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Ranked: Best and worst new State Fair of Texas food and drink in 2022

Our State Fair favorites were an appetizer, a drink and a deep-fried dessert.

Words like “explosion” and “monster” and “paradise” are in the names of some of the 10 award-winning foods and drinks at the State Fair of Texas in 2022. Are we scared or delighted? We sent seven Dallas Morning News employees to the State Fair of Texas to make that call.

Some dishes were ultrasweet and over-fried. A few were downright perfect.

Big Tex welcomed crowds on opening day, Sept. 30, 2022, with a hearty "Howdy, folks!"
Big Tex welcomed crowds on opening day, Sept. 30, 2022, with a hearty "Howdy, folks!"(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

If you’re headed out to the State Fair to try these buzzy new foods, don’t spend $167 on all 10 of them. Take our advice.

For an extended version of our taste test, download the Eat Drink D-FW podcast. On Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, the latest episode — filmed on the patio of the Old Mill Inn — will dive into our best and worst bites from the State Fair of Texas.

Note: We did not rank all the new drinks and food at the State Fair; there are 41 of those. This list focuses on the 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists.

Interestingly, after a panel of judges declared three winners among that group of 10 in late August 2022, we also agreed that those three were the best bites.

Use this map to find all the Big Tex Choice Awards finalists.

#1: Fried Charcuterie Board — $16

Josey Nevins Mayes drizzles Mike’s Hot Honey over her Fried Charcuterie Board wontons....
Josey Nevins Mayes drizzles Mike’s Hot Honey over her Fried Charcuterie Board wontons. Everybody's talking about this dish, and for good reason.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer )

It was purely by happenstance that the Fried Charcuterie Board was our last bite of the State Fair of Texas taste test. Our weary group wasn’t hungry after gorging on nine other dishes and drinks, but we were intent upon giving each one a fair taste. And it was delightful to watch our tasters’ eyes light up with the first bite of 22-year-old Josey Nevins Mayes’ charcuterie creation. She’s the youngest concessionaire to win a Big Tex Choice Award, and according to our crew, she deserves it.

Made with a fried wonton wrapper stuffed with salami, prosciutto, mozzarella and green apples, then topped with goat cheese and Mike’s Hot Honey, the Fried Charcuterie Board is the quintessential bite for adults at the State Fair. “It’s not an overblown State Fair food,” said Sam Bonacci, the News’ deputy audience editor for optimization. It stood in stark contrast to the Holy Biscuit and the Chicharron Explosion Nachos, which were big and overbearing.

Josey Nevins Mayes cheers when her name is called as a Big Tex Choice Awards winner on Aug....
Josey Nevins Mayes cheers when her name is called as a Big Tex Choice Awards winner on Aug. 28, 2022. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

“It really is a glorious bite of food,” News managing editor Amy Hollyfield said of the Fried Charcuterie.

Many in our group awarded it a perfect score. Audience journalist Ariyon Dailey might have said it best: “All of these elements work so well together — and the hot honey is like glitter.”

Fried Charcuterie Board received a rating of 4.5 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

Tied for #2: Peanut Butter Paradise — $20

In this little slice of (Peanut Butter) Paradise, caramel, peanut butter, chocolate and a...
In this little slice of (Peanut Butter) Paradise, caramel, peanut butter, chocolate and a honey bun come together for a truly delicious dessert.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

On paper, this dessert sounds too sweet. It’s a honey bun, deep-fried, injected with caramel and topped with peanut butter and peanut butter candies. Too much? No way. The peanut butter and caramel are best friends with that honey bun, which acted as a sturdy base.

The Peanut Butter “Surprise,” as Hollyfield called it, comes from concessionaires Chris Easter and Nicole Sternes, a husband-wife team who operate a great cheesesteak shop named SouthSide Steaks & Cakes a short walk from the fairgrounds. They’re part of a rare concessionaire cohort: They’re some of the only first-time Big Tex Choice Awards entrants to win. We can’t wait to see what they fry next year.

Peanut Butter Paradise received a rating of 4.14 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

Tied for #2: Cha-Cha Chata — $16

Dallas Morning News taste-testers gave Cha-Cha-Chata a 4.14 out of 5 score — impressive.
Dallas Morning News taste-testers gave Cha-Cha-Chata a 4.14 out of 5 score — impressive.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Right up there with the Peanut Butter Paradise was our tied-for-second favorite, a horchata milkshake called the Cha-Cha Chata. Each cinnamon-caramel-cream milkshake is topped with delicious little orbs of fried arroz con leche, which balance the sweetness of the drink.

“It reminds me of coffee and cookies — one makes the other better,” Bonacci said. Food editor Erin Booke said it reminded her of eggnog because it’s a decadently creamy drink best enjoyed in small doses. Audio producer Julie Fisk disagreed: Gimme more, but add some rum!

Cha-Cha Chata received a rating of 4.14 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

Ariyon Dailey and Erin Booke, both Dallas Morning News staff members, laugh as they chat...
Ariyon Dailey and Erin Booke, both Dallas Morning News staff members, laugh as they chat about their favorite bites at the State Fair of Texas in 2022.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

#4: La Bluebonnet — $10

Guillermo Rodriguez, a cast member of the TV show "Jimmy Kimmel Live," tried the La...
Guillermo Rodriguez, a cast member of the TV show "Jimmy Kimmel Live," tried the La Bluebonnet drink on Sept. 20, 2022, 10 days before the fair opened.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

We were delighted to see that two of the 10 Big Tex Choice Awards were drinks, and clearly, our judges loved both. La Bluebonnet is a simple blueberry lemonade, both tart and sweet. It has that lovable pucker that hits you in the back of the cheek.

