Going big time in a small town
Got goat? Will barbecue in Brady: An inside look at one of Texas' most eccentric traditions
The Texas Hill Country is widely known for ranching with the prevalent livestock being cattle, sheep, and, most important to many area inhabitants: Goats. In fact, this region is among the top goat producing places in the world
Angora goats are sheared, their mohair sent to manufacturers worldwide, while Spanish goats provide pelts and protein to local buyers and many more beyond. Further evidence of the animal’s area importance is found in the nearby town of Fredericksburg, the popular B&B haven that's rife with antiques, wineries and beer halls — and home of the FHS “Battlin’ Billies.” Billie goats, that is.
The goat market is a $2 million industry in McCulloch County, which Brady is the county seat of. More than 20,000 goats and less than 9,000 people reside in all of McCulloch County. McCulloch has few peers in the United States when it comes to importance in the goat world.
So what do the people of this community, based on the very backs of these noble, if nimble, creatures, do to honor their obvious and important stature and contribution to the economy and society, as a whole?
They eat them. Well, first, they barbecue them, and then they eat them … but in a totally celebratory manner.
The World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-Off, held every Labor Day weekend in my hometown of Brady is a surreal scene of sight-seekers, skewers, sweat, and smoke that attracts thousands of visitors every year. On average 150-plus competitive teams bring pits, spits, spirit, and experience to Brady, the self-proclaimed Heart of Texas, in an effort to win bragging rights as the champion team, while simultaneously eradicating the county of its beer supply.
The competition is equal parts serious and silly, with cheeky themes of years past that include Got Goat?; Eat More Goat Drink More Beer; 35 Years & Still Smokin’ Goat (featuring a bizarre but awesome Willie Nelson/Goat cartoon hybrid logo); and last year’s The Goat Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends (clever, regardless of its 15-year lapse in relevancy). This year’s theme was Git Your Goat On, which my husband and I surmised was either a shout out to Missy Elliot or Larry the Cable Guy, or possibly both.
This was our first visit to the goat fest in several years.
The Cook-Off features typical festival fare: snow cones, funnel cakes, arts and crafts booths hawking collectibles, rubber-band guns, jewelry and the occasional scorpion or rattlesnake ensconced in Lucite. But it’s the variety and creativity of the cookers, their camps, and the tasty treats flowing from their pits (and the pits themselves) that is truly impressive.
Perusing countless cookers’ sites unearthed a smorgasbord of snacks provided by proud participants from all over the United States, eager to offer the fruits of their labor to interested passers-by. Over a couple of increasingly sluggish hours, we gluttonously sampled not just goat, but also quail, dove, pork ribs, venison, beef tenderloin, chicken drumsticks, eggplant and squash, stuffed jalapeños, more varieties of sausage than we could count, and even ... some fruit.
For the record, grilled peaches are equally odd and delicious.
As the afternoon wore on, each camp was friendlier than the next (it might’ve been all the beer) and, since we were terribly curious who would win the big prize, we stuck around long enough to see Miss Heart of Texas and her court, sporting short shorts, cowboy boots, sashes and tiaras, hand out the day’s trophies. Accolades included the “Showmanship Award,” which went to a large group of fun-loving ne’er-do-wells called Kiss My Cabrito, whose camp was complete with a washer pitching set featuring a toilet seat as its bullseye.
The hilariously named Overhead Door Skanks crew won the “Mystery Meat Contest,” which, sadly, also delivered the day’s only disappointment when we discovered the “Mystery Meat,” was just plain ol' pork butt. We were hoping for something exotic like kangaroo, porcupine or perhaps vampire bat. Even peaches are more exciting than pork butt.
Still, it was a satisfying day and we walked away hearts full, stomachs stuffed, and wallets slightly lighter having bought the souvenir booth’s entire remaining inventory of koozies. Turning to my husband as we headed back to our car, I asked what he thought of this year’s famous goat fest, hoping he’d had as much fun as I had. “Not too baaaaaaaad,” he bleated with a wink.