Oct 8, 2021 - Food and Drink
The Axios Dallas guide to the State Fair of Texas
Big Tex, a tall cowboy at the State Fair of Texas.
Big Tex knows your secrets. Photo: Michael Mooney/Axios

Love it or hate it, the State Fair of Texas is upon us. You have until Oct. 17 to eat, drink, ride, eat more, drink more and stare into the terrifying eyes of Big Tex.

  • Last year’s fair was only a drive-thru event due to COVID-19. This year, masking is required indoors — but based on our time there, not everyone follows that rule.

Why it matters: Ours is, appropriately, the largest state fair in the country, with more than 2 million annual visitors. It's your chance to consume 10,000 calories of fried foods and frozen drinks, ride something that spins through the air and then watch a nice show.

  • This year’s theme is a welcome back, “Howdy, folks!”

Things you absolutely must do when you visit:

🎡 Ride the Texas Star: It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone every year since you were a child or that it now costs $10. Get on that wheel!

🌭 Eat a corny dog: You can do a veggie version, a turkey dog, the jalapeño-cheese kind or an off-brand footlong — but we still prefer the traditional.

🎸 Watch a concert: There is the Main Stage, which will feature Jack Ingram on Saturday, but there are several other spots to listen to live music, including the wine garden.

🚗 Sit in a Corvette: Go to the Centennial and Automobile buildings and check out some new cars. Sure, the supply chain is backed up, but you can pretend you’re buying that new car smell soon

.🤳 Snap a pic with Big Tex: Did you even go to the fair if you don’t get a picture with that tall cowboy?

🎆 Watch the fireworks and light show: Cap off your visit at 8pm at the Esplanade.

One thing you can skip:

🤖 Hank the Robot: He's been part of the Ford exhibit for years now, but we prefer our animatronics in giant western wear.

Savory things you should eat:
A golden corny dog with a dollop of yellow mustard
It might be illegal to attend the fair and not eat a corny dog. Photo: Michael Mooney/Axios

Imagine a food and then fry it. It’s probably at the fair.

Smoked turkey leg

  • Cost: $18
  • Six-word review: Connect with the caveperson inside you

Jalapeño-cheese corny dog

  • Cost: $8
  • Six word review: No improvement on the original detected

Deep fried shrimp and grits

  • Cost: $14
  • Six word review: What the state fair’s all about

Pearlie’s Southern Kitchen smoked turkey and collard greens

  • Cost: $12
  • Six word review: Crispy and fried but also nutritional

Gator jerky

  • Cost: Free samples available at the Gateway Pavilion
  • Six word review: Genuine certified Florida swamp chicken, gummy

One thing you can skip:

Frito pie bites

  • Cost: $9
  • Six word review: Just get a real Frito pie
Some sweet treats you should try:
Golden fried armadillo shaped ice cream sandwich
It's fried. It's ice cream. It hides in the bushes. Photo: Tasha Tsiaperas/Axios

Got a sweet tooth? We've got you covered.

The Armadillo

  • Cost: $16 coupons
  • Six word review: Yummier than the roadkill kind, creamier

Pumpkin poke cake

  • Cost: $9
  • Six word review: Smushy gooey warm pumpkin spice cookie

Cotton candy on a cone

  • Cost: $5
  • Six word review: Let’s all feel like kids again

Toffee coffee crunch cake

  • Cost: $10 coupons
  • Six word review: Like an English pudding but Texan

Dole whip

  • Cost: $5
  • Six word review: Creamy whipped pineapple goodness, also vegan

Chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls

  • Cost: $7
  • Six word review: Tasha wanted to keep this secret

One thing you can skip:

Deep-fried Halloween

  • Cost: Years off your life
  • Six word review: More sugar than you’d ever need
Drinks you should try:
A plastic cup filled with a frozen yellow beverage and a pink straw in an outdoor setting.
Grab a frozen ranch water to cool off. Photo: Michael Mooney/Axios

Kick back at one of the beer gardens or the wine garden. Or just take your drink on the go while you look at Jacuzzis and massage chairs and caged livestock.

Frozen ranch water

  • Cost: $12
  • Six word review: Helps you chill on hot days

Yuengling

  • Cost: $8
  • Six word review: So glad it’s finally in Texas

Frozen daiquiri

  • Cost: $9
  • Six word review: Wait a bit before riding anything

Go Texan wines

  • Cost: $11-$19
  • Six word review: It’s not Napa, but it’ll do
Nonalcoholic beverages:
A cold iced tea in a plastic cup in an outdoor setting
When you don't feel like day drinking, drink iced tea. Photo: Michael Mooney/Axios

Iced tea

  • Cost: $3 ($2 if you reuse your cup)
  • Six word review: Get half iced and half sweet

Root beer

  • Cost: $4
  • Six word review: Tooth rotting deliciousness and bubbles galore

Bottled water

  • Cost: $2
  • Six word review: Rehydrate after all that salty food
What to expect at the Texas-OU game
Players from both Oklahoma and Texas line up on either side of the football.
Photo: John Korduner/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

More than 225,000 people attended the fair during the last Red River Showdown in 2019.

  • This year’s game begins Saturday at 11am. Fair gates will open at 7am.

Midway and outdoor concessions open at 8am, and all exhibit buildings and indoor concessions will open at 9am.

  • Gates to the Cotton Bowl will open at 9am.

Details: Only one clear bag is allowed in the stadium per person.

  • Small clutches or purses do not have to be clear as long as they are 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches or smaller.
  • No outside food or alcohol is allowed in the stadium.

The bottom line: Oklahoma is favored by 3.5 points this year.

Pro tips for the best State Fair experience
The Texas Star Ferris Wheel lit up in neon against a technicolor sunset.
The golden hour is the best hour at the State Fair of Texas. Photo: Justin Terveen

Coupon prices are different this year. Each coupon is now $1, which makes it easier to keep track of how much everything costs. (But also everything is more expensive.)

  • Wear sunscreen: The average daily high at the fair has been 88 degrees.
  • Drink water: This is just good advice for everyday life, y’all.
  • Grab a map: The basic layout of the fair remains the same, but if you want to find a specific food or check the times of a show, pick up the guide.
  • Dallas native Joshua Ray Walker: He's performing Saturday night on the Bud Light stage. If you've never seen him live, you really really should.
  • Cool off in the Creative Arts building: Take a moment to check out the winners of the annual crafts and culinary contests. Macaroni art and pickles have never looked so good (seriously, you can pickle anything)
  • Go on Thursday: Thursdays are thrifty at the fair. You can get select foods a little cheaper. There’s one chance left this year.
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