Bonacci thought it would be “a good counterpoint to a lot of the fried food here” — a tip for those marathoning all Big Tex Choice Awards finalists.

La Bluebonnet received a rating of 3.66 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

#5: The Ultimate Brookie Monster — $15

The Ultimate Brookie Monster looks messier than it really is.
The Ultimate Brookie Monster looks messier than it really is.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Despite the name, this deep-fried brookie (brownie-cookie) is no monster. It’s a delightful mix of too many desserts that tastes like the perfect State Fair kid food. It’s got Oreos, marshmallows, cookies, brownie batter, powdered sugar, cheesecake crumbles and even strawberries. It’s still very rich, Booke notes, but it’s a fun little snack.

The Ultimate Brookie Monster received a rating of 3.21 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

#6: Deep Fried BLT — $15

The Deep Fried BLT was one of the more polarizing fried foods at the State Fair of Texas...
The Deep Fried BLT was one of the more polarizing fried foods at the State Fair of Texas among our Dallas Morning News tasting panel.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

We’re taking notes from this Deep Fried BLT: We can totally make this at home. Concessionaire Tom Grace layered bacon and shreddy cheddy inside a 12-inch tortilla, then deep-fried it. It’s cut into pieces and layered with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

Bonacci went wild for it. “This can only exist at the State Fair,” he said. Hollyfield called it a “very satisfying bite.” But several of our tasters found it to be too greasy and were missing the expected element of bread on a BLT.

Deep Fried BLT received a rating of 2.7 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

#7: Deep Fried Rocky Road with Blue Bell Ice Cream — $16

Audio producer Julie Fisk holds up the inside of Deep Fried Rocky Road: ooey gooey.
Audio producer Julie Fisk holds up the inside of Deep Fried Rocky Road: ooey gooey.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Don’t let the name fool you — this is not fried ice cream. Deep Fried Rocky Road is fried chocolate fudge, with rocky road-esque toppings like mini marshmallows and cinnamon glazed nuts. Each of the four pieces were fried beautifully and made for a great photo. But it’s a sugar bomb that’s probably best for the crazy-for-chocolate type.

The side of vanilla-flavored Blue Bell was a cold respite from the warm fried fudge, but it still felt a bit heavy for most of our tasters.

Britton Peele, news product manager for The News, was the one dissenting opinion. “My favorite stuff at the fair is usually a fried Oreo,” he said. Deep Fried Rocky Road was right up his alley.

Deep Fried Rocky Road with Blue Bell Ice Cream received a rating of 2.64 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

#8: Deep Fried Lasagna Roll — $20

We wanted more from the Deep Fried Lasagna Roll.
We wanted more from the Deep Fried Lasagna Roll.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Oh, how we wanted to love this Italian fried dinner. The idea’s really there — to layer cheese, meat sauce, pasta and herbs and deep-fry it, fair-style. It’s one of the only dishes on this list that feels like an entire meal (and for the price of $20, or 20 coupons, it should be). But it didn’t taste better than Mom’s lasagna, nor did it taste better than a Fried Something Else. Our team agreed it needed more salt.

Deep Fried Lasagna Roll received a rating of 2.21 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

Tied for last: Holy Biscuit — $15

Holy Biscuit! That's the name of the stand and the name of the dish at the State Fair of...
Holy Biscuit! That's the name of the stand and the name of the dish at the State Fair of Texas in 2022.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Concessionaire Isaac Rousso’s brisket biscuit is like a made-for-Texas movie: It’s got brisket. It’s got bacon. It’s got creamy street-corn queso. It’s on a biscuit! It’s a smart combination of ingredients made by a smart State Fair chef.

“I really like the street corn queso,” Hollyfield said, then paused. We were all nodding our heads in agreement, knowing what she might say next: The queso “might be the only thing that I like.”

We’re willing to believe that with a moister biscuit and more sauce to hold it all together, Rousso’s Holy Biscuit could be one of those Instagrammable foods that just screams “State Fair.” But it needs a boost.

Holy Biscuit received a rating of 1.79 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

Tied for last: Chicharron Explosion Nachos — $24

Dallas Morning News staff members gave Chicharron Explosion Nachos a 1.79 out of 5 at a...
Dallas Morning News staff members gave Chicharron Explosion Nachos a 1.79 out of 5 at a State Fair taste test on Sept. 30, 2022.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

The priciest, largest item among the Big Tex Choice Awards finalists tied for our least favorite. It’s fried pork rinds, doused in Cajun seasoning and mixed with smoked beef fajita, queso and barbecue chopped beef. It’s easily the most filling dish on this list. But the mix of two meats, gummy queso, thick pork rinds and too-heavy seasoning made it all hard to eat.

Bonacci (not a doctor, we should say) found some silver lining: “gluten-free nachos!”

Chicharron Explosion Nachos received a rating of 1.79 out of 5 from our panel of judges.

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The panel of judges: Sarah Blaskovich, Sam Bonacci, Erin Booke, Ariyon Dailey, Julie Fisk, Amy Hollyfield and Britton Peele.

For more food stories, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.

For more State Fair of Texas news, check out our fair page.

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