92 Years of History: The Houston Livestock Show, Rodeo, and World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest

This year commemorates the 92nd anniversary of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Inaugurated in 1932, the event sought to bolster the Gulf Coast cattle industry’s prominence amid the challenges of the Great Depression. While it succeeded in raising awareness for the industry, the inaugural rodeo failed to turn a profit, drawing only 2,000 attendees and incurring a loss of $2,800.

1932 Houston Rodeo
1932 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Today’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo still promotes agriculture, and is designed to be an experience that educates and entertains the public, supports Texas youth, showcases Western heritage, and provides year-round educational support within the community. Since its beginning in 1932, the Rodeo has committed more than $600 million to the youth of Texas and education.

Rodeo Entertainment

An entertainment line up was added to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 1942, ten years after the inaugural rodeo. That year, Gene Autry was the first star entertainer to perform. 

Over the years, the rodeo has welcomed a diverse array of musical entertainers spanning various genres. Country icons such as Dolly Parton in 1978, Hank Williams Jr starting from 1983, Randy Travis from 1988, The Judds, Brad Paisley from 2001, and many others have graced the stage.

The 1970s saw a touch of disco with KC and the Sunshine Band in 1977. Soft rock made appearances in the 1980s with performers like Barry Manilow in 1988, Chicago in 1987, Billy Ocean in 1985, and more.

Latin legend Selena performed in 1994 and 1995, while pop acts began to join the lineup, ranging from Color Me Badd in 1992 to Ariana Grande in 2015. Hip-hop started making its mark by 2003 with LL Cool J, leading to the inclusion of artists like Cardi B in 2019, showcasing the ongoing evolution of musical diversity at the rodeo.

World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest Origins

The World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest began in 1974 in the Astrodome parking lot. In its inaugural year, the contest restricted entries to fifty teams, each mandated to cook a minimum of ten pounds of meat. Jim and Terry’s BBQ of Pasadena, Texas, took home first prize that year.


Elvis Presley played in 1974, in what must have been a year to cherish forever for those fortunate enough to attend. By 1981, the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest had expanded significantly, boasting over 200 entries and attracting more than 45,000 visitors.


For more than two decades, one of the competition’s standout participants has been the United Airlines’ 777 BBQ Team, known for their distinctive Douglas DC-9 plane-shaped barbecue pit. Throughout the event’s three days, the team churns out an impressive spread, including 1,400 pounds of brisket, 900 pounds of chicken, 900 pounds of sausage, 720 pounds of beans, and 650 pounds of double-baked potato salad, served warm and topped with cheese.

The immense quantity of barbecue prepared within such a short timeframe presents a monumental challenge for the teams involved, yet it can also be a profoundly transformative experience for participants. The Funky Texas Traveler, a prolific blogger, recounted her eye-opening involvement as a rookie with the Third Coast Cookers at the 2019 Houston Rodeo Cook-off in a poignant post. Reflecting on her journey, she highlighted four valuable lessons learned:

      1. Embracing freedom from external expectations of identity.

      1. Cultivating openness to learning from every situation.

      1. Developing a unique approach to listening.

      1. Fostering personal growth through risk-taking, irrespective of the outcome.

    World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest 2024

    Today, the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest in Houston is one of the largest bar-b-que cook-offs in Texas. Teams from all over the world come to compete in the various competitions, vying to be crowned the best barbecue chef in the world in four main categories are Ribs, Chicken, Brisket, and Open Contest.

    This year’s World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, is presented by Cotton Holdings, who produced 2023’s most opulent, “cowboy chic” entertainment tent.

    The event will take place from February 22nd to 24th, 2024, at NRG Park. More than 250 invitation-only teams, led by barbecue experts, will compete in this year’s World’s Championship Bar-B-Que contest. COOKCHILL is proud to be sponsoring two teams. 

    The first team, Jokers N Smokers, has a legacy dating back from 2006 with a group of friends and a simple vision of cooking great BBQ and having a great time. The gang opened the Jokers-N-Smokers BBQ Restaurant four years later, in 2010, where they offer a variety of traditional mouth-watering dishes, including smoked brisket, pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and even tofu. With a Facebook group of over 3,000 followers, Houston’s COOKCHILL is proud to back the Jokers N Smokers BBQ Cooking Team. 

    With a legacy of wins, and over 35 years of competing at the HLSR World Championship BBQ Cook-off, the Lonesome Dove Cookers we’re excited to see in this year’s event. The Lonesome Doves believe fundraising should be a collaborative effort between the team, their donors and their guests, and COOKCHILL is proud to be a donor. 

    A group of people standing in front of a sign that says Lonesome Dove Cooks at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

    Both teams will face stiff competition, going up against the top performers from last year. The 2023 Grand Champion Overall title was clinched by the Jasper County Go Texan team, a non-profit organization that annually grants over $30,000 in scholarships to deserving high school seniors in Jasper County. Following closely behind was the McLennan County Go Texan team, securing the title of Champion Overall.

    Houston Food Finder published a full list of last year’s winners here

    For a preview of what to expect, here’s FOX 26’s Coco Dominguez’s wrap-up of the 2023 World Championship BBQ cook-off.

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