The third weekend in May is probably one of my favorite weekends. It is Texas Steak Cookoff
weekend after all! When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if the Texas heat picks up (like in 2010
) or a huge thunderstorm moves in (like in 2011
) or if the weather is just about perfect (in 2012) – we leave stuffed, exhausted and smelling like a grill. I love it.
This year I had the privileged of being asked to judge the hors d’oeuvres. I was actually given a choice and had chosen to judge the hors d’oeuvres. Believe me it wasn’t an easy decision. Steak or hors d’oeuvres, you really can’t go wrong either way. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I had never judged a food competition. All I knew was I was going to leave downright full and hoping I would still have room for a steak a few hours later. Priorities I tell ya!
We started off the day early – I wanted to make sure I got there on time. We left the DFW area around 8am and were in Hico by 9:45am. Perfect. As soon as we opened the doors for the car, we could smell that wonderful, wonderful scent. Smoke. Charcoal. Grills. Since I was early, it gave me some time to walk around and check out the scene. 102 competitors this year. It seems like every year there’s a few more entries. That’s what we like to see folks!
The way this works is for $25 you receive a wristband and a ticket. The wristband entitles you to walk around and soak up all the hors d’oeuvres your stomach can handle. The ticket comes in handy around 5pm when you can turn it in and have a steak cooked by the Backyard Chef of your choice. Walk around all day, chat with the chef’s, have a couple cold ones. Makes for a great Texas afternoon. Even pirates love the cookoff.
At 10:45am, I made my way to the Midland Hotel where the judging would take place. I was hungry and ready to get this underway. The judging is set up with three tables of five judges. The entries start to stream in in white Styrofoam containers. Each container is labeled with a number and we judge on taste and appearance on a scale of 1-5. I had (and still don’t) no idea which chef submitted the appetizers. Heck I still don’t even know what some of the hors d’oeuvres were. It doesn’t sound hard but the more items you taste, the harder it gets. And did I mention it’s really quick? So quick as soon as you’re done one, you’re onto the next. I ended up judging around 27-28 hors d’oeuvres (1/3 of the submissions) in what felt like 20 minutes. Believe me, as nice as it is that these tasty treats are brought to you, the judging is quick and it isn’t easy. Once the first round of judging was complete, round two began where the top scoring entries were rejudged to decide the winners (with a smaller group of judges). At the end of the first round, I not only a belly full of food but also a plate full of food. I only took a bite of each entry and I wasn’t about to let the rest of it go to waste. I soon gained a lot of attention walking around with some friends being approached by others saying “Where’d you get that plate?!”
Now, I bet you would like to know what I tried. Once I was looking at my “leftovers” it took me a second to try to process what I just ate. During the judging, one of the other judges at my table made a comment about how she heard that a team was making meatballs from calf fries then stated that she was interested to know what everything was after we were done judging. That’s right – we had no idea what anything was. After that comment, I pretty much said I was good not knowing on this one, haha. Our group had tried out two large meatballs. (If you don’t know what calf fries are – they’re bull testicles.) I’m a “Yankee”. I wasn’t raised eating jalapenos in my dinner but since I was judging I sure as heck wasn’t going to turn them away. I made sure to try everything that was included in the hors d’oeuves. Now, I have this new appreciation for these green peppers with a kick. They’re pretty tasty.
Some of the items I got to try (and I’m really taking a stab at this here):
Grilled avocado stuffed with crab meat (?) topped with a spicy ranch. (Fantastic!)
Tortilla filled with pulled pork (?) and a BBQ (possible bean) mix. (Delicious)
Meatball with a cheese stuffed jalapeno in the middle topped with some kind of sauce.
The biggest piece of shrimp I quite possibly have ever seen with stuffed jalapeno wrapped in bacon.
Cucumber (the middle was cut out) stuffed with a citrus blend. (Super fresh tasting)
There was some kind of a salad dip that I think had scallops, add some avocado and tortilla chips. (Great summer dip/salad.)
Spiral tortilla sandwich with a sweet jam (this was pretty good too).
Pronghorn antelope (I only know this because it was written on the box).
Olive, cherry tomato and (oh there was a third component on that toothpick) with a sauce that not only looked great but was delicious when they blended all together.
A few variations of stuffed jalapenos.
In the picture, there is a cup of dip. I have no idea what this is but it was good.
Soft taco filled with brisket and it had a great kick to it!
If you recognize anything on this plate, let me know and I will add it to the list. If I happened to mention one of the above that you submitted, please send me a recipe, haha! (I’m serious.)
The “Backyard Chefs” cook all afternoon. It’s pretty important to just keep walking up and down the streets and checking them out if you want some food. Here are some of the items we came across:
On a side note, I don’t know who found this cooler but I LOVED it!
There’s a Wine Tasting Event (which I would love to try next year although I saw a couple people stumbling out.), local businesses are open (antique shops, Texas furniture that if only I was rich I could fill an entire home), craft tents and a kids petting zoo.
This isn’t an event just for adults. We’ve had friends come last year and this year who have brought their 1-2 year old and their 6-7 year old. It’s enjoyable for everyone. Every year there is also a raffle that you enter with your ticket. This years prizes were a grill, Rangers tickets and gift certificates for local stores. There’s something for everyone.
Now – for the main event.
Once 5pm rolls around you basically pick your “Backyard Chef” tent that you would like to cook your steak. That’s right, pick any one of the competitors, tell ’em how you would like your steak cooked and they’ll give it to you in a few minutes.
Once you have your steak, head on over to another tent where you will get a hot baked potato, salad and a drink (soda/water).
There’s tents set up with tables to have a seat and eat. We had our steaks cooked at “Son of a Motherless Goat”. Yes, that was their team name. I laughed when they told me. The name is greatness and so was the steak. It was cooked perfectly and tasted phenomenal. Out of our group, three of us had our steaks cooked by Son of a Motherless Goat and one of the steaks didn’t even make it past the sides line before it was gone. It was that good! I’m not sure where Son they were from but if they’re near the DFW area and are grilling out – let us know we’ll be happy to stop by!
Now the only thing missing to this great day/feast is some ice cream!
(Note: I later learned Blue Bell was there giving away some ice cream! I sure missed out. Great sponsorship!)
My only regret is that we didn’t stay until the very end to find out who won. I can’t complain – I had rode down with some friends but I’m definitely interested in finding out who the winners are (and plan on staying until the end next year). You can view all of the winners, here.
Here’s some advice if you plan on attending:
Bring comfortable shoes and walk around and talk with the chefs. They love feeding you and talking with you! Keep making the rounds.
Bring an empty belly.
Beverages – we brought a cooler. Keep some water (or a beverage of your choice) on hand. It is Texas in May after all. It can get hot.
If a plastic knife doesn’t do it for ya – bring you’re own steak knife (or use your fingers).
Finally, a huge key point I would like to make. Hico is located in the Hill Country and is by far one of the prettiest areas in Texas. Make sure to look out the windows and enjoy the scenery on your drive. Soak it up.