Last year, more than 2.2 million people attended the Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show. Of that, 260,000 visited the World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest from Thursday through Saturday before the official start of the rodeo.
This year, more than 300 teams are participating in the contest. Each team has its own tent. Some are just big enough for a grill, a table and a few chairs. Others are as big as brick-and-mortar restaurants and have a bar, stage and dance floor. What all tents have in common is that visitors are admitted by invitation only. But Duncan Underwood, chairman of the barbecue contest, says the event is fun even if you don't know someone with a tent.
"You get free live entertainment at the Garden Stage, we have the Bar-B-Que Saloon, which this year we have the first annual Brewfest, which is kind of fun, and then over at the Chuckwagon we have complimentary sandwiches, barbecue sandwiches."
In addition, there are several concession stands and visitors have access to the carnival outside Reliant Stadium.
Sonja, Jacob and their daughter Ingrid Sannes used to be invited to private tents before Jacob retired. This year is the first time for years that they are back to visit the barbecue cookoff.
"I just think the whole atmosphere is fantastic, the smells, the people, the clothes, the colors and not least of all the food is just fantastic, you know."
Christina and Cliff Borgstedt came down from Rose Hill, a small town northwest of Houston, to visit the barbecue event.
"Well, we have some friends that have a couple of different huts or whatever they call them – tents – and so they invited us out."
Speaking of tents, the bigger doesn't necessarily mean the better. The winners of last year's contest as the Overall Grand Champion – the "Motley-Que Crew" – have a tent that just about fits the team and their cooking equipment. Matt Sprouls is one of the team's six members.
"You know, I mean there's a lot of big tents and there's a lot of small guys and you know, you can't just – looks are deceiving. You can't look at one and say, well, they're rinky-dink, they're not going to be able to pull it off. I mean you never know where it's going to come from."
Tomorrow is the moment of truth for all contestants when a panel of judges will crown the winners in 13 different categories, including Most Colorful Pit and best recycling.