HITCHCOCK — The barbecue cook-off is a reliable crowd pleaser at the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo.
Barbecue cook-off Superintendent Lew Benham said 270 teams compete every year because that’s the total number of lots available to rent for the competition. Many teams have stood their ground for more than a decade, which is why there’s an eight-year waiting list to compete, he said.
“We’re just now letting in teams that have been on the wait list since 2005,” Benham said.
Brad Dillon, assistant superintendent of the cook-off, said it’s the largest county fair barbecue cook-off in Texas. It’s the kickoff to the Triple Crown competition that also includes the Hitchcock Good Ole’ Days and Texas City Fun Fest.
“Barbecue is twice as big as the seafood cook-off,” Dillon said. “There’s no way to compare them.”
Teams spend money to compete. It costs $275 just to rent one lot, and many teams rent more than one.
“Mom and pop teams can spend as little as a couple thousand dollars, and sponsored teams can spend as much as $40,000,” Dillon said. “There’s a whole mix of people who come out for the chance to win major bragging rights.”
The judges — 84 of them — taste entries for brisket, ribs, fajitas, pulled pork, chicken and chicken wings.
“So far, the judging has gone real well,” Benham said. “A lot of good food comes off these pits.”
The Beef Masters, one of the smaller teams with six members from League City and Galveston, fanned their fires day and night to sear two pits full to the brim with eight briskets, 10 slabs of ribs, 15 pounds of fajita meat and 30 pounds of chicken, member Larry Ladewig said.
“It’s a lot of money,” cook Vidal Espinoza said. “The cost of meat has gone up. But it’s worth it to bring people together for good food and drinks.”
The Beef Masters have returned to their favorite lot on the main fair drag for 19 consecutive years.
“We’ve gotten to know each other real well,” Ladewig said. “We’re all connected through friendship, camaraderie and competition.”
It’s more about competing against their friends and neighbors than winning, member Gloria McDougle said.
“We like the competition, but if we win, that’s just extra,” she said.
At the end of the day, even during the cook-off, it’s less about the barbecue than the children, Ladewig said.
“We enjoy the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo and what they do for the kids,” he said. “We’d like to think we contribute to that.”