Meat Me There

How to Keep Cool at a Sizzling-Hot Butcher's Ball

Some of the best things about this year's Houston-to-Brenham food festival.

By Timothy Malcolm October 24, 2019

Justin Manning of C&J Barbecue takes home the Golden Cleaver.

Image: Emily Jaschke

It's a gamble to schedule a food festival in October out here. It might rain pretty hard. It could be chilly. But the most likely scenario is "dang it, it's hot!" and that was the scene Sunday at the annual Butcher's Ball.

Not that anyone seemed to mind too much. With its workshops and classes, its celebration of meat (and perhaps more sincerely, farmers), and festive atmosphere, the Butcher's Ball was so fun and meaningful, heat was no match.

But if you wanted to distract yourself from the sun that's searing your back, the Butcher's Ball offered plenty of options. Here are five of the best things from the event:

The pre-event dinner

This year, local chefs put on a six-course dinner the night before the Butcher's Ball, using ingredients sourced from local farmers and providers. Highlights included lamb pastor with pan de campo and herb salad from Monica Pope (Sparrow Cookshop) and Tony Luhrman (El Topo), and snapper collar tacos with salsa macha and avocado salsa from Bobby Matos (La Lucha, State of Grace) and Graham Laborde (Killen's). All proceeds from the dinner went to Urban Harvest.

The fun bites

A handful of chefs competed for the vaulted Golden Cleaver at Butcher's Ball, and while it's serious stuff, the fun, whimsical bites are often the most memorable. Take, for instance, NcNuggets, Martin Stayer's (Nobie's) version of McDonald's chicken nuggets, only pork—meatier and livelier. Also, special shoutouts to Feges BBQ's non-competition "Butt Cheese" (head cheese on johnny cakes with cane syrup and cracklin') and to Dawn Burrell (Kulture), who channeled her inner Philadelphian with juicy little cheesesteak balls.

Monica Pope gets to cooking with kids.

Image: Emily Jaschke

The big bites

Justin Manning (C&J Barbecue in College Station) won the Golden Cleaver for smoked osso bucco with redeye gravv, bone marrow biscuit, and a roasted red pepper and pecan gremolata. He went to a few sources for his goods: R-C Ranch, Black Hill Meats, and Cake & Bacon. Monica Pope came in second place with an involved chicken wing confit with koji ranch, furikake crispy rice, and six-day cured egg yolk. My favorite was the plate put together by Tris's Austin Simmons, who finished in third: Akaushi dry-age beef rib and jalapeño cheese venison sausage with peanut butter fudge bite. All the bites prove we have some outstanding local farmers and providers, not to mention chefs.

One boozy drink in particular

It seemed every other person at Butcher's Ball was walking around with the highly Instagrammable No ... Pos Ta Cabron from Monkey's Tail. This is the Capri Sun-like drink of whiskey, amaro liqueur, piquin pepper, chervil, orange, and lime. I did see some tequila versions of the drink, too. Honestly, if Monkey's Tail wanted to put out a line of these drinks, nobody would complain. They're a hit.

Hitting the books

A key to Butcher's Ball is education. From butchery demonstrations like Cherry Block's Jess DeSham Timmons's primer on turducken, to a panel discussion on farm and food policy, it's clear that this is a festival that goes beyond chefs cooking food for a prize. I brought my two daughters (sorry, attendees, I was the one with the double stroller), and while my oldest isn't quite at the age to learn how to make kale salad from Monica Pope, I'm really looking forward to bringing her in a few years to give it a go.

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