UPDATE: The eight finalists have been announced, and they sure are ritzy, with lobster, buffalo, and margaritas. Read about them here.
Fried food fanatics, set your alarm for the crack of dawn on August 18, when the State Fair of Texas will announce the finalists for the Big Tex Choice Awards, its annual food contest wherein vendors compete against each other by creating unique, over-the-top snacks.
This year's contest drew 51 entries, according to State Fair spokeswoman Karissa Condoianis.
"Those were narrowed down to 30 based off of their name and description," Condoianis says. "Those 30 went to the State Fair of Texas panel for a blind taste test. The panel ranked them and battled it out over their favorites to get to the top eight."
The eight will be announced on August 18. The competition takes place Sunday, August 30, at 2:30 pm in the Tower Building at Fair Park.
If the 2015 awards follow recent State Fair winners, then fairgoers can whet their appetites for bite-sized packages that embrace the latest foodie favorites. In 2014, craft beer hit the fair, while trends included tacos and the hot condiment Sriracha sauce.
Those are relatively tame compared to the awards' earlier years, noted for wacky concoctions such as 2009's fried butter; 2010's fried beer, a ravioli filled with liquid beer; and 2011's fried bubblegum, a gooey bubblegum-flavored marshmallow coated in a pink-tinted crust.
Vendors submit recipes for two categories: Best Taste and Most Creative. The finalists present their creations to a panel of celebrity judges, who previously announced the winners at a ceremony on Labor Day. The fair transformed that ceremony — previously for media only — into a public event, where people could buy $100 tickets to watch the judging in person.
The State Fair of Texas launched the Big Tex Awards in 2005 to revive an increasingly moribund event where the most notable food item was the signature Fletcher's corny dog.
The timing was keen, coinciding with the rise of the foodie, embodied by bloggers such as Brad "The Adventures of Brad" Murano, whose photographs of his State Fair food tours in the mid-2000s paved the road for countless fried-food photo galleries since.
Concessionaire Abel Gonzales helped bring national attention in 2006 with his inspired creation, fried Coke, consisting of Coke-flavored batter fried into a crunchy ball.
Since 2012, contestants have dialed down the crazy in favor of conceptual offerings that focus on flavor and food trends. In 2013, the winner for Best Taste was Deep Fried Cuban Roll, a pastry filled with pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles. In 2014, with craft beer at an all-time peak, the entries included a funnel cake-flavored ale.
If foodie trends do again rule the field, then we can tell you exactly where this is going. We got this. Look forward to entries incorporating fried chicken, charcuterie, pizza, and something vegan. Put your money on it!
The 2015 State Fair of Texas opens September 25.