Deep-Fry Chefs Keep It Hot And Poppin' In Texas

  • Justin Martinez runs the Lone Star Roadhouse inside the fairgrounds. His Thanksgiving dinner is stuffing and diced turkey dipped in Southern-style creamed corn and rolled in cornmeal. He won "Most Creative" in the 2013 Big Tex Choice Awards.
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    Justin Martinez runs the Lone Star Roadhouse inside the fairgrounds. His Thanksgiving dinner is stuffing and diced turkey dipped in Southern-style creamed corn and rolled in cornmeal. He won "Most Creative" in the 2013 Big Tex Choice Awards.
    John Burnett/NPR
  • Butch Benavides — a Mexican food restaurateur turned fry-master — shows off his Texas fried fireball.
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    Butch Benavides — a Mexican food restaurateur turned fry-master — shows off his Texas fried fireball.
    John Burnett/NPR
  • Abel Gonzalez sells his deep-fried Nutella creations for the three weeks of the State Fair and then spends the next 11 months thinking about what he should fry at the next fair.
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    Abel Gonzalez sells his deep-fried Nutella creations for the three weeks of the State Fair and then spends the next 11 months thinking about what he should fry at the next fair.
    John Burnett/NPR
  • We had to do it! A fried mic.
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    We had to do it! A fried mic.
    John Burnett/NPR

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Every year, the State Fair of Texas awards the most original food that is battered and plunged into a vat of boiling oil.

And it gets weirder every year. The obvious choices came and went in previous competitions — concoctions such as fried ice cream, fried cookie dough and chicken-fried bacon. Now, every year, the same cooks have to top themselves, which is not easy.

Last year, Butch Benavides — a Mexican food restaurateur turned fry-master — won a trophy for his fried bacon cinnamon roll on a stick.

The 2013 Big Tex Choice Awards

Best Taste: Fried Cuban Roll

Most Creative: Fried Thanksgiving Dinner

"And we had fried cactus last year, which most people never even tasted a cactus but we came up with fried cactus, after we took all the thorns off, of course," he says.

Standing in his kitchen, Benavides reaches into a stainless steel bowl and scoops out a ball of some sort of red and green flecked edible matter.

"Today we're gonna do the Texas fried fireball," he explains. "That's pimento cheese, bacon, pickles, got some cayenne pepper in it to give it a little bite at the end."

He rolls the orbs in egg wash and spicy bread crumbs, and then drops them in the hot grease; they bob on the surface.

"They be fryin' away," he says.

Drive from Butch's home kitchen south of Dallas to a commercial kitchen near downtown that is home to the deep-fried Nutella. The hazelnut-chocolate spread is mixed with cream cheese, and then smeared inside of phyllo dough, which is sealed like a burrito. Its creator, Abel Gonzalez, has gotten so successful at this, he basically sells his fried creations for the three weeks of the State Fair, and then takes off the next 11 months to think about his next offering.

Gonzalez is also a perennial deep-fried champion.

"The past winners have been fried butter, fried Coke, fried cookie dough, fried peanut butter sandwich. Last year, we won for fried jambalaya," he says.

At this point in the story, it's probably a good time for a reality check.

"As a dietician, I can't think of any worse, or less healthy food choices than the finalists for the Big Texas fried food awards," says Stephanie Dean, of the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, who estimates the fried finalists are 500 to 1,000 calories each.

"So if you're a 200-pound adult and you plan on going to the State Fair to have the deep-fried Nutella, you would need to walk for two to five hours to burn off the calories from that deep-fried Nutella," Dean says.

Back to the frying.

The last fry chef we'll visit should get points for originality. He is Justin Martinez, who runs the Lone Star Roadhouse inside the fairgrounds.

"OK, what we have here is a fried Thanksgiving dinner. What I'm getting into now is the stuffing and diced turkey into a ball, mush that together there. Then we'll be dipping it into Southern-style cream corn. We're gonna roll it into a seasoned cornmeal, this gives us the texture we're lookin' for when we fry it,"

The verdicts:

The fried Texas fireball? You have to like a fried cheeseball.

Deep fried Nutella? Mmmmmmmmmm. Just be sure and let the Nutella cool or it burns like napalm.

And the fried Thanksgiving dinner? The stuffing is a bit mushy, but it has a pleasing, familiar flavor.

And as long as we were in Texas, where they'll fry nearly anything, we conducted an experiment: A southern-fried microphone.

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