In an annual ritual that it's surely thrilled to revive, the State Fair of Texas has unveiled 32 semifinalists for the 2021 Big Tex Choice Awards Food Competition, with 19 savory entries and 13 sweet.
State Fair concessionaires offer entries they hope will win one of three titles: Best Taste – Savory, Best Taste – Sweet, and Most Creative.
A release from the State Fair of Texas says the scores were tallied "after much deliberation" in the first round of judging, though the scores did not involve tasting the entries; they were evaluated on name and concept only.
In mid-August, 10 finalists will be culled from this list for the final competition.
The fair returns after the forced cancellation of the 2020 event due to the pandemic. While the fair has many beloved components, none has earned more attention in recent years than the Big Tex Awards, thanks to sites like CultureMap that dutifully report on the contestants and competition every year.
Here are the 2021 semifinalists:
Bacon Jam Corn Bombs
Warm bacon jam is ladled over hush puppies, drizzled with ranch dressing, and topped with candied jalapeños.
Country Fried Shrimp Grits
Grits are infused with shrimp and cheese, formed into squares, battered, and deep fried, then topped with shrimp and crawfish sauce.
Crawfish Étouffée Stuffed Turkey Leg
Turkey leg is smoked, then stuffed with crawfish étouffée and served with rice on the side.
Crispy Crazy Corn
Corn kernels are battered, fried, and dashed with seasoning, then topped with pulled pork, pineapple slaw, and jalapeño crema.
Smoked turkey frank that's battered, fried, then topped with mac and cheese, fried jalapeños, and a drizzle of Cholula.
Deep Fried I-35
It's no wonder this entry was approved. Read the description: "Our Deep Fried I-35 is a deep-fried Texas road trip on a plate! We start out in Parker County, Texas, which is famous for its peaches. Next, we move down I-35 to West, Texas, where we stop and pick up a dozen of our favorite kolaches. We can never decide which type of kolaches we like more — sweet or savory — always such a dilemma. The only solution? Sweet and savory. Next, we head south to Dublin, Texas ... famous for, you guessed it, Dr Pepper. After a few hours of driving and a few hours of snacking on I-35 treats, we finally arrive in Austin, Texas, home of some of the best smoked brisket in the world. We combine these ingredients into a sweet and savory decadent tribute to the Texas road trip: the Deep Fried I-35! First, we fry up our kolache dough, leaving a divot in the center for our filling. We top our fried kolache with smoked beef brisket. Our peach juice combines with the Dr Pepper to make a sweet and tangy barbecue glaze, which we drizzle over our brisket kolache. We garnish this road-worthy concoction with peach slices and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Voila, y'all!"
Deep Fried Seafood Gumbo Balls
Roux balls with Gulf Coast shrimp, chicken, crab, and andouille sausage are rolled in saltine crackers and breadcrumb batter and fried, served with dark gumbo roux sauce, and topped with chicken-fried okra spears. The dish will be served with a small bottle of hot sauce and saltine crackers.
Deep Fried Shrimp Étouffée
Deep-fried dumpling filled with rice and shrimp is smothered in onion, celery, tomatoes, green peppers, and cheese, and served with Creole mustard or chipotle ranch.
Frozen Ranch Water
The Original Frozen Ranch Water will contain Topo Chico, lime, and a wine-based tequila that can be sold at the State Fair, with optional flavored toppers such as passion fruit, paloma, raspberry, and watermelon.
Sandwich consists of a soft Hawaiian bun with honey mustard slaw, pork, fried Spam, Hawaiian teriyaki sauce, and fried pineapple rings.
Lobster Corn Dog
Lobster version of the State Fair classic has a breaded and fried lobster cake dipped in batter, served with remoulade.
Lucky Duck Dumplin'
Deep-fried pastry is filled with cream cheese, duck bacon, and corn. An order comes with three, plus a Thai chili glaze.
Smoked sausage is wrapped with bacon, which forms a tiny bowl that holds mac and cheese. It's sprinkled with a sweet, spicy barbecue rub.
