Rodeo's Best Treats

Nitro popcorn smokes the competition at Rodeo foodie awards, but Cheetos pizza doesn't crunch

Nitro popcorn smokes the competition at Rodeo, but not Cheetos pizza

Gold Buckle Flamin Hot Cheetos pizza
Flaming Hot Cheetos lack the drama of scorpions as a pizza topping. Photo by Eric Sandler
Gold Buckle Lauren Kelly Maggie Flecknoe
Mix 96.5's Lauren Kelly and Channel 39's Maggie Flecknoe are pleased to discover the fried balls are filled with brisket. Photo by Eric Sandler
Gold Buckle nitro kettle corn
Nitro kettle corn earned universal praise. Photo by Eric Sandler
Gold Buckle Flamin Hot Cheetos pizza
Flamin Hot Cheetos works surprisingly well as a topping for roasted corn. Photo by Eric Sandler
Gold Buckle Triple J's barbecue plate
A full barbecue plate with a loaded baked potato is a lot of food for $15. Photo by Eric Sandler
Gold Buckle Flamin Hot Cheetos pizza
Gold Buckle Lauren Kelly Maggie Flecknoe
Gold Buckle nitro kettle corn
Gold Buckle Flamin Hot Cheetos pizza
Gold Buckle Triple J's barbecue plate

The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo's annual Gold Buckle Foodie Awards are designed to highlight the best food served by the event's numerous vendors, but it also serves as an opportunity for 40 or so members of the local media (print and online publications, radio, and TV) to socialize and demonstrate their social media savvy. While all that schmoozing gives the event a festive atmosphere, it's serious business for the vendors.  

After all, Rodeo attendees are encouraged to visit the eight winning stands and scan the QR code using the event's official app. Collect a complete set and win a prize. That, combined with the media exposure, translates into dollars. 

While a few items, including fried brisket balls from Yoakum Packing Company and a bacon-wrapped sausage on a stick from Holmes Smokehouse, generated some enthusiasm, the only treat to garner universal approval was Cowboy Kettle Corn's Nitro Pop, which is flavored popcorn that's been dipped in liquid nitrogen. Taking a picture while blowing "smoke" from the evaporating gas became the mandatory video of the event. See this one from ABC13 reporter Patricia Lopez:

Whether it's due to the format of having the food brought to a conference room in NRG Hall or just the sad reality of life in the midway (the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle), most of the other food received a tepid response from the judges. Overcooked lamb chops, mystery meat burgers, and a deep-fried, cheese-filled pickle were only some of the culinary horrors on display at Thursday's event. 

This year's event also lacked the drama of any gross out foods like the scorpion-topped pizza that horrified Channel 39 morning anchor Maggie Flecknoe in both 2015 and 2016. This year's ridiculous pizza — topped with Flamin' Hot Cheetos — mostly generated the opinion that spongy cheese snacks aren't a good texture for a pizza topping. It performs better as an elotes-style topping on roasted corn (available at The Corn Shack).

The lesson, as always, is stick to the classics: turkey legs, corn dogs, and fried sweets are always winners. Really want to eat well? Don't forget about the Killen's Barbecue stands inside the stadium.

The complete list of winners, via the Houston Chronicle:

Best Breakfast Food:
1st: Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls: The "Works" cinnamon roll
2nd: Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls: Big Stone Breakfast Sandwich
3rd: The Finer Diner: Chicken & Waffles

Classic Fair Food:
1st: Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls: Cinnamon roll with icing
2nd: Ranch House: Smoked turkey leg
3rd: Holmes Smokehouse: Carved brisket sandwich

Best Value:
1st: Stubby's: Loaded baked potato ($6.50)
2nd: Saltgrass Steak House: Babyback rib platter ($12)
3rd: Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls: Original cinnamon roll ($4)

Best Food-on-a-Stick:
1st: Berryhill: Shrimp Diablo
2nd: Holmes Smokehouse: Bacon-wrapped sausage on a stick
3rd: Fletcher's Corny Dogs: Corny dogs

Best Fried Food:
1st: Berryhill: Crispy shrimp taco
2nd: Sills Funnel Cakes: Fried pecan pie
3rd: Yoakum Packing Company: Deep-fried brisket balls

Most Creative Food:
1st: Cowboy Kettle Corn: Nitro Pop
2nd: Custom Confections: Donutwich Deluxe
3rd: The Corn Shack: Flamin' Hot Cheetos roasted corn

Best New Flavor:
1st: Mad Hatter funnel Cake #2: Chocolate-dipped oatmeal crème pie
2nd: Mad Hatter Funnel Cake #1: Chocolate-dipped pecan pie
3rd: Paradise Burgers: Fried nachos

Best Dessert:
1st: Fried What: Buckeyes
2nd: Mad Hatter Funnel Cake #1: Chocolate-covered strawberries
3rd: Sills Funnel Cakes: Nana's Banana Split