Cecil Wright didn’t chicken out at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. A year ago, as chief cook for the barbecue cook-off team representing the Jasper County Go Texan Committee, Wright grilled up some chicken as usual. But he didn’t follow the same simple recipe that had won his team blue ribbons in many other less-prestigious cooking competitions. The foul- up resulted in the group failing to place among the top 100 entries at the world’s largest barbecue cook-off.
“Last year I was scared by the hype,” said Wright, risk manager at TDCJ’s Goodman Transfer Facility in Jasper. “I knew I was up against stiff competition and I guess I wasn’t confident in my cooking. I figured I had to make it better than the way I normally cook it. So I experimented. This year, I decided to stay true to the recipe, and it paid off.”
It did in more ways than one. Not only did Wright and his teammates Goodman Unit employees Lt. Terry Causey, CO V Leon Kelso, and CO V Charles Pousson take home three trophies, they also earned a $12,000 college scholarship for a Jasper County student.
“What we’re doing by going to Houston and competing in the barbecue cook-off is competing for scholarships,” Wright said. “Our sole purpose is to provide a college scholarship to a Jasper County resident.”
But winning first place can be fun, too.
Wright has been grilling meats at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo the past five years but had never come close to toting home a trophy. His team’s chicken was not only voted the best tasting among the 107 chicken entries in the show, it was also judged second runner-up overall among the 362 different meat varieties entered, including brisket and ribs prepared by big-budget corporate teams. The locally-sponsored Jasper team also took the top spot in the separate Go Texan competition for its chicken entry.
“I’ve got some people who work with me that are pretty good,” Wright said. “We cooked the best chicken we could and the judges liked it. And our chicken beat everybody’s brisket and ribs, except two.”
As chief cook, Wright says the secret to his championship chicken is simple. All he does is rub in some store-bought Cajun seasoning and lets it sizzle undisturbed on a pit stoked with red oak to about 225 degrees.
“My secret to chicken is you season it, put it on a grill, and don’t touch it for four hours,” Wright said. “Don’t move it, don’t breathe on it, don’t touch it.”
One thing he does do is spray the bird every 30 minutes or so with a concoction made up of one part water and one part Coca-Cola.
“It’s a tenderizer and it keeps it moist,” Wright said. “There have been several times where I’ve had to wipe my glasses off because of the juice squirting out of the chicken when I cut into it. They’re definitely not dried out. They’re juicy. I think that’s my secret.”
While representing the Jasper County Go Texan Committee at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Wright and his teammates compete in a number of local cook-off competitions during the year as the Goodman Good Time Cookers. He said the team plans on returning to Houston again next year in a bid to be named grand champion and receive an automatic invitation to a celebrated cook-off competition in Tennessee. That event is considered by many to be the most prestigious cooking competition around, even though it is much smaller in scale than the Houston show, which annually attracts between 350 and 425 teams.
“The only thing to do is to win first place and go to Tennessee,” Wright said. “That’s the only way we can beat what we did this year.”