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Deep Fried Paradise

Starting this weekend, the State Fair of Texas delivers big on food and fun in the “Fried Food Capital of Texas.”

by Amanda Burleigh


Bigger is better at the annual State Fair of Texas. This year is sure to bring bigger crowds, bigger attractions, bigger calories and bigger fun to Fair Park in Dallas.

“This year’s theme is super-sized fun,” says Sue Gooding, vice president of public relations for the State Fair of Texas, “and we’ll have lots of food and fun ready for opening day.” With crowds 4 million strong to feed, food has always been a major player in the popularity of the State Fair of Texas, especially since the “corny dog” was introduced there in 1942 by the Fletcher brothers. Although there is some dispute over who invented this American favorite, the brothers are traditionally credited with popularizing it, and their descendants now sell roughly 500,000 of these portable products every year.

A more recent trend for vendors has been to come up with new and exotic foods to fry. This year’s menu of creations includes fried chocolate, fried lemonade and the winner of the “Best Taste Award” — Fried Texas Frito Pie (pictured).

Looking for something a bit lighter? Try Fernie’s Fried Club Salad (pictured below). Or something a bit stronger? How about a deep-fried frozen margarita or “Most Creative Award” winner, fried beer. These spirit-inspired delicacies actually live up to their names and are authentically alcoholic, sold only to customers over 21 with a valid picture ID.

The selection of fair foods for the State Fair of Texas is no simple task. In 2005, organizers created the first annual Big Tex Choice Awards to help take their fair food to the next level. Every year in mid-summer an invitation is sent to state fair vendors asking them to submit menus to the committee for consideration. After much deliberation, and some tasting of course, eight finalists are chosen and from those finalists the coveted “most creative” and “best taste” titles are awarded on Labor Day weekend. All entries must be new to the fair, a rule that clearly has resulted in some interesting combinations.

Oprah Winfrey’s trip to the 2009 State Fair of Texas with her editor-at-large and good friend Gayle King brought heightened attention to the already popular event. The pair’s on-air tales of eating fried butter intrigued Oprah’s audience and sparked the curiosity of the nation. According to the state fair officials, Oprah also enjoyed Dorothy Lacefield’s Spectacular Lemon Mousse Pie, which won “Best in Show” last year. (Click here for the recipe.) Despite Oprah’s visit, attendance was lower than usual last year because of 14 days of rain. Gooding said she is hopeful attendence will improve this year.

“We’ve had lots of interest from all over the world since Oprah’s visit,” says Gooding. “Brochure requests have come in from other countries, as well as each of the 50 states.”

Having originated in 1886 with the first fair drawing an estimated 25,000 attendants, one of the main attractions in the early days was betting on horse races. That is, until 1903, when the Texas legislature outlawed gambling. The original fair took place on an 80-acre plot of land purchased by the board of directors of the Dallas State Fair. Now the fair is held at Fair Park in Dallas (constructed for the 1936 World’s Fair and the only intact pre-1950s world fair site remaining in the country), which spans 277 acres and includes seven different museums, as well as the world’s largest collection of Art Deco exhibit buildings, art and sculpture.

Gooding, who has been attending the fair every year since the late 1950s, has a couple tips for newcomers: Don’t miss the Texas Star Ferris Wheel — the largest in North America — or the Cotton Bowl Football Stadium. Of course, there are countless other attractions and activities at the State Fair of Texas, including livestock shows, live music performances, including the Pointer Sisters this year, auto shows, night parades, a greenhouse, acrobatics, pig races, Elvis impersonators and of course the food.

As always, Big Tex will be watching over the fair and welcoming guests. This year, the 52-foot giant will don some original pieces from Dickies clothing company, headquartered in Fort Worth, as well as custom size 70 boots from Decatur, Texas-based Twisted X boots.

The State Fair of Texas runs from September 24 through October 17. For full details, times and event listings, visit the official website at www.bigtex.com. You can also follow the fair on Twitter @StateFairOfTX or fan them on Facebook.

Can’t go? Order the State Fair of Texas cookbook and have your own Big Tex cookoff by sending a check or money order (payable to State Fair of Texas) for $30.00 (includes handling and shipping) to: State Fair of Texas Cookbook, Creative Arts P.O. Box 150009 Dallas, TX 75315.

Photos by Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas

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