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Tantalizing cook-offs in Texas

Photo by Alamy Stock Photo

In Texas, we love our Gulf shrimp, barbecue, and gumbo so much that we can't help but challenge each other to see whose is best. From the goat cook-off in Brady to the gumbo competition in Lakehills, Texans have been doing cook-offs for decades because the parties surrounding the contests are such fun. So go and taste. Whether or not you get to vote, you'll eat well.

1. Brady

What: World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-Off

Admission: $10 for the weekend in advance, $15 at the gate; Saturday or Sunday, $5 in advance or $10 at the gate; children 2 and younger, free. 

Info: 325-597-3491

Deep in the heart of Texas goat-ranching country, Brady is the ideal location for the World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-Off. Every Labor Day weekend, more than 200 teams from Texas and neighboring states camp out and compete to serve up the best goat ribs, table goat, and mystery meat. With the smell of cabrito in the air, visitors can enjoy the shade along Brady Creek in Richards Park, food and drinks, carnival games, a kids' area with inflatable play equipment, and vendors selling souvenirs and flags of all kinds. Events kick off on Friday with dancing and games of washer pitching. On Saturday morning, attendees can check out the arts and crafts booths and participate in the Goat Gallop 5K Fun Run.—Casey Kelly-Barton

2. Galveston

What: Galveston Island Shrimp Festival

Admission: The festival is free; Gumbo Stroll, $12 in advance, $15 day of purchase; shrimp dinner, $18; Gumbo Stroll and Official 5K Run, $55 in advance.

Info: 409-770-0999

It seems as though there's always a party happening in this island city's historic Strand district, and the annual shrimp festival is a perfect example. The weekend brings dancing and live music to the streets, a 5K, and a children's parade. On Saturday morning, more than 60 gumbo cooking teams, including both amateur and restaurant divisions, set up throughout the Strand and prepare their Texas Gulf shrimp creations. Many of the 15,000 festival attendees buy tickets to participate in the Gumbo Stroll, which allows them to sample the offerings and inevitably provides more than enough sustenance for lunch and dinner combined. Foodies can sign up in advance to help judge the best dishes in categories, including the chef's open (any type of dish with shrimp), shrimp burger, and shrimp gumbo. Amid all the cooking and eating, bands perform zydeco, country, and classic rock.—June Naylor

3. Clarendon

What: Colonel Charles Goodnight Chuck Wagon Cook-Off

Admission: Free; meal tickets go on sale Sept. 1, $20. 

Info: 806-874-2746

In 1866, pioneering Texas Panhandle rancher Charles Goodnight invented the chuck wagon by adding a food box and fold-down table on the back of an Army surplus wagon. The mobile kitchen was used to feed cowboys as they drove cattle from Texas to northern markets. The box has drawers and shelves for storage and a folding lid that's used as a cooking and preparation surface. Now, Clarendon pays homage to Goodnight with its annual Colonel Charles Goodnight Chuck Wagon Cook-Off. Held on the fourth Saturday in September, this annual cook-off attracts competitors from as far away as Montana. Cooks are judged on the authenticity of the food, which must include chicken–fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, pinto beans, biscuits, and peach cobbler–allcooked over mesquite coals in a cast–iron fry pan or Dutch oven. In addition to live music, a hay auction, and a Western trade show, attendees also enjoy a chuck wagon dinner. —Russell A. Graves

4. Lakehills

What: Great Gumbo Cookoff, Medina Lake Cajun Festival

Admission: Entrance fee, $10 at the event for everyone 10 years old and older (no presale tickets).

Info: 830-751-2727

An hour northwest of San Antonio, a lakeside town celebrates its Louisiana spirit with plenty of Zydeco and the classic Cajun stew. Cooks compete in the professional, amateur, or culinary student classes, making gumbo with or without seafood. Guests also can enjoy other Cajun dishes from crawfish pie and étouffée to jambalaya and boudin. —J.N.

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