The food always takes center stage at the Houston Rodeo. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The carnival scene at the Houston Rodeo is always a major attraction. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
At the Houston Rodeo, food rules. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Gold Buckle Foodie Competition had pizza like you've never seen before.
Flaming hot Cheetos are trending.
Check out the mighty rodeo meats.
There's no sweeter sight.
Fruity pebbles are kind of a big deal.
Everything's better on a stick.
Vendors competed in eight categories.
This caramel apple got a major upgrade.
Need a side of jalapeño with that?
It’s that time again — time for the ultimate test of carnival food. The 11th Annual Gold Buckle Foodie Competition at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo always delivers.
The rodeo eats are more adventurous than ever this year, from cheese pizza topped with grub worms and scorpions to not one but two takes on Fruity Pebble fried shrimp.
Over the course of nearly four hours, judges from all different radio and TV stations, magazines and blogs took on taste tests of more than 40 types of foods.
Beware the dogged determination of media types in snip toe cowboy boots and big-ass belt buckles at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Chowing down on meaty sample after sweet sample, it’s like the dozens of judges were storing up for winter — only winter is already winding down.
They learned an important lesson, one any carnival-goer should take heed of. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
And if you’re in a food coma, there’s a cure for what ails you: a sugar rush.
The judges scored the carnival snacks and treats from a scale of one (low) to 10 (high) in eight different categories. There was New Flavor, with a twist on funnel cake, like banana pudding, and a S’mores-style cookie cake.
But it also had a few updated mainstays that looked pretty classic from first glance, like a cheeseburger with a hidden surprise: 100 percent Texas Wagyu beef.
Most Creative included the likes of the cereal-dipped shrimp, and Fried ran the gamut from your classic fried Oreos to fried cheesecake and what seemed to be fried tamales.
Specialty eats such as nitrogen-infused churros and the kitchen sink baked potato lived up to their name.
On-A-Stick speaks for itself, as do Dessert and Classic Fair food. Value was pretty impressive when you got down to it — 15 fried oreos for just $25, served in a jaunty commemorative plastic cowboy hat.
The judges at four different jam-packed tables saw the veritable feast before them, with the rounds starting off slow then picking up in speed and, predictably, calories. Two tables took on four categories, and the remaining couple of tables tackled the other four. There was definitely some jealousy on both sides.
It started out with a chorus of “Bring it on!”
Early on, judges were told to make the most of palate cleansers, like juicy red grapes, oyster crackers, pickles and little bottles of water. This plan was soon abandoned to make the most out of the eat drink and be merry-go-round of food at the judges’ disposal.
The steak dinner on a stick was dubbed the Leaning Tower of Steak, and described as heaven. Of course, not everyone could get their own sample on a spear — they had to be broken off and split between the judges. The joke was it was “deconstructed” rodeo food on-a-stick, an oxymoron if there ever was one.
After a while, table three shifted over to sweets, sweets and more sweets. Until the jumbo turkey leg finally came out, and someone literally shouted “There is a God!”
But their eyes proved bigger than their stomachs. By the time the third corndog variety rolled around, it was like the outside world ceased to exist.
People started talking about food rounds the way you would days spent stranded on a desert island. It’s day 30 since my ship crashed on shore. The days are starting to blur together. It’s sample 30 since I pulled up my seat, I think — I’ve lost count.
But the emcees were clear: champions are made in the 10th and 11th rounds. There was a certain shame in tapping out early — even if it was after 30-some-odd-samples— even if those departing patted their bellies and said “I’m leaving on a high note.”
Some key observations: there is, indeed, a reason it’s called the meat sweats. If you really want something green, you’re going to have to find it on a burger. Jalapenos and flaming hot Cheetos are trending. No, they definitely don’t do chicken-fried bacon at Popeyes.
And finally — there are definitely rodeo foods you can’t get your head around, much less your mouth around.
Read on for the winners of this year’s Gold Buckle competition. If you’re not hungry now, you will be.
Best Specialty Food
1). All of Us — Chocolate Cobbler, $8.95
2). The Great Texas Pecan Candy Co — Pecan Roux, $6.95-$27
3). Sweet Feed — Cinnamon Roasted Pecans, $9
Classic Fair Food
1). Candy Factory — Hot Crunchy Cheeto Cotton Candy, $7
2). Harlon’s BBQ — All Meat Potato, $15
3). Texas Tater Twister — Texas Bucket of Nachos, $13
1). Salt Grass — Ribs and Chicken Platter, $12
2). Paradise Burgers — Paradise Fries, $13.95
3). Yoakum Packing Co. — Chopped Beef BBQ Stuffed Baked Potato, $10.50
1). Holmes Smokehouse — Bacon-wrapped Pecan-smoked Sausage, $7
2). Texas Steak Out — Steak Dinner on a Stick, $16
3). Harlon’s BBQ — Bacon-wrapped Boudin on a Stick, $12
Best Fried Food
1).The Original Mineapple Pie — Minnechocolate Pie, $8
2). Sweet Cheeks — Deep-fried Oreos, $8
3). Yoakum Packing Co. — Deep-fried Brisket Balls
Most Creative Food
1). The Candy Factory — Unicorn Float, $8
2). Cowboy Kettle Corn — Nitro Churros, $7
3). The Original Minneapple Pie — The Ultimate Minneapple Pie, $10
1). Aunt Edmoes Cookies — Cookie Dough Parfait, $8
2). Dippin Dots — Dippin Dots cookines N Cream, Banana Split, Chocolate and Rainbow Ice Cool Mint Crunch, $6 – $9
3). Nitro Treats — Dole Whip Taco
Best New Flavor
1). Totally Baked Cookie Joint — Smoorcookie, $14
2). Sills Funnel Cakes — Fried Red Velvet Cupcake, $8
3). Ranch House Meat Company — BBQ Poppers