HOUSTON - The 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo brings with it a brand new event, the first World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Jr. Cook-off Competition.
At 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, contestants were welcomed to a fenced-off area with mini barbecue pits and prep tables.
They ranged from 8 to 14 years old, and each junior cook brought something different to the table.
"I’ve just been doing this since I was five, so it’s still kind of new to me," remarks 8-year-old Raelyn Barker who says she enjoys cooking hamburgers.
25 competitors who are listed as relatives of adult cook-off team members were picked to participate in the inaugural contest.
"It’s been about two years that we actually started planning this, and as we got closer and closer, obviously we’ve been a little nervous making sure that everything worked right," says Chairman David Stone. "But as you can tell, our team did a great job!" he adds proudly.
The kids' challenge was to prep and cook a steak in an hour. The beef came from the 2019 rodeo steer auction, and there were no rules for how the steak should be garnished.
Some chefs chose herbs, butter, potato sides, or something more extravagant.
"I’m cooking steak with lobster," says Barker.
Each young chef was permitted an adult who could help guide the process, but the advisors were not allowed to get hands-on during the meal preparation.
As judges waited to be served, the contestants plated and prepared their steaks for scoring.
"Now, we’re going to put some parsley on them, and I just put garlic butter," says 10-year-old Palmer whose family drove in from Charlotte, North Carolina for the cook-off.
Once the steaks were plated in closed styrofoam containers, the kids paraded through a line of cheering supporters and turned in their plates to be numbered and submitted to judges.
Each plate was rated by a table of judges on tenderness, taste, and presentation. Afterward, the contestants lined the main performance stage in the cook-off area, and the judges' favorite was announced.
Evan Arocha took first place with his steak that was paired with grilled shrimp.
He represents the PitMaker Cook-Off team with members who say his surf and turf win came after he spent weeks practicing. "There are no words for how excited and how proud I am of him," says Evan's mother. "I’m just so incredibly happy!"
The 12-year-old top chef was also nearly speechless.
"I wasn’t really expecting it," says Arocha.
But his trophy, belt buckle, and banner say it all for him - he's a champion, blazing a new path in rodeo history.