house seasoning, smothered with provolone cheese, and sautéed bell peppers, then layered with pickles and lettuce. Dressed in a secret WAC spread, drenched in a cup of hearty homemade queso, topped off with a delicious, and often nutritious, olive branch, and served on a bed of seasoned potato-potahtos.
  • The Triple C - This ain't your typical chicken and waffles. Start with a homemade waffle cone, then add some award-winning Nashville Hot Jumbo Tenders, hand-breaded, fried to perfection, and mixed with some of the best mac and cheese in Texas. It’s finished with a secret sauce and sprinkles of homemade breadcrumbs to sit right on top. Don't fret — customers can choose between mild, hot, or no spice.
  • Turkey Ribs - A new twist on holiday classics. Take the best part of turkey you never knew you loved, gently fry it, and serve it with stuffing seasoned fries, homemade giblet gravy, and a secret salsa recipe. You can also order it Texas Style with BBQ sauce fries, jalapeños, and pickles. You'll crave it come the holidays, but you'll only get it during the great State Fair of Texas.

In the sweet category, semifinalists include:

  • Biscoff Delight - Immerse yourself in the realm of a classic New York-style cheesecake coated with Belgian chocolate. Each bite reveals the symphony of an outer layer adorned with crushed Biscoff® cookies, offering a delightful crunch. To elevate this edible artwork, a drizzle of Lotus Biscoff® spread cascades gracefully, imparting a caramelized touch. Finally, a crowning glory is bestowed upon this culinary marvel with a perfectly placed Biscoff® cookie that entices you to embrace pure indulgence.
  • Bourbon Banana Carmel Sopapillas - Hot and delicious traditional sopapillas topped with vanilla-caramel-infused bananas, sweet bourbon syrup, crushed candied pecans, sweetened mascarpone cheese, crumbled Nilla Wafers, and dusted with powdered sugar.
  • Churreos - What do you get when you combine perfectly golden deep-fried churros and the deliciousness of cookies and cream? You get Churreos. Mini churros deep fried to golden perfection and tossed in cinnamon and sugar, then we take it up a notch with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and cream cheese icing. Finally, to top it all off, crushed Oreos® are added as the perfect finisher for these loaded churros. This is the ultimate shareable Fair food that is sure to satisfy even the biggest sweet tooth.
  • Cotton Candyrita - State Fair icon meets Texas legend. Did you even go to the Fair if you didn't have some iconic cotton candy? Equally, who doesn't love the legendary Texas margarita? This duo has been perfected in this instant classic beverage. Starting with a cotton candy-pink sugar-rimmed cup with the perfect amount of ice, a cotton candy-infused margarita is then added and topped off with a dollop of fresh cotton candy. Cheers.
  • Deep-Fried Honey Butter Biscuit Swirls - In the spirit of Little Debbie® Pecan Spinwheeels and homemade cinnamon rolls, the Deep Fried Honey Butter Brisket Swirls are a delightful treat with a Texas twist. It’s a buttery, flakey dough layered with 16-hour, slow-smoked, chopped brisket, then rolled and cut into swirls of smokey goodness. Deep fried and glazed with secret honey butter sauce, these crispy, sweet, fluffy swirls are sure to put a smile on your face.
  • Deep-Fried Texas Oatmeal Pie - That’s right; your favorite childhood treat just got even better. An oatmeal cream pie is dipped into sweet and fluffy Dr. Pepper® flavored pancake batter and fried until golden brown. That’s not all; it is then drizzled with Big Red® Soda reduction and covered with marshmallow sauce over top, and dusted with powdered sugar. When ready, it’s the softest, melt-in-your-mouth oatmeal cream pie with the chewy and creamy center you know and love. This is a dessert lover’s dream with a kicked-up Texas-inspired flavor explosion.
  • Deep-Fried Vietnamese Coffee - Calling all coffee lovers. Prepare to be enchanted by the allure of Vietnamese coffee. Meticulously slow-brewed coffee-infused cake that will ignite your energy levels and your sweet tooth. The cake is then rolled into a ball, battered, and deep-fried Texas style. To finish this off, it is dusted with powdered sugar and served with velvety condensed milk. Say goodbye to your mundane cup of joe and join us at the State Fair of Texas for an experience that will leave you begging for another bite.
  • Deep-Fried Candy Pecan Bacon Bread Pudding - This recipe begins with making the perfect bread pudding, a marriage of French bread, and a perfect custard recipe. After it cools, it’s cut into bite-size morsels. As the bread pudding is placed in the fryer, it starts to caramelize the edges, turning golden brown with a rich and creamy center. The bread pudding is tossed in a perfect blend of cinnamon sugar and candy pecans, which find their home nestled next to crispy chopped bacon. It is topped with a New Orleans praline sauce that perfectly ties together these sweet and savory flavors. Lastly, a touch of salted caramel bourbon sauce is added that creates an explosion of flavor which makes you wish the State Fair of Texas was year-round.
