Story by Roger Edison
Barbecue cook-offs held world wide extend the arguments to rubs, sauces and various techniques when pit masters gather to prove their horned skills surpass the competition. No other gathering is as grand nor as prestige than winning at the World Championship which has even been mentioned on the Congressional record of the United States House of Representatives. The cook-off is held kicking off the opening days to the world's largest rodeo; the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo.
It all began when seven Houstonians gathered for lunch at a local Houston hotel in January 1931. The event has since grown with entertainers from Gene Autry, Roy Rogers to Elvis over the decades. This years music concerts featured Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert, Selena Gomez, KISS and many others. This giant event held at the Reliant Astrodome Stadium, often called the super bowl of Rodeo, is more than carnivals and entertainment. It also draws the worlds top Rodeo competitors to compete for the whooping 1.5 million dollars in prize money.
As the Rodeo entertainment grew, so did the need for additional venues adding the Barbecue Championship in 1974 which provides the Texas-sized picnic under the tent facilities called the chuck wagon.
The crowds flock like returning winter geese to enjoy beer, barbecue and music at the Miller Lite Stage known as "the Garden" where there is also room to dance. This year competition fed nearly 250,000 meals to the record breaking crowds of 2,262,834 guest attending the Rodeo and Stock Show events where all proceeds from the Rodeo go to charity that benefits youth, supports education and facilitates better agricultural practices through exhibitions and presentation. Since its beginning in 1932, the show has committed more than $265 million to the youth of Texas.
As the southeast wind blows gently inland from the Gulf of Mexico, an aroma of sweet smoke drifts across the Houston metropolis. The blends of mesquite, oak, hickory and pecans woods caress the air as pit masters monitor their fire box ensuring the proper temperature that will slowly cook that savoring flavor with hopes to achieve this years World Champion.
Judging includes, Chicken, Ribs, Brisket, Best Barbecue, and to increase the interest-judges also award (most colorful, most unique pit, cleanest pit area, and team skits) with a final grand champion on the last day of competition. By strict invitation, more than 400 pit masters compete in this giant Cook-Off event representing teams from across the state. Some are commercial sponsors, others consist of private teams who competed months before through one of the many Houston Metro Go Texan Committee BBQ challenges held at counties across the Lone Star state. Winners are reserved an invitation to compete in the grand-daddy of them all, at the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo "World Championship." Each with the dream to receive the trophy and title as "Grand Champion."
Amongst the winner circle for "Best Barbecue" was SMOKIN HOT PIT of Teague, Texas. Their invitation came from successfully winning the Freestone County GO TEXAN BBQ cook-off. Team members and Pit masters were Paul Wagoner, Brandon Smith and Kevin Gauntt. Their journey to the World Championship began in Fairfield, Texas. The team placed 1st and 2nd during Freestone county Go Texan BBQ Cook off . Winning this event qualified them the opportunity to move forward representing Freestone County during the Houston Cook-off.
As the many different teams arrive at Relaint Stadium on Wednesday, each begin setting up all their gear. Strict rules and fire codes must be adhered too although, part of the fun is being creative with your assigned tent area. Most decorated in a western fashion, some just really go all out, from flying multitudes of flags to even a smoker built replicating Continental Airlines 777 Boeing Aircraft. Trucks and trailer all unloaded the needed gear, woods, BBQ pits and ice chest. No additional items can be brought into the sight after unloading and all vehicles cleared. Each team preps through Thursday and begin to serve over the course of the next three days taking BBQ to the chuck wagon tent which serves the hungry crowds beginning on Friday.
Throughout this event, large buses drive up to the entry gate with loads of people from children hospitals to the elderly. One bus had military veterans injured during the war in Iraq. The World Championship is not about prize money. It's about a title and the honor receiving the trophy while giving back to the community.
Freestone Go Texan team entered the brisket competition. The raw beef was tagged with a steel pin and registration number. Late Friday night, the team placed the meat into the smoker where it would cook during the next 12 hours.
Throughout the day, Go Texan Committee members inspected and review each team taking the selected servings to the judges. The boys from Freestone County had their Brisket ready to serve on Saturday morning, though the committee did not arrive to their tent until 2:00 PM to take samples to the judges. The selected meat required continued monitoring to ensure not to over cook or dry it out as they waited. By 4:00 PM, another committee member came back to their tent stating "You guys are finalist." This meant they won the Go Texan event and moving into the grand finale competing against major professionals with some serious high dollar pits.
