The Results Are In: The Best Carnival Food at the 2019 Houston Rodeo

This year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo started on Monday, February 25 and that means crowds are already hitting up the carnival for fun rides and over-the-top food. As usual, there are many new options along with longtime fair food favorites like deep-fried Oreos, sausage-on-a-stick, and turkey legs. Around 30 media representatives from local television, radio, newspaper and online publications judged over 100 dishes for the 11th annual Gold Buckle Foodie Awards to award honors to the best carnival food offerings of the year.

Carnival visitors are encouraged to track down all these tasty bites for themselves. The truly dedicated can take the Gold Buckle Foodie Challenge by downloading the RODEOHOUSTON mobile app (available for iPhone and Android) and scanning the QR code at each winning vendor’s location. After trying food from the winning vendors, visit the Social Station located at the entrance of Hall D in NRG Center to claim a prize. Visit four winning vendors to win a koozie or visit all eight to claim the Gold Buckle Foodie Badge and T-Shirt.

Get Fried (Booth 17) brought out this year’s wildest new creation—batter-dipped and fried shrimp on a stick, covered in queso and topped with Fruity Pebbles cereal! Photo by Scott Sandlin.

Celebrity judge and iHeart Media personality Michael “The High-Tech Texan” Garfield said he has a big sweet tooth and really liked this year’s dessert submissions. The 11-year-veteran judge said he appreciates the creativity that goes into the competition and cited one of his new favorites. “The Unicorn Float was like Candyland in a cup,” Garfield said. “The entries have become more creative each year.” (Find that float at The Candy Factory stand in The Junction area. A complete list of food stand locations is posted online.)

Winner in the Best Value category is this Chicken and Ribs platter from Saltgrass Steak House (L0063). Photo by Scott Sandlin.

With the following list of this year’s winners in each category in hand, attendees have a good chance of getting the best offerings of the year. And remember: calories don’t count at the carnival!

The 2019 Gold Buckle Foodie Award Winners:

Best New Flavor:
1st: Totally Baked Cookie Joint, “Smoorcookie” (carnival midway)
2nd: Sills Funnel Cakes, “Fried Red Velvet Cupcake” (RP120 in NRG Park)
3rd: Ranch House Meat Company, “BBQ Poppers” (J301 in NRG Park)

Most Creative Food:
1st: The Candy Factory, “Unicorn Float” (The Junction)
2nd: Cowboy Kettle Corn, “Nitro Churros” (carnival midway)
3rd: The Original Minneapple Pie, “The Ultimate Minneapple Pie”

Best Fried Food:
1st: The Original Minneapple Pie, “Minnechocolate Pie” (CD202 in NRG Park)
2nd: Sweet Cheeks, “Deep Fried Oreos®” (carnival midway)
3rd: Yoakum Packing Co., “Deep Fried Brisket Balls” (RP100 in NRG Park)

Best Specialty Food:
1st: All of Us, “Chocolate Cobbler” (second year in a row!) (E12107 in NRG Park)
2nd: The Great Texas Pecan Candy Co., “Pecan Roux” (B3034 in NRG Park)
3rd: Sweet Feed Cinnamon Roasted Nuts, “Cinnamon Roasted Pecans” (L0066 in NRG Center)

A monster serving of Pork Rind Nachos from Texas Pride Grill (RP105). Photo by Scott Sandlin.

Best Food-on-a-Stick:
1st: Holmes Smokehouse, “Bacon-Wrapped Pecan Smoked Sausage” (L0262 in NRG Center)
2nd: Texas Steak Out, “Steak Dinner On a Stick” (carnival midway)
3rd: Harlon’s BBQ, “Bacon-Wrapped Boudin On a Stick” (J508 in NRG Park)

Best Dessert:
1st: Aunt Edmoe’s Homemade Cookies, “Cookie Dough Parfait” (CD205 in NRG Park)
2nd: Dippin’ Dots, “Dippin’ Dots Cookies N Cream, Banana Split, Chocolate, and Rainbow Ice Cool Mint Crunch” (L0077 in NRG Center)
3rd: Nitro Treats, “Dole Whip Taco” (carnival midway)

Classic Fair Food:
1st: Candy Factory, “Hot Crunchy Cheetos® Cotton Candy” (The Junction)
2nd: Harlon’s BBQ, “All-Meat Potato” (J508 in NRG Park)
3rd: Texas Tater Twister, “Texas Bucket of Nachos” (carnival midway)

Best Value Food:
1st: Saltgrass Steak House, “Chicken & Ribs Platter” (L0063 in NRG Center)
2nd: Paradise Burgers, “Paradise Fries” (RP90 in NRG Park)
3rd: Yoakum Packing Co., “Chopped Beef BBQ Stuffed Baked Potato” (RP100 in NRG Park)

Rodeo Houston runs through March 17 at NRG Park, and is one of the most attended events in the area. In 2018, over 2.4 million people attended over the 20 days of the event.

Here are a few other dishes that didn’t win, but attendees might want to track down anyway.

Chipotle Bacon-Wrapped Chicken-On-A-Stick by the Cadillac Bar (RP85). Photo by Scott Sandlin.
Hard to beat the gooey goodness of a warm, traditional cinnamon roll at the carnival. Photo by Scott Sandlin.
Caramel apples rolled in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos®? Why not?! Photo by Scott Sandlin.
The Cadillac Bar (RP85) also brought out their Beef Fajita Quesadilla, a perennial fair favorite. Photo by Scott Sandlin.

About The Author: Smoked meat enthusiast and barbecue competition judge Scott Sandlin authors the Texas Pit Quest blog, maintains the Guide to Houston-Area BBQ map, and is the barbecue columnist for Houston Food Finder.

Comments (0)

Share Your Thoughts on This Article