Here's your 2024 guide to Houston rodeo's barbecue cook-off at NRG

From supporting the Sunshine Kids with the Miller Lite Bunch to Cotton 'Q Club's golden opportunity, there's plenty to see.

Brittaney Wilmore Image
Friday, February 23, 2024
Here's your 2024 guide to Houston rodeo's barbecue cook-off at NRG
The World's Championship Barbecue Contest is on through Saturday at NRG Park, where more than 250 teams are competing for top honors - and the tents are something to behold.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- What's a surefire sign it's rodeo cook-off time? Just look for the white tents dotting the parking lot around NRG Stadium.

The World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest for 2024 kicked off Thursday and will continue through Saturday. That's the official name, but if you're new to the Houston area, "cook-off" to refer to the event works just fine.

And what an event it is.

Every year, teams cook to compete for top honors in the following categories: Brisket, Ribs, Chicken, Go Texan, Dutch Oven Dessert and the Open Contest.

Winning titles include Grand Champion Overall and Reserve Champion.

The Miller Lite Bunch serves up delectable meats every year. They've been part of the cook-off contest since 1989 and work to raise money for the Sunshine Kids.

For 2024, more than 250 teams are competing, and they don't just come from Texas.

In fact, the Mexican Pit Masters team traveled to Houston from Monterrey, Mexico. In 2023, they were a finalist in the brisket competition and took third place overall in the barbecue competition, according to Houston First.

But there's another reason the contest is special this year: It's celebrating 50 years.

Here's what to know before you join in on the fun.

Do I need a ticket?

Most team tents are invite-only, so don't expect to boot scoot your way into just anywhere.

But that doesn't mean the fun is off-limits. Bar-B-Que Contest tickets will get you into several public venues, including the Garden Stage, where you can hear live music. It's also the center of the contest grounds. Tickets get you into the Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon, the Chuckwagon, which is inside the saloon and a complimentary sliced brisket plate with chips and beans.

Your ticket will get you admission into the carnival, too, but it's not valid for rides or games.

  • Adults (13 and over): $25
  • Child (3-12): $10
  • Ages two and under: Free

On Friday, the cook-off is open until 11 p.m.

If you're more of an early riser, get back at it on Saturday for the opening at 9 a.m. It's also the last day of the cook-off and will close at 11 p.m.

Where do I park?

You have options, and considering how popular the cook-off is, you're going to need them.

Parking is $25.

The teal and yellow lots are ADA accessible.

General public parking is available in the yellow lot.

If you're going the private bus route, drop off is in the green lot. Prefer to grab a rideshare? Drop off and pick up is in the yellow lot, as well.

You can find and download the public parking map online.

Another tool to consider using is the parking lot status page, which shows you capacity and which lots accept cash and which ones are cashless.

What happens inside the tents?

A lot of fun, but as cook Kelly Bryant will tell you, a lot of hard work that starts long before the cook-off arrives.

"You prep for months. You have to get all the tents together. You have to get all the equipment out here, you have to get all the people lined up. We have meetings every month to set everything up. It's a lot of work. We have four days before the cook-off starts. That's when our work really started," Bryant, who is part of the Miller Lite Bunch team, said.

The crew started in 1989. Bryant joined six years ago and told ABC13 one of the things he loves the most is how much they give back.

"We do a fundraiser every year for the Sunshine Kids. It's kids with cancer. We love doing it," Bryant said. "We go out and bring food. They come from the hospital. They bring their family with them. They serve everybody. They have all kinds of games and fun for the kids at the children's museum. So it's a wonderful, non-profit benefit we do for them."

What happens inside the cook-off tents? We stepped inside with the Miller Lite Bunch to see what they're serving up.

Golden Years

The contest turns 50 this year, and it's not the first rodeo for Cotton Holdings, either.

The company, which is headquartered in Houston, is serving as the contest's title sponsor for the third year, and it's also serving some serious looks.

ABC13 got a look inside the company's decadent tent, the Cotton 'Q Club, which is spread out over 10,000 square feet and can hold nearly 800 people.

It also features 7-foot-tall mosaic horses (think similar to Beyoncé's shimmering throne on the cover of the "Renaissance" album), antler chandeliers, and draped ceilings.

Call it "cowboy chic," and make no mistake, it's not lacking in the glitz and glamor.

According to Cotton Holdings' executive vice president of marketing, Zinat Ahmed, that's all by design, down to the last detail.

From the tartan textile carpet to the matching koozies, every inch of space was thought out.

"It took a village," said Ahmed, who pointed out you should keep a golden eye on the roses.

Usually, the flowers within the tent are red and giving Kentucky Derby vibes. But the gold has special meaning in honor of the cook-off.

"50 is the gold anniversary, and what better way than gold everywhere? So we have hand-painted gold flowers, gold hardware, the theme is everywhere. You see all of us wearing gold some nights, so the theme continues and we celebrate it," Ahmed explains.

That homages stretches toward the back of the tent, where guests can also find a VIP lounge nestled by the caviar bar.

"It took a little bit of effort and love from pulling from the 'Q Club. How do we continue the look and the feel, but how do we make it different? So, we have the exotic animals, the zebras. We brought in a gold pony. We thought about, 'How can we make this an elevated experience from what's already happening out there?' So those details were thought about," Ahmed said.

Golden years: Inside the Cotton Holdings tent, it's all about the details. ABC13 got a look inside on the second day of the cook-off.

Cotton also has an award-winning culinary team, led by executive chef Wade Schindler.

The team competes in every category.

"It just gets better and better every year. It's for the kids. It's for the youth of Texas, so it's a great reason to be out here," Schindler told ABC13.

Lastly, guests can sip on rapper 50 Cent's award-winning champagne, Le Chemin du Roi.

Have a fear of missing out? Feel free to stop by for photos outside the Texas-sized tent.

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