ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From the Global Grill, we head back stateside now to the fried food capital of Texas, a.k.a. the State Fair. The Big Tex Choice Awards have just been announced. They recognize food that has been battered and plunged into a vat of boiling oil. NPR's John Burnett visited three of the finalists.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: It gets weirder every year. The obvious choices came and went in previous competitions, concoctions like 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 restaurant-owner turned fry-master, won a trophy for his fried bacon cinnamon roll on a stick.
Benavides reaches into a stainless steel bowl and scoops out a ball of some sort of edible matter, flecked with red and green.
BUTCH BENAVIDES: Today, we're gonna do the Texas fried fireball. That's pimento cheese, bacon, pickles, got some cayenne pepper in it to give it a little bite at the end.
BURNETT: He rolls the orbs in egg wash and spicy bread crumbs, then drops them into the hot grease; they bob to the surface.
BENAVIDES: They be fryin' away.
BURNETT: I drive from Butch's home kitchen south of Dallas to a commercial kitchen near downtown. This is the home of deep-fried Nutella. The hazelnut-chocolate spread is mixed with cream cheese, then smeared inside of phyllo dough, which is sealed up like a burrito. Its creator, Abel Gonzalez, has gotten so successful at this that he basically sells his fried creations for the three weeks of the State Fair, then he takes off the next 11 months to think about his next offering.
Gonzalez is also a perennial deep-fried champion.
ABEL GONZALEZ: The past winners have been fried butter, fried Coke, fried cookie dough, fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches. And last year we won for fried jambalaya.
BURNETT: At this point in the story, it's probably a good time for a reality check. Enter the specter at the feast.
STEPHANIE DEAN: As a dietician, I can't think of any worse or less healthy food choices than the finalists for the Big Tex fried food awards.
BURNETT: Stephanie Dean of Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas estimates the fried finalists are 500 to 1,000 calories each.
DEAN: So if you are a 200-pound adult and plan on going to the State Fair this year 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.
BURNETT: Dean admits that she'd like to try the fried Nutella. 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.
JUSTIN MARTINEZ: Okay, what we have here is a fried Thanksgiving dinner. What I'm getting into right now is making the stuffing and diced turkey into a ball, mush that together there. Then we'll be dipping it into a Southern-style cream corn. We're gonna roll it into a seasoned cornmeal. This gives us the texture that we're looking for when we fry it.
BURNETT: The verdicts. The fried Texas fireball? You have to like a fried cheeseball. Deep fried Nutella? Mmm. And the fried Thanksgiving dinner? The stuffing is a bit mushy, but it has a pleasing, familiar flavor. And as long as we're in Texas, where they'll fry nearly anything, I wanted to conduct an audio experiment. What does it sound like down inside the fryer?
This is the sound of a southern-fried microphone.
John Burnett, NPR News, Dallas.
SIEGEL: And the winners were announced this morning. Fried Thanksgiving dinner won the award for most creative and the award for best-tasting went to the fried Cuban roll.
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