HITCHCOCK — It all started with a potato.

The Shipwrecked Cookers and The Other Cookers “R” Always in Heat, both barbecue cook-off teams, have had an ongoing rivalry for the past 17 years.

“We used to write stuff on potatoes and throw it over their fence when they weren’t looking,” Shipwrecked Cookers member Bryan Hayes said. “It was awesome.” 

Hayes, 30, is part of a new generation in the friendly ongoing war. His father Michael, 60, and Ron Wofford, 46, from The Other Cookers “R” Always in Heat have been neighborhood friends for more than 20 years.

“We’ve cooked together, beside each other, against each other and with each other,” Wofford said. “We’ve become a big family.”

Each year, the two teams try to one-up each other, and the pranks have escalated.

“It went to water balloons and loaves of bread,” Michael Hayes said.

One year, The Other Cookers “R” Always in Heat threw three loaves of bread on top of the Shipwrecked Cookers’ camper to attract seagulls.

“It was like something out of a Hitchcock movie,” Michael Hayes said.

This year’s shenanigans began last weekend during the seafood cook-off when Bryan Hayes tied a billy goat wearing a Shipwrecked Cookers shirt with a green bandanna outside the yard of The Other Cookers’ “R” Always in Heat member J.J. Hildebrand.

“That was pretty good,” Bryan Hayes said. “Four o’clock in the morning and that billy goat is going nuts in J.J.’s yard.”

“Only reason they went to J.J.’s house instead of mine is because his is closer,” Wofford said, laughing.

When the teams aren’t pranking each other during the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo, they get together to watch Texans games and grill out on the weekends. 

The families are close, but not close enough to share their cook-off secrets. 

“What we cook is what we cook, and we respect each other,” Wofford said. “We don’t ever steal any recipes.”

The weekend has just started and the teams are preparing for the first contest of the barbecue cook-off: grilled chicken wings.

On Friday, Wofford took a break, walked over to the Shipwrecked Cookers smoker and pulled out two potatoes he stuck in there the night before. 

Holding a skewed potato, he laughed along with members of the Shipwrecked Cookers, who hadn’t yet realized they were in there.

The game is on.

“You’re always looking over your shoulder and wondering ‘what are they going to do next?’” he said.

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