GALVESTON — At some Texas cook-offs, the equipment used to cook food can be as impressive as the flavors.

But in a world of custom-made smokers, trailer-drawn pits and other contraptions, a competition in Galveston on Saturday sought to even the playing field.

During the Second annual Old Smokey Throwdown, 80 teams competed to make the best wings, ribs and bacon-flavored treats. The twist, however, was that each team was limited to using one type of cooking device — the titular Old Smokey, a 2-foot tall, aluminum charcoal grill.

Brian Leto, the owner of Albatross, the bar that sponsors the cook-off, said the idea for a one-grill cook-off was the result of a spurt of inspiration.

“The brainchild was from a buddy of mine, one of those having-drinks-in-the-backyard ideas,” Leto said. “It’s kind of like Southwest Airlines starting on the back of napkin.”

The cook-off itself is a celebration of Leto’s ownership of Albatross, which he and his wife have owned for three years. The inaugural cook-off was held last year and involved 40 teams. This year’s field expanded to 86 teams. 

Teams were given a grill as part of their registration fee — the Old Smokey Products Co. is an official sponsor of the event — and were welcome to purchase more. 

Bruce K. Jamison, the company’s owner, said the Galveston event was the first of its kind for the company.

“We had the idea kicking around for a long time,” Jamison said of the event being held in Galveston. “It’s fabulous.”

Jamison said he believed that while many competitive grillers might have high-end equipment, he believes that his company’s grills are in “all their backyards.”

Competitors were encouraged to decorate the grills as well, a suggestion that some took to heart. Under the tents Saturday, there were grills tagged with bacon graffiti, grills painted to look like a Pat O’Brien’s hurricane, even grills bolted to bicycles.

While most of the grillers contented themselves with the Old Smokey classic, at least one committed to some custom fabrication.

Using two medium grills, some heating ducts, a firebox and 12 hours of garage time, Henry Vazquez managed to create a device that was earning plenty of attention.

The double-headed smoker was legal, he said, as far as he knew.

“Everybody’s on the same level,” Vazquez said. “I just jumped it up a little.”

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or

(1) comment

Miceal O'Laochdha

Henry, that rig is a thing a beauty and imagination! Combining art with practicality, like all great metal craftsmen/artists.

Sorry I missed this event.

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