James Goodman and his wife Janet from Gun Barrel City, Texas was there to watch her son Paul Wagoner compete representing Freestone County. "It got really exciting after the committee announced the team was in the finals" states James Goodman. He further explained, "Shortly later, a golf cart drives through the crowds of people honking the horn raising all kinds of hoopla, as they arrive at the modest tent area of SMOKIN HOT PIT they jump off the cart and began hanging special banners indicating their victory followed by a camera crew for pictures of the winning team. However, 2 of the 3 cooks had left the tent taking their final selected meat cuts to be judged in the finals."
"At the stage the Smokin Hot Pit representing Freestone County was announced as the BBQ winners of the Go Texan. They felt good about the award but then the real stuff started. As the World Champion Winners started to be announced, The Smoking Hot Pit from Freestone County was announced as runner up Brisket in the World Championship competing with the big boys. The next was the World Championship Overall for the best Barbecue in the field. They were announced as 1st Runner up or 2nd best Barbecue team in the field. It was a boisterous trip back to the tent for sure. Shortly afterward the BBQ committee came with fanfare to hang 2 additional banners on the little tent from Freestone County. It was a great experience to watch," states James. At the completion of the weekend, the Smokin Hot Pit team representing Freestone County Go Texas team was $1750 in the hole participating in the event, but helped raise over $15,000 in scholarships.
|Craig Sharry Texas Pepper Jelly Grand Champion BBQ|
"The Houston Rodeo World Championship is unique," states Craig. He explains while most events require pit masters competing to cook several meat types during a competition, normally chicken, Spare Ribs, Brisket and Pork Butt, the Houston event allows only one choice of meat. "You get just one shot so you better go with what you feel you cook best and for now, it was Brisket," Craig said.
I asked Craig about using Texas Pepper Jelly on barbecue, as I have used various Jellies as a sauce glaze cooking some mighty delicious barbecue. "I did not glaze my brisket served at the World Championship. However, the Jellies work really well and many competitors use my product on chicken and also ribs. The flavor is sweet but provides the right bite which the cook book has over 40 different recipes that feature Texas Gourmet Food products. Start with an appetizer, and finish with dessert. With such a wide range of choices how can you go wrong." Craig's team Texas Pepper Jelly proved, hands down that today they are the WORLD Grand Champion mastering the best Brisket for 2011. Craig share some important advice about barbecue. "You can cook great barbecue on just about any smoker once you develop the skills to manage the right temperature."
Most colorful team was awarded to "Holy Cow Cookers" who began competing at The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest 16 years ago. Since then they have participated in over 60 cook-offs and won over eight Grand Champion titles nationally and internationally. They're not your ordinary cooking team. Everything they do, they do BIG. Their booth is set like a massive western saloon with custom bar, bakery, coffee bar and state-of-the art sound and video system complete with flat-screen TVs. Let's not forget the reason they have bragging rights; their famous ribs, chicken, sausage, sauce and all the trimmings are a true culinary delight! “I want you to walk into our booth and say, WOW!,” said Randy Pauly, director. “We could not put on such an amazing show without our Holy Cow family and team members, we owe them everything,” said Nancy Serrano, co-director. Last years 2010 World Championship, the Holy Cow Cookers three-day barbecue blitz costs more than $100,000 to produce, providing their own western bands, and providing breakfast and lunch to all the competing teams. The 55 member team raises funds through various corporate and commercial sponsors. "We want to give back," states Pauly. What could be more grand than great music, good beer and the best of barbecue.
2011 Competition Winners List:
Overall Grand Champion: San Antonio Invitational Team-Texas Pepper Jelly
Champion Chicken: Rotten Wood Cookers
Champion Ribs: Goose Creek BBQ 1
Champion Brisket: San Antonio Invitational Team-Texas Pepper Jelly
Go Texan Best Barbecue: Freestone County Go Texan BBQ
Most Colorful Team: Holy Cow Cookers
Go Texan Most Colorful: Nueces County
Most Unique Pit: Pitmaker
Best Team Skit: Cooked on a Pitmaker
Cleanest Team Area: Floyd Morrow & Larkin
Dutch Oven Dessert Contest: Hoot County Saloon 2
|PIT MASTER PORK|
|Boeing 777 BBQ Smoker and Grill|
|Texas Size Grill for a Texas Size Picnic|