The REAL Reason Why the Houston BBQ Cook-Off is the Best Part of the Rodeo (And it's not the Food)
How cook off tents work: A team gets together, they have to apply for a 40x40 spot. If they want a bigger area than that, then they have to be added to a waiting list or know someone on the committee. The waiting list for a double spot is around 10 years+. Then the teams have to find sponsors. When you're putting out the amount of food that these people are, you're going to have a pretty big grocery bill. Planning begins over a year in advance. One team I met with said they were already discussing their plans for the 2018 cook off. That takes dedication!
But even more impressive than the food is the people who make up the teams. I had the pleasure of meeting up with two teams yesterday, and while the BBQ they served was amazing, I fell in love with the people more. You see, some teams come together because they work together. Some teams are family members. Some are lifelong friends. And some just enjoy being together and cooking some really great food for the bragging rights.
Here's a little more information on the teams I had the pleasure of spending last night with.
These guys made me feel like one of the team as soon as I stepped into their tent. Who am I kidding? I felt at home I got in the booth - as all the jokesters were kidding with one another and maybe showing off a little ;) But all kidding aside, their food was amazing. Their ribs were fall of the bone tender, the mashed potatoes were a perfect addition to the plate, and their Thursday night special of crawfish etouffee was out of sight good! While talking to Robert (one of the team captains), he told me they make around 700 lbs of brisket, 300 lbs of pork butt, and also chicken, crawfish, sausage, and sides. They actually have the meat delivered from the butcher directly to them at their tent.
Buteven as good as the food was, the best part of this tent was the people running it. Terry Keck and Robert Davis (long time friends) have been on a cook off team for 29 years. That's a lot of time in the smoke! They told me about how the cook off was way off site on Old Spanish Trail before NRG Stadium was built, and how the number of teams keeps growing and growing every year.
Everyone in the tent or on the team is either family, friends that are like family, or a sponsor. In talking with Robert, I got to see the heart he has for team. He teared up as he told me how each and every one of them has been there for him throughout his life, health scares, and personal issues. To me, that's the real reason why the rodeo cook off is such a great event. Yes, there's great food. Yes, there's dancing and fun. But the connection those guys have is undeniable. They give each other grief, but they would do anything for anyone at the same time.
First of all, that team name is hilarious. But it kind of prepares you for the kind of characters you're going to meet once you step inside their tent. Their team was started by Cleo and Steven Downey. These two brothers were known for providing great food and an even better atmosphere. After Cleo passed away, Steven kept the rodeo cook off tradition alive and they've been growing larger and larger every year since. The team works tirelessly to support the American Diabetes Association, as some of their members suffer from this unfortunate disease.
The best thing on the menu: The chicken was succulent and juicy, but what stole the show for me was something new they tried this year - a rib eye thinly sliced and rolled around a cream cheese stuffed jalapeno. So SO good!
They also had a band performing in their tent. It's pretty popular for tents to have DJ's and bands, and it makes it so fun - especially when the dancing gets started!
This may sound strange, but I also have to talk about their port o potties. Yes, most portable toilets are icky, stinky, and you just plain feel gross when you're inside one and you can't wait to get out. But the Saddle Tramps did something about that. They decided to make their port-o-potties more homey. There's curtains hiding the plastic walls, side table for ladies to put their purses on, candles, and even a chandelier. You almost forget you're in a portable toilet. It was awesome!
I just want to say a big thank you to both teams for having me out! I had such a great time getting to know you, your stories, and indulging in your food.
If you'd like to go to the cook-off, the tickets to get in are $15 for adults (or $25 for a season pass to all the events - excluding the concerts) and $5 for kids. Included in this, you'll get to go to the public BBQ tent, but if you want to go to a specific tent, you have to know somebody.