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Silence Of The Hams

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Sad to report that I'm not clever enough to have come up with that little pun on my own (or even, "It puts the BBQ sauce on its skin, or else it gets the hose again!" - a friend came up with that gem shortly afterwards). No, the credit for both the pun and for having a shockingly good sense of humor goes entirely to the Houston FBI field office, whose team name at this past weekend's 2nd Annual Texas Association of First Responders Charity Wild Game Cookoff was none other than "Silence Of The Hams."

They weren't the only law enforcement agency to have both their smoking prowess and their sense of humor on display: The U.S. Customs Service team name was "Smugglers' Blues" while the Secret Service -- whose cooking area was housed in a mock-up of Air Force One -- had the fitting "Smoke and Mirrors" as their team name. In all, 93 different law enforcement organizations from across the greater Houston area turned out to Sam Houston Race Park on Friday and Saturday to display their cooking and 'cueing skills.

As you can probably imagine, this was not only one of the safest places to be this weekend, but also one of the stricter cookoffs I've ever seen. For the purposes of the "wild game" category (although teams also competed in regular barbecue categories, as well as a fish and/or seafood bracket), the game was defined as "any animal regulated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife, any similar state agency, and/or any federal agency and to include white tail deer, mule deer, elk, dove, quail...." Let's just say the list of rules was about as long as you'd expect for any government-run affair.

That aside, the Wild Game Cookoff is truly one of Houston's hidden gems, with plenty more to do and see besides roasting chickens on a spit.

The cookoff is a chance to mingle with law enforcement and public service officials in a far more casual atmosphere than you'd likely encounter them in on a normal weekend. The Montgomery County Sheriff's Department invited people to play in their "jail," which was set up next to some craps tables in their tent, while the Mad Hog Cookers set up a specials "ladies only" area where women could primp, relax in fluffy chairs, and use portable toilets that contained potpourri and fancy soaps.

Overhead, helicopters took off and landed with regularity, as agencies like the Houston Police Department and Life Flight invited guests to come check out the choppers on an up-close-and-personal basis, pepper the flight crew with questions and pose for pictures. Antique fire engines, fully armored Humvees and off-roading golf carts on steroids were just a few of the other sights mixed in among the tents and smokers.

At 5 p.m. on Saturday, the winning teams were presented with their trophies, but it was easy to tell that the pride of winning had nothing on the pride of raising money for their fellow law enforcement officers who had been killed or injured in the line of duty. Last year, the very first Wild Game Cookoff raised $6,500 for The 100 Club. This year, that amount will likely be even greater.

For more photos from the event, check out our slideshow.

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