EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
BURNET — The main thrust of a barbecue cook-off is usually to see who can cook the best brisket, beans, chicken — whatever you can put in a smoker.
The State of Texas High School Barbecue Cook-off has a slightly different mission.
“One of the main things is just getting kids to work together,” said Joe Vann, a Burnet High School Career and Technology Education teacher. “A lot of these kids, well, they may not have ever worked in a team setting or had to do something under pressure like this before, and that’s something big for them.”
Plus, there’s the educational aspect.
“It’s definitely a fun event,” said Chef Mike Erickson, who teaches culinary arts at Burnet High School, “but it’s also a great chance for them to learn things: working as a team, time management, managing a project.”
For the barbecue cook-off fan, however, it’s the perfect opportunity to see young pitmasters from across the state throw down their best.
The competition is Saturday, April 29, at Burnet High School, 1000 The Green Mile. For the students and mentors participating in the event, it’s an all-day affair that starts at 6 a.m. with a cooks meeting followed by the call to “start your fire” at 6:30 a.m.
Spectators and cook-off enthusiasts can stop by anytime during the day with various turn-in times staggered throughout the late morning and afternoon. The awards ceremony begins at 5 p.m.
This is the second annual State of Texas High School Barbecue Cook-off, and it’s grown quite a bit from last year.
“It’s grown at least threefold,” Vann said.
Erickson said organizers expect 30 teams consisting of four to five students each plus a mentor. The teams are coming from as near and far away as San Antonio, Houston, and Tyler.
“It’s really taken on a life of its own,” Erickson said.
Barbecue is only part of the educational process.
Burnet High School career and technology teacher Brandon Evans pointed out that at least one of the pits used by a Burnet team was built by Burnet students. Several of the other teams also will cook on pits they or their classmates built.
“They get to see the process from beginning to the end,” Evans said.
Often, he pointed out, students in the metal fabrication program build things such as a barbecue pit that never really gets used. Then, there are the culinary arts students who plan and execute meals but never see what goes into the creation of a stove or, in this case, a pit. Plus, you have agricultural science students who learn about raising livestock but might not participate in the cooking part of the process.
“This brings that all together,” Vann added.
The students get to interact with others in the various programs that contribute to the production and delivery of food.
Plus, Vann pointed out, this is the first time some of the students actually get to take control of a pit because at home Dad usually doesn’t let them.
While the cook-off heats things up Saturday, teams begin arriving Friday to participate in a number of educational barbecue workshops. The evening is topped off with the Texas Beef Council and Bobby Wier providing dinner followed by a chuck wagon dessert.
The fun really begins Saturday as the students get the fires started in their pits and start cooking at 7 a.m. This, Erickson said, is when a lot of the learning takes place because unlike in a classroom setting or cooking at home, a competition has deadlines and other tasks that need to be completed. And the mentor can only advise the students, he or she can’t touch the pit, the meat, or anything directly related to the food preparation.
“You learn really fast about time and project management,” Erickson said.
The Saturday cook-off is open to the public. Since it’s in the high school parking lot, organizers recommended people bring lawn chairs if they plan to stay for very long. Also, most of the parking lot will be cordoned off, so shuttles will transport visitors from the Bulldog Field parking lot area to the cook-off site.
Email Erickson at email@example.com for more information or sponsorship opportunities.