The World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. I knew I'd arrived when a hazy cloud of smoke, emitted by hundreds of barbecue pits, impaired my vision and bewitched my senses. My destination was confirmed when I spotted cowboy-hat and boot-clad guys and gals descending on Reliant Park in masses, as if they were part of some kind of pilgrimage.
This year, 260,033 people poured into Reliant Park from February 23 to 25 for the annual competition, in which 263 teams from all around the state and the nation submitted 431 barbecue entries in hopes of winning prizes in the two comprehensive categories: Overall Grand Champion and Go Texan Best Barbeque, as well as the individual categories: brisket, ribs, and chicken.
I may have been just one of the thousands in attendance, but was one of the lucky few who had the pleasure of sampling some of the best 'Q being offered. The friendly Jasper County Go Texan team (winner of the Go Texan Best BBQ category) treated me to a sampling of beans, chicken, and brisket. Their super-moist chicken, served sans-barbecue sauce, had a smoky flavor to it that was of the perfect caliber. Equally delicious was the high-quality, tender brisket, although its natural flavors were slightly masked by barbecue sauce. Serving as the perfect accompaniment to the meats were home-made beans, well-seasoned with garlic and generous chunks of onion. Despite the food being lukewarm when I tried it, it was obvious that its flavors would make any Texan proud.
The same could be said about the ribs presented by the hospitable Metro Go Texan 5/Road Dog Cookers (winner of the Champion Ribs award). The delicate ribs, whose nicely textured meat effortlessly slid off the bone when I bit into them, featured an enticing peppery flavor well complemented by the dabs of barbecue sauce topping them. Small bits of fat intertwined with the meat melted in my mouth with ease, only adding to the ribs' heavenly characteristics. Evident with every bite was the love with which the ribs were cooked. They were so tasty, I found myself licking their remains off of my fingers -- had I been offered, I would have gladly eaten five or six racks of them.
Although the barbecue competition was the main attraction of the affair, the three-day fiesta also included live country music on two stages, dancing, and private tents galore. Those private tents, sponsored by companies, individuals and Texas counties, welcomed their respective invitees for a selection of barbecue and an all-access pass to the tents' bars, stocked full with everything from beer to frozen beverages to wine to hard liquor. Many private tents even had their own live musical shows. While at first I was impressed by the well-adorned, fit-for-a-rockstar tents, I eventually realized that the flashiness and size of the private tents were inversely proportional to the quality of the barbecue inside.
My Saturday-evening visit to one of the ultimate Texan experiences concluded at the main stage of the event grounds, where a large group of unabashedly excited people gathered in anticipation of the awards ceremony. Loud clapping, cheering, and animated chants erupted from all angles of the crowd. As I patiently awaited the announcement of the winners, the boisterous spectators confirmed my suspicions. While some attendees go for the delicious barbecue, others for the enjoyable musical entertainment, and many for the plethora of complimentary adult beverages, all go for the unforgettable party.
The 2012 World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest resulted in the following awards:
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