This year, I had the incredible honor of being selected to judge the Big Tex Choice Awards for the State Fair of Texas. Talk about a dream come true. This is one of the biggest food contests out there and I had the incredible opportunity to taste all 8 finalists with a panel of other judges and essentially make history!
Any one that knows me, knows that I LOVE the fair. As a Dallas-native, going to the fair was a part of my childhood. As a tradition, I attend the fair several times every year just to see what new fried concoctions will put me in a food coma. Going to the fair is an experience that is very near and dear to my heart. So many fun memories with friends and families!
Back to the judging, the Big Tex Choice Awards is also a ticketed event for media and the general public to get a peek at the latest foods, a chance to hear from the creators themselves, and most importantly, taste the food for themselves. Tickets were $100 with all proceeds benefitting the Texas State Fair Youth Scholarship. All attendees received a goodie bag with fair passes, swag, and a chance to sample all the foods. What a great cause. You can learn about the finalists in this video here:
When I was invited to judge the top 8, I was SO ecstatic. What a surreal experience. Being such a loyal fair go-er, I never imagined I would be on the opposite side tasting and judging the hard work of so many. I totally consider the State Fair a holiday and an event I “train” for yearly. Was I nervous? Definitely had some jitters, but it was so much fun. My fellow judges were phenomenal and the emcee Michelle Rodriguez did a great job leading the show. Nothing like having a hundred people watch you eat. I had to remind myself to try and eat like a delicate flower. LOL I tried my best not to do this on camera:
#MOOD #CouldntGoHamOnLiveTV #SoHungry
After tasting each food, all judges graded each item on a scale of 1 to 10 for taste and creativity. I liked that we could judge each individual item, instead of collectively. That would’ve been WAY too hard. After tallying the votes, the winners for Best Taste and Most Creative were announced: Fried Jello and Cookie Fries.
Looked like sweets swept the contest this year. Huge congratulations to them and all their hard work. It even got a little emotional. I can only image how much love goes into something like this. What an experience to be a part of.
Now let’s talk about the food. Here are my top 3 picks along with my thoughts of the other five finalists. If you can’t tell, I’m definitely a savory fiend!
Fernie’s Down Home Chicken Pot Pie Pocket -DEEP FRIED FIT FAVORITE
This was would my personal favorite of the eight. I’m totally savory person and this had my name all over it! The recipe itself was seasoned well and tasty. It had carrots, peas, potatoes, and chicken chunks in this light buttery pastry crust. My pocket probably needed an extra 30 seconds to cook since it fell apart in my hand, but my co-judge’s was in tact and he was able to dip it into the mac n cheese dip. The dip itself was a nice add-on, but you almost don’t even need it. The presentation was beautiful. I appreciate the sprigs of green (although unnecessary) to break up all the beige. Really brightened up the dish.
Injectable Great Balls of BBQ – HONORABLE MENTION
This was such a fun dish and I really enjoyed all the flavors. You get the cutest little pipette to inject the inside with a tangy BBQ sauce before diving in. The meat was moist and I loved the texture of the meat and the crunchiness of the outer fried breading. I would say this is my second favorite of the top eight. I’d go back for this one. It also comes with an additional sauce, so don’t worry about the tiny pipette. There’s definitely more.
The Fried Jello – Winner of Best Taste
I was nervous about the fried jell-o and not quite sure I would like it. It’s intriguing for sure and you wonder how will they pull this off. Well they certainly did. I’m not a big sweets person, but I really liked it. I’m so impressed the jell-o stayed jell-o. The fried outer dough tasted just like funnel cake and had me at first bite. Topped with whip cream and cherry made for a picture perfect dessert to share.
I tried my best to take photos on the sly while at the judges table. Here you can see how the filling is jell-o. You’re definitely in amazement in how they were able to make that happen.
Yummy thoughts on the other Big Tex finalists:
Cookie Fries – Winner of Most Creative
We were served a chocolate chip cookie with fudge dipping and a sprinkles cookie with a strawberry dipping. They have more of a biscuit-y butter cookie taste and texture. It’s not a gooey chocolate chip or sprinkles cookie like some had hoped. The boyfriend, being the sugar monster that he is, totally approved and had no problem finishing it for me. You get both flavors with your order. I think these are perfect for sharing.
Southern Fried Chicken and Dumplings
I was super excited about trying this one. I LOVE comfort food and eat chicken and dumplings quite often. This dish made me think of Thanksgiving. The dumpling balls themselves did come out a bit dry (as expected with frying cooked meat), but when you dip it in that gravy and pop in some of those light buttery biscuit bites, expect your eyes to roll back. Really savory dish.
Deep Fried Pulled Pork Funyun Dings
So much going on in each bite! It’s pulled pork, cheese, and a slice of pineapple sandwiched in two funyuns deep fried. I’m usually not into sweet and savory, but I personally liked it. The pulled pork was moist and who doesn’t love melted cheese on everything. I liked the addition of the pineapple in between. The funyuns did get lost in the breading. The mayo-based sauced balanced out all the flavors. It wasn’t spicy or anything. Fresh pineapple slices were used as a garnish, but I really enjoyed cleansing the palette with them. There were some mixed feelings with a few people I chatted with.
Caribbean Pineapple Korn-a-copia
It’s not often you see something so fresh and vibrant as a finalist. I’m so glad they used small pineapples. It’s filled with a caribbean fried rice, shrimp on one side and a chicken with onion salsa on top. I think this may be a great option if you’re in the mood for something lighter and fresh instead of completely fried. The flavors were tangy and I was happy the shrimp had flavor. I’ve had instances where baby shrimp were bland and this wasn’t the case. I’m a fried food fiend, so I most likely will be saving room in my tummy for some of the other fried favorites.
Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick
It was so hard to tell what this was at first. It’s a Hawaiian roll deep fried in tempura batter with a slider burger patty (stuffed with bacon and cheese) and two weenies on top. There’s also a fried pickle too (yum!). It’s totally a cookout on a stick and you feel very efficient eating this. Now you don’t have to choose between burger or hot dog! You can have both. The sweetness of the roll helped balance the flavors. I think the ranch-tarter sauce it comes with is MONEY and totally helped elevate the flavors. The fries were unimpressive.
After all was said and done, all guests headed to the lines to get their samples. I can only imagine what it was like being hungry and watching a bunch of judges eat first. Ha!
Special shoutout to Karissa Condoianis and the State Fair public relations team for the honor of being part of one of my favorite events. I cannot wait for the fair to open on on Sept 30th.