One of the most highly anticipated events of the State Fair of Texas is the Big Tex Choice Awards, where 36 finalists will compete for titles in "Best Taste - Savory", "Best Taste - Sweet", and "Most Creative".

The results from the first round of judging are in and 36 semi-finalists are moving forward. As you might expect, there are some dishes that sound out-of-this-world delicious, while others should maybe have stayed on another planet.

Before I move on to some of the semi-finalists for 2023, here are the champs from 2022 in their respective categories.

Fried Charcuterie Board

State Fair of Texas
State Fair of Texas

Peanut Butter Paradise

State Fair of Texas
State Fair of Texas

Cha Cha Chata

State Fair of Texas
State Fair of Texas

Here's a peek at my take on some of the more intriguing dishes vying for trophies at the 2023 State Fair of Texas.


Butchers Block

If you want ALL THE MEATS, then this is the bowl for you! Start off with three-cheese macaroni and cheese, then pile on the good stuff! Topped with 15-hour smoked brisket, crispy fried chicken, candied bacon bits, jalapeño peppers, and a piece of sausage on the side. The macaroni is then drizzled with a brown sugar chipotle sauce that adds a bit of sweetness and a tad bit of spice! This is the ULTIMATE CARNIVORE bowl!

Sean's Take - As a lover of all things barbecue, I am intrigued. I do, however, recommend an antacid, wet-wipe, and possibly an air sickness bag if you plan on hitting the carnival after.

Cornbread Sausage Bombs

Incoming! Get ready for an explosion of smokehouse favorites in every bite. The southern-fried Cornbread Sausage Bombs are finally here. Representing the four major Texas food groups: cornbread, smoked sausage, pimento cheese, and jalapeño. Pecan-smoked Texas sausage slices are topped with a heaping portion of pimento cheese and a slice of jalapeño, then dipped in a fluffy cornbread batter. These savory treats are fried golden brown and served with jalapeño ranch dipping sauce. This Texas flavor explosion will leave you shell-shocked!

Sean's Take - Seriously? Shut up and take my money now!

Creole Etouffee Beignets

Etouffee inside of a French doughnut? Oui! This creole classic begins with the holy trinity of Big Easy cuisine: onions, bell peppers, and celery. This etouffee sauce is mixed with shrimp, smoked sausage, and steamed rice. The savory Crescent City classic is then dipped into beignet batter and fried until golden brown and topped with powdered sugar! It is a beignet, after all. Served with extra etouffee sauce for dipping. Bon Appétit!

Sean's Take - Interesting…I like the parts, but will they become a cohesive “whole”? As the famous New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme once said, “That one may come back on ya.” [Chef Prudhomme never said that]

Deep Fried Birria Bomb

This culinary fusion combines the traditional flavors of Mexican Birria and South American papa rellena, resulting in a flavorful and innovative snack for any occasion. Birria bombs are stuffed with Birria, Oaxaca cheese, and home-style mashed potatoes. Then they are rolled into a ball of perfection, dipped in a special batter, and deep fried until they reach a golden brown. Lastly, they are topped with fire-roasted poblano ranch dressing and fresh cilantro, which pairs perfectly with this family consommé recipe. The end result is a savory snack that is sure to delight your taste buds with each bite, it will have you singing, "You dropped a bomb on me, baby!”

Sean's Take - Oh, it will be a bomb all right!

Deep Fried Surf & Turf Empanada

This popular street cuisine throughout Latin America and Spain is a modern dining palette's dream. The unique and authentic flavor profile of the Deep Fried Surf and Turf Empanada combines succulent pulled lobster and crab meat, Palacio Chorizo, sweet corn, heavy cream, cilantro, paprika, and a splash of lime juice wrapped in a traditional corn masa pastry. Deep fried to golden perfection, the empanada will be served with a side of garlic aioli infused with avocado oil.

Sean's Take - I love the direction this is going! The flavors sound amazing. My concern is the volatile combination of seafood, Texas heat, and spinning carnival rides.

