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Pandemic changes, but doesn’t stop, Rudder's 13th annual Barbecue Cook-Off

Pandemic changes, but doesn’t stop, Rudder's 13th annual Barbecue Cook-Off

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Rudder FFA had its 13th annual Barbecue Cook-Off on Wednesday, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event looked a little different than previous years.

“We’re not letting COVID stop us,” Rudder FFA officer and Brazos Valley FFA District President Richie Moten said. “We’re not going to let it stop us from having fun, doing what we love, advocating for agriculture, and we’re going to keep on going. We’re going to push through it. Of course, it’ll be a little different, but we’re going to do it.”

Instead of all the entries setting up near the Rudder ag barn, each of the 14 teams of Rudder High School students and an adult sponsor had to sign up for a time slot to bring their plate of an entrée, side and dessert.

As teams dropped off each plate, the three judges — Bryan Superintendent Christie Whitbeck, Bryan Executive Director of School Leadership Brian Merrell and Rudder Principal Rachel Layton — tasted each one for appearance, taste, tenderness or texture, creativity and overall impression.

Merrell said he did not eat lunch Wednesday in preparation for tasting each of the team’s submissions.

“You have to go one bite, and then you go back for more when it’s all done,” he said.

For him, he enjoys seeing how the students choose to present their meat, side and dessert for judging. Some students turn to family recipes, he said, and in previous years their parents, grandparents and siblings would be with them in the cook-off telling the story behind the recipes.

“There’s just something traditional about barbecue and people just doing it,” he said.

Layton said she enjoys seeing how creative the students are and was happy that they could hold the cook-off while still being mindful of the pandemic. The judges were seated six feet apart from each other, and the FFA officers working the event had their masks on.

“I love to see the creativity in the names and to see the other talents they have outside of the things they get to do during the day,” she said.

Whitbeck was happy to see the students able to have fun and do what they enjoy, saying the event gave her a moment also to take a step back from the processes and problem solving she and the other administrators have been dealing with for months.

“They put a lot of time in,” she said. “You could really tell that they took it seriously. … They just have good recipes. You kind of wish there was a recipe book to go with it.”

Even though the participation this year was on the low end compared to previous years, Rudder FFA teacher Michelle Vasbinder said, she considers the event a success.

“Barbecue cook-off is tradition,” she said.

Ever since the school year was moved online and major livestock shows were canceled in the spring, she said, the department wanted to bring some normalcy back to the students.

“Cook-off is always one of the fun things to do at the beginning of the year every year,” Rudder FFA student Gentry Gonzales said. She was happy to participate, she said, even if it looked a little different than usual.

Some of the students, such as Moten, are enrolled in school as online or hybrid learners, so the event let them be back at school with their friends.

Moten said he might look to bring in some non-FFA students to his team next year to help introduce them to what they can do in ag. Before getting into FFA, he said, he did not realize the importance of agriculture.

“Once you actually get into the class and start learning about it, you realize that if we didn’t have agriculture, half the things we have, we wouldn’t have at our fingertips,” he said. “… It just feels great to advocate, educate people on the importance of agriculture.”

This year’s winners were the following:

Overall individual: Crazy Cookers

Overall team: Slow and Smokey Wins the Race

Best other (wild game, pork, other meat): Rise and Swine

Best beef: BBQ Ballers

Best chicken: Crazy Cookers

Best side: COVID Grillers

Best dessert: Two Sizzling Sisters

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