FORT WORTH, Texas - No matter what it is you're eating, there's something almost magical about deep-fried fair food.
It can be as simple as a corndog or a candy bar. It can be as unconventional as butter or cactus bites. The menu gets interesting when the food comes out of a deep fryer.
Just ask Abel Gonzales Jr. and Butch Benavides, a couple of State Fair of Texas champions whose legendary experiments with fryers straddle the fine line between genius and madness.
"If you're thinking about having a sensible dinner, a steak is always good, a lobster is high-end and a salad is delicious and healthy for you," Gonzales says. "But when you deep fry something, you make food fun."
That's certainly the case in Destination America's new travel-and-food series, "Deep Fried Masters," a giddy celebration of mutant meals that are battered and browned to a golden crisp.
The series, which airs 10 p.m. Mondays, treks across the country and tests the culinary inventiveness of talented cooks as they serve such-deep fried delicacies as bacon jam hotdogs, mac and cheese and lemonade.
"People want to try something that's new and different and unique," Benavides says. "That's why the deep fried movement, if you want to call it that, has taken off."
Gonzales, a Dallas native, is famous for creating such crazy concoctions as fried cookie dough, fried jambalaya and fried butter - seriously, fried butter! Benavides, also born and raised in Dallas, introduced the world to deep-fried Snickers on a stick, fried bacon cinnamon rolls and fried cactus bites.
Along with Jim Stacy, an Atlanta cook who is world famous for the quality of his corndogs, Gonzales and Benavides are judges on "Deep Fried Masters."
Each week, the show pits eight fry-happy cooks in a battle to win bragging rights and a "Golden Corndog" statuette.
Last week's episode took viewers to Texas. But instead of the State Fair in Dallas, the unofficial capital of deep-fried food, the show went to Fiesta San Antonio, where such fried items as ribs, cheeseburgers and lemonade are on the menu.
Benavides says his favorite deep-fried invention while serving as judge was a fried red velvet funnel cake. "I really enjoyed eating that," he says. "It was super good."
Gonzales was partial to the helping of deep-fried French fries and brisket.
"It was outstanding," he says. "And it was so obvious. My whole philosophy is to take something that's really obvious and simple and deep fry it. Then, when it comes out of the fryer, you think, 'Oh, my god, how did somebody not already think of this? How is this not already out there being sold somewhere?'
"Well, how do you not combine French fries and brisket? It was the perfect idea, the perfect deep-fried food. That's the one that impressed me most."
After all these years of deep fried masterpieces, one would think that people have run out of the eureka ideas by now.
But Gonzales, a former computer programmer whose success at making deep-fried novelties now allows him to enjoy a life of semi-retirement, working only during the weeks of the Texas State Fair, says the sky is the limit when it comes to deep frying.
"Every year, you think, 'OK, everything's been done. Somebody came up with fried butter, which is basically frying fat. Where can you go to top that?'" he says. "But the next year rolls around and your mind starts going again and you go, 'Oh, I have it. This is going to be delicious once it has the crust on it and once it hits the fryer.'
"There is no end to the ideas. I've always believed that and now, especially after being a judge on this show and seeing all the different fried items that people keep coming up with, I know it for a fact."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
'Deep Fried Masters'
Airs 10 p.m. Mondays
on Destination America