It was the second time in three years that I’ve been a Gold Buckle Foodie judge. I missed last year because I was transitioning to the Fort Bend Star from The Sealy News. I regret missing last year. One of my rules for good living is to never turn down an opportunity to be a foodie judge.
This year, however, the competition just about did me in. Three hours of sampling fair fare is enough to bloat an elephant – which is pretty much how I felt as I waddled out of the room when it was over. When it comes to eating food at the HLSR there are two things you must understand going in: First, it will be hard on your waistline. Second, it will be hard on your wallet. Let’s face it, fair food isn’t cheap, but cheap food isn’t this much fun.
The Gold Buckle Foodie Awards are judged by local media personalities. When it comes to eating free food there are no better judges than us media types. We’re drawn to fried stuff on a stick like a cop to a box of donuts.
This year I was blessed to share a table with Carder and Rachelle, who do the morning show on KSBJ (89.3). Joining them was Chris Chicago, morning DJ for KSBJ’s sister station NGEN Radio (91.7). Filling out (their waistlines at) our table were Houston Food Finder Scott Sandlin, Gwendolyn Knapp of the Houston Press and Cowboy Dave, one of the morning DJs at 100.3 The Bull.
As we began, we were reminded to pace ourselves, as this was a marathon and not a sprint. Two years ago I left the competition hungry. I heeded the advice a little too closely and didn’t take very big samples. I was also wearing braces at the time and just had them tightened that morning, so my mouth was in pain. This year I made the sophomore mistake of going for the gusto and enjoying this culinary journey. That was actually a good strategy until the third hour rolled around (it was supposed to last two hours).
In that time we officially tasted 28 foods. We voluntarily sampled another, but more on that later. None of the judges sampled everything. Too many judges and too much food. There were eight categories and multiple entries in each.
First up were the breakfast foods. We got chicken waffles, which were not great. It placed third out of three. Apparently breakfast isn’t a big thing at the rodeo. That was followed by Classic Fair Food. In that category we sampled funnel cake, nachos and a turkey leg. The turkey leg placed second, but I liked the funnel cake better.
The Best Value category was for me the best overall. We had to consider taste and price. For my money, Saltgrass Steakhouse’s baby back rib platter was not only the best thing I ate at the contest, it was a good deal at $12. The next category was Food-on-a-Stick. We had some really good mystery meat that I loved (but it didn’t place) and a very good Corny Dog.
Of course, it isn’t fair food if it isn’t fried, right? I gave my highest scores in this category. The deep fried brisket balls were outstanding. They were just a couple shades better than the fried fish tacos and the fried green beans.
The Most Creative Food category was by far the most colorful. We sampled corn on the cob and pizza, both flavored with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The problem is that the Cheetos lose their heat and crispiness when they’re cooked, so the look and the name are more appealing than the product.
What won this category and what we asked to sample after the competition was the Nitro Pop from Cowboy Kettle Corn. This colorful concoction of candied kettle corn is frozen in dry ice. When you eat it, your mouth turns into a fog machine. Food has never, ever been this much fun to eat!
The Best New Flavor category requires that the food be new to the HLSR, not necessarily a new food. The winner this year was one of my favorites – Chocolate Dipped Oatmeal Cream Pie! It could have won Best Dessert, but it wasn’t entered in that category. That was won by Fried What’s deep-fried Buckeyes (chocolate-covered peanut butter balls). I’m still drooling at the mere thought of them!
Of course, don’t take my word for it. You’ve got to come to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to try these foods for yourself. Just remember that your waistline will expand exponentially to the rate that your wallet thins. Your taste buds and your children, however, will thank you.