It's been 10 years since the first Houston BBQ Festival and this year's festival was one of the best. They missed 2 years due to the pandemic, but we have managed to make 8 of the 9 festivals. Chris and Michael, together with their team and many volunteers, continue to impress with one of the best organized festivals we have attended. There's a lot of hard work that goes on to host a show with 31 BBQ vendors and over 2000 attendees, but these guys make it look easy. Simple things like having enough seating, tables, paper towels, trash cans (plus a crew to keep them emptied), and being prepared for the ever changing Texas weather are things that only happen with lots of pre-event planning and experience.
The Mrs and I made our way down I-45 in 4 hours without any trouble. Our first BBQ encounter happened while checking into our hotel. There were a couple of us in line while waiting on a gentleman with a credit card issue. I thought the guy waiting with me looked familiar, then I noticed he had on a Snow's BBQ shirt. I asked if he worked at Snow's and his reply was, "I AM
Snow's!" Of course he was Kerry Bexley and we spent a couple of minutes chatting before we were able to check into our hotel. Snow's was not part of the festival, but they had come down just to enjoy the weekend and see some of their BBQ friends. We've never made it to Lexington, but we have had Snow's at several festivals, via mail order, and have sent Snow's BBQ to friends and family in Hawaii, Oregon, Indiana, and Austin. It was nice to meet Kerry and have the chance to tell him how much we have enjoyed his BBQ over the years. I think he was a bit amused when I told him I was fasting in preparation for the meat fest the following day.
April 2nd dawned cloudy with a small threat of thunderstorms. Temperatures were in the 80's and winds behaved themselves (unlike 2013). We arrived early and had a chance to wander around a bit as the VIP line formed and snaked its way back from the entrance.
18 booths were set up outside with another 13 inside. The Humble Event Center provides plenty of room with a nice indoor space to flee to if the weather gets nasty. There are also plenty of indoor restrooms so the always unpleasant porta cans are not needed. Fortunately, things stayed nice and the clouds kept the temperature from getting too toasty.
The VIPs thundered in right at noon and we were off to the BBQ races. As usual, we had brought along our BBQ boxes to gather a bunch of samples before sitting down to gnosh. We started with the outside booths, then made our way inside to visit the rest of the booths. The goal is always to sample as many booths as possible before the general admission folks come in at 1 pm. Lines quickly formed and we tended to gather up samples from the shortest lines first, then made our way back to visit the sites we had skipped when their line shortened. Samples varied greatly, as they always do, with some joints passing out a small piece of meat while others included several samples plus sides. Anyone who leaves this event hungry, just ain't trying!
There were a lot of food highlights including some excellent brisket and a brisket burger from Gatlin's, nice ribs from Tin Roof and The Brisket House, plus tasty sausage from Ray's and Brotherton. There were lots of less traditional items including Cajun, Mexican, and even Vietnamese takes on BBQ. Those included lots of pork and brisket tacos, dirty rice, boudin, beef ribs, nachos, pork belly, smoked turkey, prime rib, pork loin, meatballs, and even a BBQ take on Slim Jims. If you love variety in your BBQ, Houston is the place for you and that variety was very well represented at this festival. I think my favorite "variety" pick was Pizzitola's brisket enchiladas. There were even a few deserts on offer and my favorites were Tin Roof's strawberry swirl cheesecake and Tejas Chocolate & BBQ's Manhattan panna cotta shooter, which I heard several folks describe as "chocolate pudding." St. Arnold even brought along their own brand of root beer which was mighty tasty.
In short, it's hard to think of a better value than sampling 31 Houston (mostly) restaurants in one place for less than $5 a pop. Not only are BBQ fests a lot of fun, but they help to build a BBQ community and challenge everyone to come up with new and interesting BBQ items that might just become your new favorite. Kudos to HOU BBQ for another bang up festival that will have us all back on our diets until next year!
Several additional posts will follow "soon" with booth and food photos. Click on down and, remember, clicking on any photo will give you a larger view. Be aware clicking might just make you hungry.