Go Big may sound like a cliché, but in Texas, and most certainly in Houston, it’s an attitude that plays out in reality.
Metro Houston’s 6.3 million residents is more than double the population of Kansas and exceeds the population of Missouri. The thriving economy is a diverse mix of oil and gas-related industries, medical technology, agribusiness, construction, Fortune 500 companies, government and seafood.
I recently experienced how Houston pulls out all the stops for Go Big hospitality at the 45th Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest.
The action took place in Houston’s NRG parking lot, sandwiched between the Astrodome and NRG Stadium.
More than 250 competition barbecue teams were set up in elaborately outfitted hospitality tents (access by invitation only) and cooking spaces in a huge temporary smoked meat paradise village.
Taking in this event for our first time, friend and BBQ buddy Brian Nowotny and I experienced a four-day Go Big festival of fun, food and culture at the contest and in metro Houston. Thanks to a stellar Metro transit system and Uber, we did it all without renting a car.
First stop was a Gulf Coast shrimp feast lunch and reunion visit with my relatives at cousin Alfred Davis’ thousand-acre spread adjoining a huge nature reserve. Later we went downtown to Houston’s Club Quarters Hotel, compliments of a ride from cousin Larry Davis. We talked barbecue, work and family as Larry navigated Houston traffic.
Our first Houston dinner prior to barbecue feasts over the next two days was at Xochi for Oaxacan cuisine. Our sampling of four house moles and wood-fired oysters was followed by entrees of tender flavorful roasted pork, plus worms, giant winged ants and grasshoppers atop housemade cheese with a huaxamole rojo and chicharrones complement.
The crispy grasshopper and ant flavors were lost in the mole; the worms were chewy with a slight medicinal accent — an altogether delicious combination paired with a locally brewed chocolate milk stout draft.
After Thursday morning side trips to the Czech Museum, Lawndale Art Center, and a brisket, sausage and exceptionally delicious big beef rib lunch at Killen’s in Pearland, we went straight to the NRG parking lot. Teams and vendors were setting up in preparation for Go Big crowds of hungry, thirsty Texans. We checked in with longtime friend and BBQ buddy Bill Felder, Texas Social Club Director, our home base host for the duration of the barbecue.
The next two days were packed with sights of Western boots, hats, gimme caps, jeans, pit boss aprons, wrangler ropes, bone art and team social tents. It was mixed with a steady aroma of meat fires and fried everything — Twinkies, Oreos, cheesecake, onion rings, corn dogs, etc. — with sound blasts of country, country rock and marching bands.
Friday and Saturday judging was a memorable highlight. Besides judging delicious dutch oven desserts on Friday and ribs (Brian) and brisket (me) on Saturday, getting to know our attentive table captains and fellow judges was a big plus.
To qualify for Grand Champion, teams entered three meat categories: Chicken, Pork Ribs and Beef Brisket. We judged Sight/Texture, 1 to 5 points; Smell, 1 to 10 points; Tenderness, 1 to 15 points; and Taste, 1 to 20 points. Our brisket table judged some top-quality brisket, thankfully with no sauce, allowing us to judge the quality of the meat itself.
Events of this magnitude don’t just happen to run smoothly. It requires hard and smart work. Houston’s Livestock Show & Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest runs smoothly thanks to 15 committees and more than 1,300 committee members. Each committee member is attentive to every detail, including Go Big Texas hospitality to all who enter the gates of the contest grounds.
Congratulations to this year’s Grand Champion team, Buns-N-Roses, and to all participating teams. Kudos to Houston’s 45th Livestock Show & Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B- Que Contest staff and committees for a smokin’ fantastic event!
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. He is author/co-author of 11 published barbecue books and is a 2016 inductee into the Barbecue Hall of Fame.