  • Fried Cherry Pie in the Sky - We cannot tell a lie—this is the best rendition of America’s favorite pie. A pie tart mold is lined with flakey, buttery pastry dough, then layered with tender, crumbly shortbread cookies, juicy and tart sweet cherries, a layer of blended shortbread cookies and finally topped with more light, airy pastry, and hand-crimped forming the cutest pie. After a quick dip in the fryer, the luscious dessert is topped with a butter almond shortbread crumble, giving you all the taste of your favorite cherry cobbler and tangy cherry pie. Presented with the iconic pairing of Blue Bell ® vanilla ice cream drizzled with cherry preserves, clouds of whipped cream, and garnished with sugared dark sweet cherries. This divine dessert is cherries from heaven.
  • Fried Fireball Shot - The fluffy, airy, melt-in-your-mouth sweetness of angel food cake meets the red-hot and fiery cinnamon flavor of Fireball® Cinnamon malt liquor. After deep frying to a perfect golden brown, Fireball® Cinnamon is poured over the top and into a shot glass. You no longer have to choose between the angel or devil on your shoulder when you shoot back the Fried Fireball® Shot at the great State Fair of Texas®.
  • Island Delight Deep Fried Pina Colada - A piña colada like no other you've ever had. A specialty rum cake recipe is baked and then smashed. Pineapple, creme de coconut, and lime are added, then formed into spheres. These then get dusted in a sweet crumble and are lightly fried. This Island Delight is then decorated with a piña colada-inspired buttercream, golden sprinkles, and sugar glitter. Life on the Island has never been sweeter.
  • Not'cho Average Nachos - Introducing nachos taken up a notch — Not'Cho Average Nachos. To bring this dish to life, they take a wonton wrapper and fill it to the brim with a delicious cherry or apple filling, deep fry it to crispy perfection, and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. Each serving is topped with whipped topping and a dusting of brownie crumbs, then garnished with slices of strawberries, fresh blueberries, and diced peaches. One more step before you dig in, a drizzle of citrus glaze and chocolate sauce is added to bring this recipe to life. A cajeta-filled churro stick is added to ensure all the heavenly flavor can be soaked up and enjoyed.
  • Rest in Heavenly Peach - This sweet treat will make you think you've died and gone to heaven. Two slices of fluffy angel food cake are grilled in rich butter oil until perfectly charred. The grilled slices of heaven then sit on a cloud of light and sweet whipped cream topping. The final and most heavenly touch? A cold dollop of delicious peach pie filling on top to compliment the warm grilled cake. Charred angel food cake, sweet, whipped cream topping, peach pie goodness…may you Rest in Heavenly Peach.
  • Strawberry Chicks-on-the-stick - A dream combination of sweet and fruity with a creative twist. Four seasoned wings are plunged into funnel cake mix, then deep fried until golden brown. The thrill continues when the funnel cake wings (chicks) are tossed and sauced in honey and garlic to add a uniquely sweet flavor. You’ll experience the twist and turns when the Chicks are spiraled on the stick infused with strawberries. They are then sprinkled with a hint of lemon rub and powdered sugar for the perfect balance between sweet and scrumptious mouthwatering dessert. Finally, the chicks lay on top of a cloud of whipped cream and are splashed with strawberry syrup. One bite will have you feeling a roller coaster of emotions – joy, happiness, and excitement.
  • Sweet Encanto - Sweet Encanto is the ultimate sweet delight that is sure to satisfy even the sweetest tooth. A round waffle is lightly sweetened with caramel dulce de leche that is swirled perfectly on a wafer. A specialty cream with slices of strawberry, kiwi, peach, and shredded coconut is added. Then this is topped with raspberry jam and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Take advantage of this amazing opportunity to indulge in the best flavors of Latin America and taste the magic of Sweet Encanto.
  • The Fruity Pebble Pickle - A delicious, whole dill pickle wrapped in every kid's favorite fun snack. A Fruit Roll-Up® and Fruit by the Foot®, drizzled in sugar syrup and coated in one of the most popular cereals in the world, Fruity Pebbles®. This is then drizzled again with strawberry snow cone syrup. It’s crunchy, sweet, and delicious.
  • Trail-ade - If the Texas heat is bringing you down, Trail-Ade is the perfect remedy. This delightful blend of summer fruits, crisp cucumbers, and fresh mint blended with homemade lemonade is the ideal elixir to cure what’s ailing you. Trail-Ade is a fruity, refreshing, nonalcoholic cocktail served in a souvenir cowboy boot cup to be enjoyed anywhere: after a trail ride, in a saloon, and especially while strolling through the State Fair of Texas fairgrounds. As Big Tex would say, “These boots were made for walkin’.” Trail-Ade, it’s boot sipp’n good.

The contest kicked off in June with 57 entries represented by 37 concessionaires.

The whole selection process involves "blind judging" to ensure that the scoring is entirely based on the food, fair officials said.

For a spot in the semi-final round, contestants came up with a name and description for their item, as well as submit a photo of the food.

In the next few weeks, the second round of judging will begin and the top 10 entrees will be chosen based on uniqueness, presentation, creativity, and taste.

According to fair officials, if your favorite item doesn't make it to the final round, it can still be introduced at their stand as "new food" this year.

You can take a look at last year's finalists here.

The State Fair opens on Friday, Sept. 29, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.

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