When the pits had cooled at the High School BBQ state cook-off April 23-24, the Bulldog FFA BBQ team had a share of the grand championship.
“It’s a highlight, that’s for sure,” said Brandon Evans, the Burnet High School agriculture science teacher. “There’s a lot of highlights we’ve had here at this ag chapter. We’ve had a state FFA president. We’ve had animals win grand champion at major stock shows. I would say this is up there with those as a highlight.”
Evans coaches the Bulldog FFA BBQ team, which earned co-grand champion with the Smoking Eagles of Atascocita High School among sixty-two teams competing in the state cook-off in Llano. The Bulldog team members are Greyson Barnett, Hayden Henry, Adrian Lopez, and Kori Gililland.
Teams compete in five categories: dessert, beans, chicken, ribs, and brisket. Bulldog FFA BBQ earned first in chicken, third in brisket, and ninth in dessert.
It’s a long day during a cook-off with competitors usually lighting the fire in their pit barbecues before the sun peaks over the horizon.
Burnet Consolidated Independent School District was well represented with a total of four teams at the cook-off. Along with Bulldog FFA BBQ, the other state-qualifying BCISD teams were Burnet FFA BBQ, Burnet Iron Dawgs, and Quest for Que.
“I think having that many teams (at the state cook-off) speaks volumes. To be able to pull that many teams out of the town and community we have is great,” Evans said.
Maybe it should come as no surprise that BCISD excels in high school barbecue cook-offs. After all, the competition started at Burnet High School six years ago, created by Evans and culinary arts teacher Mike Erickson, who coaches the Iron Dawgs.
“I think the first year (at the state championship), we have maybe four teams there in the (Burnet) high school parking lot,” Evans said. “I think it’s growing fast (because) it’s something new and different. Plus, you don’t have to be a star athlete to compete and be successful in it.”
Erickson pointed out that barbecuing requires many skills that students learn in class together. It’s also fun.
“Our society has a knee-jerk reaction to changing things in education and tend to go from one extreme to another when we just need to get back to fundamentals and letting kids enjoy being young and give them learning opportunities that are fun and they do not realize how much they are learning because they are engaged,” he said.
Evans said barbecue competitions show agriculture students the full production side of the business, from raising an animal to the finished dish, which he describes as “pasture to plate.”
Students learn a number of valuable skills, including time management, cooperation, and teamwork, which are useful in any career.
Evans said since Burnet High School started competitive barbecuing six years ago, several former students have earned extra money catering. After returning from the 2021 state cook-off, the teams catered a teacher appreciation meal.
Erickson and Evans both like how barbecue cooking gives students an opportunity to shine, especially those who might not excel in sports or other extracurricular activities.
And they have the support of the entire district as well as the community.
As the four BCISD teams prepared for the trip to Llano, the district’s transportation department offered to haul all of their pits to the contest.
Evans said it was an impressive sight as an 18-wheeler rolled into the John L. Kuykendall Event Center in Llano.
“The support we have from the school principal, the school district is amazing,” he said. “They’re supporting these kids on the same level as other teams and organizations.”
That support is nice, especially considering some of the other high school teams have pits valued at thousands of dollars and are sponsored and taught by professional chefs and restaurants. Bulldog FFA BBQ won the state championship with a pit built eight years ago by the school’s agriculture science students in their welding program.
It’s not the gear, but the students using it.
“High School BBQ started here in Burnet, and we just let our students’ talents shine,” Erickson added. “They make us proud, and this has been an incredible year for all our kids with all the challenges and uncertainty.”
Visit the High School BBQ website for more about the state cook-off or competitive high school barbecue.