Rolled Takis Fuego chips are covered with melted cheese, savory refried beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, cilantro, and a serrano pepper.
Texas BBQ Brisket Banh Mi
Lightly toasted Vietnamese baguette is topped with brisket, barbecue sauce, cilantro, cucumber, pickled daikon radish, and carrots, served with honey Sriracha aioli, hoisin sauce, and jalapeño slices on the side.
Texas Chicken Fried Steak Flauta Basket
Chicken fried steak fingers, shredded lettuce, tomato, and hamburger dill pickle chips are rolled in a flour tortilla and deep fried. It's served with curly fries.
Texas Easter Eggs
Meats, spices, cheeses, peppers, and all things Texas are shaped into an egg, decorated with an Easter-colored ranch sauce, breaded, deep fried, and served in a special Texas Easter egg carton.
Texas Fried Surf and Turf
Filet mignon medallions are filled with chunks of langostino and a slice of fresh jalapeño, then enclosed in a slice of bacon. It gets fried until the bacon gets crisp and the medallions are medium-well. They come two to an order and are served with tempura-fried asparagus.
Twice-Fried Albondigas (Mexican Meatballs)
Spiced beef, rice, and chopped vegetables are rolled into a meatball, deep-fried battered, and coated in breadcrumbs, and fried again. They're served with tomato sauce.
Like peanut brittle, but the peanuts are replaced with Texas brisket.
Deep Fried Pancakes
Like homemade individual bite-size pancakes, with a choice of maple butter, blueberry sauce, or pecan butter syrup.
Deep Fried PB & Razbrûlée
Deep-fried peanut butter sandwich pocket is topped with vanilla creme and turbinado sugar, broiled to a hard-shell top, and served with mixed berries.
Deep Fried Peach Cobbler Soul Rolls
Peach Cobbler Soul Rolls are filled with peaches, rolled into an egg-roll form and deep fried.
Deep Fried Ritz
Ritz cracker layered with strawberry-swirled cream cheese filling, dipped in batter, deep fried, topped with chocolate glaze and Ritz Cracker-powdered sugar crumble.
Deep Fried Toffee
Milk chocolate toffee square is wrapped in a flaky biscuit and deep fried.
Deep Fried Halloween
Fried pretzel is dipped in candy-corn syrup, piped with orange and white buttercream icing, then stacked with M&M’s, Reese's Pieces, mini Twix, Oreo cookie crumbles, and candy corn, to name a few, and topped with marshmallow whip cream, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup caramel sauce.
Fried Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding)
Bread is layered with shredded cheese sprinkled over a piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar) syrup with raisins, baked, then battered and fried, then crowned with whipped topping and dulce de leche.
Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake
Chunks of cake doughnut, English toffee morsels, and almonds are blended with a custard, set into ring molds, dipped in egg, panko, and vanilla cookie crumbs, then fried. It's served with mocha cream and topped with a miniature chocolate-covered toffee bar.
Banana is rolled in funnel-cake batter and fried, then topped with whipped cream, and chocolate and peanut butter sauces.
Southern Fried Lemon Ice Box Pie Balls
Pie ball wrapped in a pâté sucrée dough is infused with graham crackers, lemon zest, and brown sugar, battered and fried, then topped with cream and garnished with a lemon graham cracker crumble, lemon zest, and edible gold glitter.
Texas Pumpkin Poke Cake
Texas-shaped decadent pumpkin cake with vanilla glaze, caramel, and whipped cream.
Cookie butter ice cream sandwich features cookie butter semifreddo sandwiched between two deep-fried Armadillo-shaped cookies made with a branding iron.
The contest received 43 entries from 26 concessionaires. All competitors must have at least one year of experience as a concessionaire at the State Fair of Texas to enter the competition.
A panel judges blindly without knowing which concessionaire is behind each recipe. Judges base their choices on which food name, photo, and description looks and sounds the most appealing.
By mid-August, 10 finalists will be announced.