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You Are Not Ready for the 2023 State Fair of Texas Big Tex Food Semi-Finalists

Thai, Creole, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Mexican cuisines hit the deep frier this year, and the Fruity Pebble Pickle is one to watch

Big Tex stands on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas, in the sunset. Someone holds a corn dog in the right side of the shot.
The semi-finalists are always a little bit wild.
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Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

It’s beginning to look a lot like the State Fair of Texas is coming to town — and bringing all its rowdy deep friers full of over-the-top food creations. The Big Tex Choice Awards semi-finalists are announced today.

Let’s start with the most eye-grabbing item: a Fruity Pebbles pickle. Chamoy pickles were a huge hit last year, and this takes that and, instead of going hot, goes sweet. It follows a TikTok trend where folks wrap a pickle in a Fruit Roll-Up. The consensus is that it tastes great. At the Fair, that will get drizzled in sugar syrup and then covered with Fruity Pebbles. Something about the sour and sweet combination has us eyeballing this entry to be a crowd favorite.

What else is on the menu? Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly from this year’s crop of hopefuls.

Creole Etouffee Beignets: Why yes, it’s a French doughnut stuffed with shrimp and smoked sausage etouffee and topped with powdered sugar. And you can get it with extra etouffee sauce for dipping, which sounds....honestly, concerning.

Cotton Candyrita: This is a cotton candy-infused margarita topped with cotton candy, and we’ll have two.

Deep Fried Birria Bomb: Setting aside what the name of this dish implies is coming for your tummy, it does sound good. It is a rolled ball of birria, Oaxaca cheese, and home-style mashed potatoes that are battered and deep fried, then topped with poblano ranch dressing and cilantro. Of course, it’s served with a consomme made from a family recipe.

Deep Fried Honey Butter Brisket Swirls: This sweet treat pays homage to Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheeels. But the twist is, they’re layered with chopped brisket.

Deep Fried Pho: Somebody had to do it! The pho noodles are wrapped up, along with beef, herbs, bean sprouts, and some broth, then deep fried. It also comes with a side of broth for dipping.

Fried Fireball Shot: Don’t lie, you’ll know you’ll try one.

Deep Fried Surf & Turf Empanada: Empanadas are already fried dough, so what makes this one special? The surf and turf of it all. These are stuffed with pulled lobster and crab meat, Palacio Chorizo, sweet corn, heavy cream, cilantro, and paprika and fried in a corn masa pastry. Wait, that’s only surf. Eh, we’ll take it.

Strawberry Chicks-On-the-Stick: Take some seasoned wings (yes, chicken wings), put them on a stick, and deep fry them in funnel cake batter. Stay with us. Then, toss it all in honey and garlic. Then it all gets “spiraled on the stick” with strawberries and sprinkled with lemon rub and powdered sugar. We’re having a hard time imagining it, so we must try.

OX’cellent Soul Roll: Beef oxtails and crumbled cornbread come together with a roux, get wrapped up in a spring roll, and deep fried. It may be the savory bite we’re most excited to get into.

Deep Fried Vietnamese Coffee: Obviously, yes.

Taki Ramen Tostada: Here’s a little fusion Fair food for you. These folks flash fry a ramen noodle cake, cover it in taco meat like a tostada, and top it with sesame seed slaw, garlic lime aioli, queso banco, and crumbled Takis. Iconic.

Texas Thai Up: A pork and beef pad Thai gets a turn in the deep frier, dipped in pad Thai sauce, and rolled in cashews and green onions. No notes.

Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopapillas: A traditional one with a Southern twist — these sopapillas are topped with vanilla-caramel-infused bananas, bourbon syrup, crushed candied pecans, sweetened mascarpone cheese, crumbled Nilla Wafers, and dusted with powdered sugar.

The Tomato-Tomahto Potato-Potatho Slyder: A fried green tomato provides the base of this “slider.” It’s topped with a 2-ounce burger patty, provolone, sauteed bell peppers, covered in a secret recipe spread, queso, and served on a bed of potatoes (we’ll guess french fries). That sounds like it’ll give you heartburn.

The State Fair opens on Friday, September 29. Prepare yourself.