BBQ teams hope to make impact at state

Two barbecue teams out of New Tech Odessa are heading to state invitational competition this weekend in Round Rock. The fare will include dessert, beans, chicken, ribs and brisket. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Led by New Tech Culinary Instructor Christina Acosta, two barbecue teams are heading to Round Rock for the High School BBQ Inc. competition May 3 and 4 at the Dell Diamond.

Acosta said 13 students are making the trip while also preparing for their upcoming banquet.

Acosta said they will be cooking dessert, beans, chicken, ribs and brisket.

“We’re allowed on site at 4:30 a.m. Fires start at 5 a.m. They pick up meat at 6 a.m. At 6 a.m., advisors are no longer allowed in the area. … There’s a gap between us. They really want the students to be independent and whatever it is that they turn in, it’s fully done by the students,” Acosta said. “The students can come to my space, but I can’t go into their space.”

If they have questions, they can come talk to Acosta.

ECISD has competed since 2019, but there was a gap due to the pandemic. For this year, Acosta has several students returning and she has several juniors that will be coming back next year.

“We’re super excited about how the teams have been building like that,” she added.

Their ribs placed in the top five out of 80 teams.

“This year, I think that they told me that there’s 99 teams that will be at the state competition, so it will definitely be competitive,” Acosta said.

They have a barbecue competition expert as the team mentor, Cori Branscum. He participates in barbecue contests and blends his own barbecue rubs that he sells, Acosta said.

“I do attribute all the student success to all the little tricks that he has taught them,” Acosta said.

Some examples are glazing the chicken right at the very end so it has this beautiful shine on it.

“He teaches them how to cut the ribs because the bones curve as the ribs cook, and so he’s taught them how to look for the bone, how to cut it upside down with sauce on the bottom, so that when you flip it it looks nice and beautiful,” Acosta said.

She added that she’s feeling good about this team.

“I’m super excited. We had a practice about three weeks ago, and you can see the banners that are hanging at regional competition, we had a student place first in brisket. At the practice, he was a little bit more relaxed, like Oh, I got this. His brisket didn’t come out looking as nice as he wanted it to look, but I’m so grateful that we had the practice so that he can have that lesson to know that you have to be attentive. You can’t just assume your brisket is going to come out nice because it came out nice the time before. I’m looking forward to see how he tweaks and pays attention at the state competition. We’re hoping that he shines again,” Acosta said.

There are two teams going to state — the Barbecue Barbarians and Meat the Flintstones.

Adam Lopez, a senior at New Tech, is the manager of the Barbecue Barbarians. Lopez said some of the students, like himself, have been doing the same thing for a while, like ribs.

Alexa Soto, also a senior at at OHS, has been switching around to different foods.

“I’ve definitely had dessert, chicken and beans, so switching around is kind of harder, but it gives me a lot of knowledge so when I practice it makes it easier for the competition because I did switch from dessert to chicken,” Soto said.

Acosta said Soto’s chicken at practice was “beautiful.”

“So I think we finally found the spot for her,” she added.

Adriel Samaniego, a senior at Permian High School and Meat the Flintstones manager, had been doing beans for a while and now he does ribs.

“I like to help my teammates who deal with beans because I know how the process works,” Samaniego said.

Acosta said they have two different styles of barbecue pits that they use. One is called a canned smoker and kind of looks like a trash can. The other is a big smoker that was donated by United Market Street.

“Adriel helped build that fire for that big pit. It’s a big job to get that whole entire pit up to temperature and maintain the temperature. He did a phenomenal job at the practice maintaining the temperature the whole entire time. That’s his assignment for competitions is to be the team manager,” Acosta said.

Even though they practice, Soto said she still gets nervous when she’s about to cook.

“It’s just the starting that I guess gets the nerves,” but after a while, she feels a little bit more comfortable, she said.

The students think they have a pretty good chance of placing.

Acosta said barbecue is now the students’ responsibility for national events like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Lopez said the hard work is worth it because they get to travel and be with each other.

”A lot of us here are really close to each other,” like brothers and sisters, he added.

For the seniors, Acosta said, this will be their last trip together so they will be making the most of each moment they have together.

“We’ve had a lot of fun. We take our own equipment. We’re in charge of our own stuff, in charge of setting up our own canopies. So it really feels like we’re working towards our goal together. We haven’t won anything at state yet. We haven’t won any trophies or anything yet … but we’d love to be the first class to do so. We also want to be examples to the advanced kids we’re taking to be leaders for our practicum,” Lopez said.

“We want to go out with a bang,” Samaniego added.