Ever since the State Fair of Texas announced the semi-finalists for the Big Tex Choice Awards, we've been on the edge of our seat to see who would take home the honors in this biggest of state food fair competitions. The 31 semi-finalists in the 14th annual contest included some interesting flavor combos and a few excellent names, making the Big Tex Choice Award winners 2018 list one of the best yet.
Ten of those semi-finalists were chosen to compete in a live judging event, where they presented their creations to a panel of celebrity judges. The seven judges were a who's who of the Texas food and media scene, along with one lucky winner drawn from the audience to join the panel as a guest judge, which has to be one of the best door prizes ever.
After careful judging, three winners were chosen and now we can't wait for the fair to start so we can all try each of these innovative dishes for ourselves. The State Fair of Texas is held in Dallas and runs from September 28 through October 21; each of the 10 finalist entries will be sold during the fair, along with many, many other fair food and drink offerings.
Big Tex Choice Award Winners 2018
Best Taste - Savory: Fernie's Hoppin' John Cake with Jackpot Sauce
The black-eyed pea centered dish is a creation of Winter Family Concessions, who has been selling food at the State Fair of Texas for 48 years.
Best Taste - Sweet: Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice)
The Garza family, who started selling food at the State Fair of Texas in 1983, built this simple but beautifully executed Rice Krispy-like dessert that is sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike at the fair.
Most Creative: Cotton Candy Taco
This isn't Justin & Rudy Martinez first time on the winner's stage; they've been concessionaires at the fair since 1978, and they've won four Big Texas Choice Awards.
2018 Savory Finalists
Deep Fried Shepherd's Pie, Clint Probst
Go for this dish for a filling main. It's shredded cheddar cheese and cream mixed into savory mashed potato pillows then filled with Grandma's shepherd's pie filling made of ground beef, mixed vegetables, and rich beef gravy. This is comfort food at its state fair finest.
Texas Fried Hill Country, Rudy and Justin Martinez
Sure, it's fried and cheesey, but it's also basil, green tomatoes, and field greens, which means this dish totally counts as a salad. Mozzarella and basil are sandwiched between two slices of juicy green tomatoes, then hand-breaded with seasoned breadcrumbs and flash fried to gooey perfection. Each dish is served on a bed of field greens, finished with balsamic drizzle and sweet local Texas honey.
Texas Twang-kie, Chris & Sherry Howard
They had us at cornbread fries. This excellently-named dish is a "twang-kie" of cornbread cake hollowed out and filled with Tex-Mex grilled chicken white bean chili. Each twang-kie is served with cornbread fries and more chili for dipping.
Deep Fried Skillet Potato Melt in a Boat, Tom Grace
These are potato skins turned up to 11. Seriously, it's potatoes, sausage, a mini Babybel cheese loaf fried and served in potato skins, then topped with melted cheddar, crispy bacon bites, and a sour cream chipotle sauce. We're in.
Fernie's Hoppin' John Cake with Jackpot Sauce, Winter Family Concessions
This is the lucky dish on the Big Tex Choice Award Winners 2018 list. Creamy black-eyed peas, fluffy white rice, spicy smoked sausage, aromatic green onions, and spices are combined with breadcrumbs and eggbeaters to form a generous Texas-sized cake, which is breaded, deep fried, and topped with a zingy black-eyed pea relish, garnished with pickled okra, and served with a side of Jackpot Sauce.
2018 Sweet Finalists
Cotton Candy Taco, Justin and Rudy Martinez
A graham cracker waffle cone in a crunchy taco shell shape gets coated with a marshmallow glaze, then stuffed with chocolate, toasted marshmallow, and organic cane sugar cotton candy. And because that's not enough to make it one of the Big Tex Choice Award Winners 2018, the taco is topped with chocolate cookie crumbles and two chocolate cream-covered biscuit sticks with marshmallows.
Fernie's Orange You Glad We Fried It?!, Winter Family Concessions
Besides the fact that this is the top of the name game, the taste of this citrus dream dish sounds amazing. It's chiffon orange cake, whipped cream, and citrusy orange preserves lightly blended to form a custard filling, then spooned into flaky puff pastry dough, folded turnover style, and sealed before being fried into little crescent-shaped pillows, dusted with powdered sugar.
Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice), Garza Family
Sometimes the best things are deceptively simple. A cinnamon-spiced rice ball is formed, battered, and coated in crispy puffed rice cereal, then deep fried. The rice ball is with a Texas-sized scoop of vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce, and a sprinkle of powdered cinnamon.
State Fair Fun-L Cake Ice Cream, Tom Landis
The only think better than funnel cake is funnel cake ice cream. This creamy smooth, premium ice cream has funnel cake flavor infused into it with funnel cake pieces and powdered sugar mixed throughout the dish.
Sweet Bakin' Bacon, Ed & Eddie Campbell
It's a funnel cake stuffed with bacon and more cake, which probably qualifies it as breakfast. The cream-filled sponge cake is wrapped in savory bacon and then dipped in a funnel cake batter, then the whole thing is deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar.