The overall winner of this year's Big Tex Choice Awards (the much publicized food awards at the annual State Fair of Texas) was an underdog from three brand-new competitors: the fried Frito pie. And although I'm happy for the gentlemen who won (as happy as you can be that someone fried a Frito pie, that is), I feel like the overall favorite -- fried beer -- was robbed.
In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, competitor Mark Zable described the labor-intensive and highly creative process he developed for deep-frying a liquid. "Fried beer's exactly like it sounds. I've taken dough, put beer in it and deep fried it," Zable said.
As anyone who's accidentally splashed water or dropped a piece of frozen okra (my own college-era mishap) into a vat of boiling hot grease can tell you, liquids and deep-frying go together like hairspray and a butane lighter. Much in the same way you don't want to use water to put out a grease fire, you generally don't want to put beverages of any kind into a deep-fryer.
Zable knew this -- "Putting a liquid into a fryer is a really bad idea. As soon as liquid hits the fryer, it causes it to, you know, spit and boil hot oil everywhere," he told Innskeep -- and suffered a few injuries along the way before finally coming up with a sort of pretzel ravioli that holds the Shiner Bock beer inside while frying. And it's this kind of ingenuity that makes the State Fair's food as newsworthy and interesting -- albeit artery-clogging -- as it is.
True, this year's entrants also included a "fried margarita" and previous winners have included deep-fried Coca-Cola. But in both cases, no fried liquid was actually involved. The fried margarita is actually a funnel cake sprinkled with margarita-flavored sugar. And that famous fried Coke? It was just Coke-flavored batter, deep-fried and served with a squirt of the straight Coca-Cola syrup on top.
Yes, Zable did win the Most Creative award this year. And I'm not gonna lie: Balls of chili and cheese rolled in corn chips and then fried does sound spectacular. But -- as silly as it sounds -- the fried beer is a true engineering and culinary spectacle that deserved greater honors from the nation's foremost purveyor of strange food spectacles.
But perhaps it's for the best, after all, for those actually attending the State Fair this year (which runs through October 17). Traditionally, the items that win big have the longest lines at their stalls. Enjoy the comparably shorter lines for the fried beer and congratulate Zable if you see him working the booth.
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