Fried Texas BBQ Shotgun Shells

This cheesy savory roll-on-a-stick is the perfect State Fair treat! Made with slow-smoked, shredded, Texas BBQ beef brisket, melted, gooey Velveeta®, and cream cheese, seasoned with Meat Church Texas Sugar Rub®, then rolled in a pasta sheet, wrapped up in hickory smoked bacon, and rolled in jalapeño breadcrumbs. It’s a savory bomb that’s going to be nearly impossible to put down! Take a bite and enjoy the crunchy exterior with the addictive mix of flavors inside, not to mention a kick of heat.

Sean's Take - Fiery like the seasoning and handy like the Rolaids you will need later.

Loaded Fries Pizza

Daily, fresh-made pizza dough is classically hand-tossed and stretched onto a giant 16" pizza screen. After ladling on a healthy amount of Texas' favorite condiment, house-made buttermilk ranch dressing, the pie is covered with a layer of freshly shredded mozzarella. Then a pile of yummy, crunchy, salted French fries is added, and in comes a smothering blanket of cheddar cheese! Finally, nothing tops off cheddar fries better than a ton of crunchy chopped bacon. This bakes, and out comes your loaded fries...ON A PIZZA topped with some fresh chopped chives. Dive into this tangy, cheesy, crunchy, satisfying, one-of-a-kind pizza pie.

Sean's Take - A huge fan of ranch dressing? This pizza is just for you! Be sure to grab a drop cloth because something is getting painted later.

Raspberry Chipotle Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese

The satisfying crunch of grilled bread, the heat of a roasted jalapeño pepper, and the savory richness of bacon come together in this specialty grilled cheese with a touch of sweetness and smoke. This is the Raspberry Chipotle Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese. Fresh jalapeños filled with cream cheese & raspberry chipotle jam are wrapped in bacon and roasted until crispy. Then, they’re sandwiched between slices of white bread and cheddar cheese and finally griddled until golden brown — just like mom did. It’s a new take on something iconic, with just a touch of the unexpected that’s sure to put a smile on your face.

Sean's Take - If I’m going to die of heart disease, I want to go being held gently in the arms of this dish.

The Balboa

The Balboa is a pizza sandwich made with Italian flour from Naples to create the lightest, fluffiest bread you have ever tasted. Once the bread has been cooked and rested, it is sliced open, and garlic aioli is spread on the top and bottom, then layered with pepperoni, capicola, soppressata, smoked provolone cheese, tomatoes, banana peppers, artichokes, onions, black olives, mushrooms, and arugula greens. This is finally topped with a balsamic reduction glaze to create the freshest, mouthwatering flavors you’ve ever had in one hand-held sandwich!

Sean's Take - Is it just me or does this sound like the ultimate “elevated” Hot Pocket?


 Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopapillas

Hot and delicious traditional sopapillas topped with vanilla-caramel-infused bananas, sweet bourbon syrup, crushed candied pecans, sweetened mascarpone cheese, crumbled Nilla Wafers, and dusted with powdered sugar.

Sean's Take - A mixture of Bananas Foster and your grandma’s cheesecake? I’d try that.


What do you get when you combine perfectly golden deep-fried churros and the deliciousness of cookies and cream? You get Churreos! Mini churros deep fried to golden perfection and tossed in cinnamon and sugar, then we take it up a notch with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and cream cheese icing. Finally, to top it all off, crushed Oreos® are added as the perfect finisher for these loaded churros. This is the ultimate shareable Fair food that is sure to satisfy even the biggest sweet tooth!

Sean's Take - What just happened? Churros for the win! Wait, you did what? I think this will be a delight eating and a nightmare “sharing” on the Tilt-o-whirl.

Cotton Candyrita

State Fair icon meets Texas legend. Did you even go to the Fair if you didn't have some iconic cotton candy? Equally, who doesn't love the legendary Texas margarita? This duo has been perfected in this instant classic beverage. Starting with a cotton candy-pink sugar-rimmed cup with the perfect amount of ice, a cotton candy-infused margarita is then added and topped off with a dollop of fresh cotton candy. Cheers!

Sean's Take - Remember, sweet and sweating equals hangovers. Enjoy responsibly.

