Looking for the best steak in Texas? Hico just might be the place. Nestled on the northern edge of the Texas Hill Country, some 90 minutes southwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and about two hours north of Austin, is Hico, Texas—home of the Texas Steak Cookoff and Wine Festival, the largest annual steak event in the south.
Each May for 12 years now, backyard “cookers,” as they’re called, make their annual pilgrimage to resolve one simple question. Who makes the best 12-ounce rib-eye steak in all of Texas?
“This is a great town, handy and friendly,” said Allen Luedtke, visiting and enjoying lunch at the Koffee Kup (steak of course). “They really do make you feel like somebody,” he said while making plans for the cookoff. “They treat you like a second family. And this cook-off is just as big as football in Texas.”
Capitalizing on the convergence of Highways 220, 6 and 281, more than 100 teams of “cookers” showed up in 2014 to compete to win more than $2,500 and the title of “Best Steak in Texas.”
At this year’s 12th annual event, to be held May 16th, three thousand steaks will be consumed and more teams than ever, some coming from Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona and Georgia, will compete for a lot more cash.
$3,500 will go to this year’s top prize winner, the second place winner will receive $1,750, third place gets $1,000, fourth $700, fifth $450 and winners six through ten will each receive $225.
“No need for the pros to worry, they won’t have to compete against those backyard cooker teams,” said Mike James, chairman of the Texas Steak Cookoff. “Those backyard cookers are really good. It might not be fair to the pros.”
The new pro category will consist of catering businesses, professional chefs, and restaurant owners. “They’ll compete separately and be judged separately as well. The Hors d’oeuvres competition is open to all registered chef teams (pro or backyard) who submit hors d’oeuvres to be judged,” James said.
“Door prizes will also be given away. There will be signed Nolan Ryan baseballs, a Nolan Ryan jersey, a grill valued at over $2,500, and four $500 local shopping sprees. Much of the proceeds go to benefit local schools, churches, and other non-profits. Last year, $14,000 was donated to those groups. Everybody is somebody in Hico, because it takes the whole community. This is what a true community project looks like.”
Billed as a family event held in the historic downtown section of Hico, the Texas Steak Cookoff drew nearly 8,000 tourists to town last year. This event will run from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. with “thangs really cooking” (no pun intended) from 11:00 to 1:00 p.m.
“This year, we’re looking forward to several live bands coming to town as well. We’ll have some good country music, a little bluegrass, and some rock, too,” continued James. “I think with so much going on, you can’t forget that it’s a wine fest going on, too. All local Texas wines, with $300 each for best red and white wines in the state of Texas.”
“With so much prize money up for grabs, the cookers are playing their cards real close to the vest.”
“King Cotton” was once Hico’s heartbeat. Today, tourism’s the lifeblood, and what a lively blood it is for the more than 1,300 residents.
Along with the cook-off and wine festival, the Billy the Kid Museum, Koffee Kup restaurant, and Wisemen House Chocolates each draw thousands from across the country every year.
However, what makes this community so heartwarming is the sincerity of the town’s motto and earnestness of its shared ethos. You see—in Hico—“Everybody is Somebody.”
Lester, always kept an extra clean white shoeshine towel and brush. The brush was used not on the shoes, but to dust off the shirts, jackets, and pants of those whose shoes he’d shine—a special effect he’d offer to customers, whether they needed it or not. The towel was used to make a popping sound as a finishing touch to the high, glossy shine Lester worked so hard to put on the various shoes and boots of his customers. To attract new business, Lester appealed to their sense of pride.
“He had a very unique sales approach. He’d tell potential customers to get their shoes shined because you’re somebody in Hico, and he just could not bear the thought of an important person in town with unshined shoes. Once Lester got through with you, you felt like you were somebody. Over time, the phrase just stuck.”
Perhaps one of the most enduring attractions of Hico is the Billy the Kid Museum and visitor center. As local lore would have it, “The Kid” was not killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881, but lived the remainder of his days as Ollie L. “Brushy Bill” Roberts and died of a heart attack in Hico in 1950.
“We believe he was the real Billy the Kid. When he lived here, he never really wanted anyone to know who he was, because he was wanted for the murder of Sheriff Brady,” explained Klein, whispering as if “The Kid” was still wanted today. After all, there’s no statute of limitations on murder, they say.
According to Hico’s history, Garrett killed the wrong man, allowing “The Kid” to escape from New Mexico, fleeing across the southern border into Mexico. “He lived in Mexico several years, until the Mexican government took their ranch from them,” Klein continued.
Realizing he could never return to New Mexico he came to the Texas Territory a free man. “He first came to East Texas to the town of Gladewater. He lived there for a while, and even worked for the Pinkerton Marshal Services,” Klein said. “He was hired because they found out he knew how to deal with outlaws. He helped them catch some really bad men robbing trains and banks.”
After some time, he moved to Longview, eventually working his way to Hico. “He’d been here before and really loved this area, and this was where he wanted to live out his life, which he did,” Klein said. “He died only a few days short of his 91st birthday on the way to the post office. All he wanted in his final days was to receive a pardon promised to him by then Governor of New Mexico Lew Wallace.”
Although disproven by many, the case of “Brushy Bill” is a compelling one, with strong areas of plausibility.
In the 1931 novel The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams first coined the phrase “the American Dream.” The true depth of this “dream” can most vividly be realized in a place like Hico…”Where Everybody is Somebody.”
For more information about the Texas Steak Cookoff or any other local attractions (including the state’s first Western Film festival) visit texassteakcookoff.com or hico-tx.com or call (254) 796-4620.