During the decades I’ve been traveling and photographing in Texas, I’ve had the pleasure of consuming more than my fair share of great Texas barbecue. Smoked beef brisket, pork loin, and sausage have sustained me for many a mile, but until recently I’d missed out on the savory meat of the humble goat, also known as cabrito. Sure, I’d sampled cabrito at Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que in Llano—at the urging of my more experienced companion and barbecue expert, John Morthland—but the meat of the goat had, in my mind and on my tastebuds, always been overshadowed by the holy trinity of Texas ’cue.
Fortunately, I was able to mitigate this goat-meat deficit last Labor Day weekend, when I accepted an invitation to be one of 46 judges at the Annual World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-Off in Brady. This smoke-infused shindig has been an annual tradition since 1973, when the Brady Jaycees hosted the first event in the shade of the giant pecan and oak trees at picturesque Richards Park on the banks of Brady Creek.
The beautifully restored, 1900-era McCulloch County Courthouse anchors the town of Brady. At the convergence of five major highways, the town truly lives up to its slogan, “The Heart of Texas.” Brady also sits smack-dab in the heart of goat country, with goat ranches big and small dotting the rocky, brushy country that surrounds the town for miles in every direction. Within about 70 miles to the east, south, and west of Brady you’ll find sheep and goat auctions in Goldthwaite, Fredericksburg, and San Angelo. Folks have been raising and cooking goat in these parts for a long time. What better place to celebrate these critters and their delectable meat?
The contest takes place each year over the Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Last year, 175 teams—with amusing and colorful names such as Cabrito Incognito; Goat, Sweat & Beers; The Three Amigoats; and Two Old Goats & A Kid—competed for the “Best Goat” trophy.
On Friday afternoon, each team selects a package that contains half of a dressed-out kid goat to cook. The Jaycees contract with a local producer to provide every team with goat meat that is as consistent as possible for every team. The actual preparation of the contest meat begins at a set time on Saturday and the final entry must be completed by a specified time that same afternoon. Of course the fun starts well in advance, as teams gather and camp in the park, often beginning on Thursday, smoking, frying, and grilling all sorts of delicacies.
It’s a wonderful scene: the air thick with smoke and the aromas of food prepared by some of the state’s best outdoor cooks. A lively, party atmosphere prevails, with plenty of music and laughter. Families, old friends, and cheerful competitors generously share food, drink, and tales from past cook-offs. Visitors can partake in The Great BBQ Cabrito feed from 11-1 on competition Saturday, check out offerings from local arts and crafts vendors, and then settle in for the results of the cook-off judging.