Deep Fried Honey Butter Brisket Swirls

In the spirit of Little Debbie® Pecan Spinwheeels and homemade cinnamon rolls, the Deep Fried Honey Butter Brisket Swirls are a delightful treat with a Texas twist. It’s a buttery, flakey dough layered with 16-hour, slow-smoked, chopped brisket, then rolled and cut into swirls of smokey goodness. Deep fried and glazed with secret honey butter sauce, these crispy, sweet, fluffy swirls are sure to put a smile on your face.

Sean's Take - Why you folks gotta treat brisket this way?

Deep Fried Texas Oatmeal Pie

That’s right; your favorite childhood treat just got even better! An oatmeal cream pie is dipped into sweet and fluffy Dr. Pepper® flavored pancake batter and fried until golden brown. That’s not all; it is then drizzled with Big Red® Soda reduction and covered with marshmallow sauce over top, and dusted with powdered sugar. When ready, it’s the softest, melt-in-your-mouth oatmeal cream pie with the chewy and creamy center you know and love. This is a dessert lover’s dream with a kicked-up Texas-inspired flavor explosion!

Sean's Take - Oatmeal pie? Why don’t you throw a handful of raisins on it and call it done?

Deep Fried Vietnamese Coffee

Calling all coffee lovers! Prepare to be enchanted by the allure of Vietnamese coffee! Meticulously slow-brewed coffee-infused cake that will ignite your energy levels and your sweet tooth. The cake is then rolled into a ball, battered, and deep-fried Texas style! To finish this off, it is dusted with powdered sugar and served with velvety condensed milk. Say goodbye to your mundane cup of joe and join us at the State Fair of Texas for an experience that will leave you begging for another bite.

Sean's Take - Oh my goodness, I need a minute.  2, please.

Fried Fireball® Shot

The fluffy, airy, melt-in-your-mouth sweetness of angel food cake meets the red-hot and fiery cinnamon flavor of Fireball® Cinnamon malt liquor. After deep frying to a perfect golden brown, Fireball® Cinnamon is poured over the top and into a shot glass. You no longer have to choose between the angel or devil on your shoulder when you shoot back the Fried Fireball® Shot at the great State Fair of Texas®!

Sean's Take - You knew it was only a matter of time. Get it “loaded” with 2 Excedrin and a bottle of Gatorade.

Island Delight Deep Fried Piña Colada

A piña colada like no other you've ever had. A specialty rum cake recipe is baked and then smashed! Pineapple, creme de coconut, and lime are added, then formed into spheres. These then get dusted in a sweet crumble and are lightly fried. This Island Delight is then decorated with a piña colada-inspired buttercream, golden sprinkles, and sugar glitter. Life on the Island has never been sweeter!

Sean's Take - I don’t hate it. Adding this one to my “gonna try it” list.

Not'Cho Average Nachos

Introducing nachos taken up a notch — Not'Cho Average Nachos. To bring this dish to life, they take a wonton wrapper and fill it to the brim with a delicious cherry or apple filling, deep fry it to crispy perfection, and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. Each serving is topped with whipped topping and a dusting of brownie crumbs, then garnished with slices of strawberries, fresh blueberries, and diced peaches. One more step before you dig in, a drizzle of citrus glaze and chocolate sauce is added to bring this recipe to life. A cajeta-filled churro stick is added to ensure all the heavenly flavor can be soaked up and enjoyed.

Sean's Take - Invented by a 5-year-old chef and constructed with what was in the ‘fridge.

Sweet Encanto

Sweet Encanto is the ultimate sweet delight that is sure to satisfy even the sweetest tooth. A round waffle is lightly sweetened with caramel dulce de leche that is swirled perfectly on a wafer. A specialty cream with slices of strawberry, kiwi, peach, and shredded coconut is added. Then this is topped with raspberry jam and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Take advantage of this amazing opportunity to indulge in the best flavors of Latin America and taste the magic of Sweet Encanto!

Sean's Take - My teeth just fell out and I still want seconds.

These are just some of the semi-finalists that caught my attention. I'll do a follow-up complete with pictures of the dishes when the finalists are revealed.

Start planning your visit to the most Texan place on Earth, the 2023 State Fair of Texas, now at The Fair opens on Friday, September 29, and runs through Sunday, October 22.

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