BRADY — Gary Brown, a fellow from Floydada who has been judging the Brady goat cook-off since it began in 1974, looked at me and laughed: “How was it, Dave?”
I must’ve looked like a felt. A little goat-bloated, feet throbbing, sweaty and a clear contender to be out of sorts. But I was pretty happy. The Brady World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-off (to use its full name) is an awesome event, a throwback to festivals of yesteryear. Besides, we crowned a world champion today, and I was one of the judges.
By the time the Good Old Boys II team from Ballinger claimed their enormous trophy, I was pretty done. But that’s just because I was judging about 50 samples of goat meat instead of putting my feet up in the shade. I did get this fabulous goat horn necklace, so it’s not all bad.
The Brady event is one where the beer flows freely, but there’s very little trouble. “Have you seen a cop?” one ex-judge (who didn’t want his name in the paper) asked me. And I hadn’t. The people here police themselves quite well.
And the kids, let me tell you. Walk in to Richards Park and it’s inflatable fun! A kid-friendly mechanical bull! Toys! Cotton candy! Carnival games! Sequined hats! You can buy a turtle for $15! Two for $20! Walk a bit farther and there’s another fellow selling a turtle in a cup! I’m not sure what the turtle population in Brady Creek is generally, but I’m sure it changed today.
Walk over to where the cookers are camped out and it’s a sweatier, humid mix of meat aroma and country music. Giant smokers and great drifts of smoke. Trees grow tall and the grass is green (this year) with a little mud here and there. Everywhere is trailers and awnings and koozies holding the ever-present Coors Light can. A cooking team listening to Hank Williams Jr. sounds just right for this atmosphere. I stopped to talk to TJ Wagner, who cooks for the Drag-n Ass team along with Raymond Ledezma. “We got that name because we were late for turn-in one year.”
Wagner’s sons, Connor and Cooper are cooking this year, too, competing against dad. Their team’s name? Drag-n Hiney.
Talking to Gary Brown earlier, I asked him what the most amazing thing he’d seen in his 38 years of judging was. He joked about the time they caught some boys and girls skinny-dipping in Brady Creek (one year when it was full). But the memories (at least those that he’d share for publication) all kind of run together: “You always see this that or the other,” he said with a shrug.
But he enjoyed talking about helping getting the cook-off up and running. “Chili cook-offs were hot when we started this thing — Terlingua was the big story.” In fact, they talked about starting a chili cook-off. But “why we going to cook chili when we’re in the goat capital of the world?”
And so the goat cook-off was born. First run by the Jaycees, they had seven cookers the inaugural year (this year, the final table held 18 samples, culled from 200 entries). They didn’t even have any vendors the first couple of years. I reckon you had to catch your own turtles. More than 40 years later, it’s still going strong. Brown is proud of one thing in particular: “How many families use it for a family reunion?” he asked rhetorically.
I must have seen them all today, walking, and eventually hobbling around the grounds. I’m hoping they invite me back next year.
Tomorrow on the Oh, Texas Road Trip Series: How the judging happens.