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Deep-Fried Texas: A Guide to the State Fair of Texas

From humble, private beginnings in 1886, the annual State Fair of Texas in Dallas is an immense and massively popular event that last year boasted a revenue of more than $56 million and more than 2.4 million attendees. The 24-day event is a celebration of Texas history and culture that includes live music, football, rides and games, an auto show and livestock and horse shows. And, of course, an insane amount of unusual fried foods.

Whether you are a native Texan or a transplant who fell in love with this eccentric, giant state, the State Fair of Texas represents everything we love about being a Texan. And this year’s theme, “Celebrating Texans,” is a love letter to its people. If you are one of the shockingly many Texans who have never attended the state fair, there is no better year than 2017.

There is a ton of unique food—and 90 percent of it is fried

When people think of the State Fair of Texas foods—any state fair fair, really—most immediately think of the impressive array of fried goodness offered up within the fairgrounds. And, honestly, it is pretty incredible. Every year vendors create new dishes that look dangerous, delicious and 100 percent Texan—like 2017 Big Tex Choice Award winner in both the Best Taste-Savory and Most Creative categories: the funnel cake bacon queso burger or the tamale donut.

The fair has healthier options, too, of course—vegan hot dog, anyone?—as well as other culinary events that celebrate this vital aspect of Texas culture. For example, every day four or five well-known Texas chefs prepare signature dishes, answer audience questions and provide culinary guidance at the Cutco Celebrity Chef Kitchen.

And every year the fair sells a cookbook containing recipes from the winners of the previous year’s Competition Kitchen winners—locals and fair-goers who register to compete in the various competitions. With categories like Tex-Mex, Southern Comfort Food and One Pot Wonders, these events and the recipes they feature are steeped in Texas culture and cuisine.

State and team pride are one

Anyone who has ever seen, read about or grown up watching those gridiron battles knows that nothing is more Texan than football. And smack in the middle of the fair’s expansive grounds is Cotton Bowl Stadium, site of two epic college football face-offs held during the fair: The State Fair Classic game pits Prairie View A&M against Grambling State University and at the Red River Shootout when the University of Texas faces rival University of Oklahoma. The Showdown is itself a piece of Texas history and culture: it has taken place at the Cotton Bowl and during the State Fair of Texas since 1929.

Tickets to either of these games also earns you admission to the State Fair of Texas on the day of the game, integrating the sport rightfully into your celebration of Texas culture. Fans can enjoy the entertainment and culture of the fair before the game, and grab a beer and take in some live music at one of the festival’s many stages after the game.

Big Tex is watching over you

The fair’s icon and arbiter of Texas culture is a 55-foot cowboy named Big Tex who hangs out in the middle of the fair, just in front of the Cotton Bowl Stadium. He is kind of hard to miss. This official greeter of patrons has been the fair’s beloved mascot for 65 years. Big Tex is a native Texan from Kerens, where he began his career in 1949 as a Santa Claus. He has had a little work done since then. He is also an AARP member and, last year, became a Pokemon Go gym. Since 2015 the fair’s attractions have included Little Big Tex, and life-sized mascot who roams the fairgrounds entertaining kids and taking tons of selfies with fair-goers.

There is a reason we have so many A&M schools

Agriculture plays a crucial aspect of Texas history as far back as the prehistoric era, and the mechanization of the industry throughout time only increased its influence on the state and the country. Today $40 billion of the state’s economy comes from agriculture and agribusiness. It is no surprise, then, that the State Fair of Texas is committed to celebrating agriculture and educating the next generations of Texans about it.

From Little Hands on the Farm, an interactive exhibit where children learn about the process their—non-livestock—food makes from farm to table, to pig races and guided tours of the livestock living quarters given by student experts, the fair displays its pride in Texas agriculture and livestock. Definitely check out I-Spy Texas, an interactive exhibit that teaches fairgoers about the natural resources and wildlife of Texas’s agricultural regions. Horse shows and livestock exhibitions occur throughout the fair’s intensive schedules for both youth and adults.

And all of this takes place at the brand new Briscoe Carpenter Livestock Center, a 55,000 square foot facility devoted to furthering community and youth education and participation in Texas agriculture.

The State Fair of Texas runs from Friday, Sept. 29 through Sunday, Oct. 22. The first daily events begin at 9 a.m. and the final events of the day begin at roughly 8 or 8:30 at night.

If you are now ready to explore Texas history and culture at the state fair, share this blog with a friend and check your calendars!