Just as it sounds, the challenge of the Saint Arnold Brewing Company’s annual (and very popular) One Pot Showdown is for teams to make in one pot a dish that is both creative and delicious. While some items could be served on the side, like polenta or tortillas, those items didn’t count during judging and teams had been strongly encouraged to cook everything on-site. Additionally, the dish had to incorporate Saint Arnold’s beer.
This year’s competition fell on Sunday, January 31, a day with unseasonably springtime-like weather. Attendees wandered to a back pavilion to fill their beer cups again and again as temperatures wandered to a pleasantly warm 77 degrees. Of course, with the nature of the challenge, many of the dishes offered were stews, soups and chilis — exactly what would normally be perfect in January.
It took a village — in this case, of judges — to taste through 80 dishes created by as many teams. To tackle the massive task, guest judges who included culinary director Lance Fegen of F.E.E.D. TX restaurant group, Alba Huerta of Julep, Phaedra Cook for the Houston Press (that’s me), Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle and Katharine Shilcutt of Houstonia magazine were first teamed with two other judges from Saint Arnold. The eight teams of three selected the top two dishes from ten tents. That whittled 80 dishes to 16.
Next, the guest judges divided up those 16 dishes for re-tasting, this time ranking them. By the end, the best dishes were apparent, although it was still difficult to select and rank the remaining worthy contenders.
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Two prior winners placed again this year. An all-female team called the One Pot Wenches took second place back in 2011 for collard greens made with Saint Arnold Lawnmower beer. This year, they took third place and a modest trophy made of a pot lid for a thick, hearty five pepper chili that delivered a nice punch of spicy heat that wasn’t overwhelming.
Second place (or First Loser, as Saint Arnold calls it) went to a team called The Relief Pitchers for their Indian meatballs made with Sailing Santa. The warming baking spices and ginger in the beer made it an excellent companion for a hearty dose of garam masala in the meatballs. The team got a cash prize of $200 and a trophy.
The big winner was a team named The Carnies, who scored with their breakfast sausage-imbued pancakes created with Saint Arnold Ale Wagger, an American brown ale. It was a sweet victory for the team, which won the inaugural One Pot Showdown in 2008. It’s a comeback they fought years to get. They often placed second or third in subsequent years, but until this year, the top spot eluded them. (Interestingly, like the One Pot Wenches, they placed in 2011, securing third place for a different take on the sausage-and-pancakes concept.) For their time and trouble, the team won $500, a Traeger Wood Pellet Grill and a trophy.
With the enduring popularity of the Saint Arnold One Pot Showdown, it’s a fair bet that teams are already plotting their dishes for next year.