Day Trips

Remembering Bob Roberts, the dean of Texas barbecue.

Bob Roberts,  the dean of Texas barbecue
Bob Roberts, the dean of Texas barbecue (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Bob Roberts, the dean of Texas barbecue, passed away on August 2, at the age of 85. Few individuals have done more to spread the gospel of smoked meats than the West Texas native. As the self-proclaimed ambassador of barbecue, he traveled around the country singing the praises of the Lone Star cuisine.

Born in Stamford, Texas, in 1915, he spent his early years in the oil fields of West Texas until he joined the Air Force in 1942. After serving around the world, including having two planes shot out from under him in China, Roberts retired as a lieutenant colonel.

After the gregarious Roberts arrived in Taylor in 1969, the town was never quite the same. His happy "can-do" attitude inspired others to join whatever cause he was working on. In 1978, he was instrumental in starting the Taylor International Barbecue Cookoff. The August 19 event is one of the oldest and most consistently attended cookoffs in the state.

Eddie Lankford, retired Taylor school principal, was approached by Roberts to join his chili cookoff team around 1977. The idea was to visit the biggest livestock show cookoffs and hand out literature about Taylor and later about the Taylor barbecue cookoff, Lankford says. "Bob loved to be involved and working with people," he says. The team won several showmanship awards, even one at the Ladies State Championship in Luckenbach.

"Bob didn't cook that much," Lankford says, "But he won a few first place trophies. He just liked to have fun." Roberts' chili cookoff team often included a band that ranged from six to 10 members.

Besides knowing how to have a good time, Bob Roberts knew good food and had a good idea of how it should be prepared. In an interview in 1992, Roberts said he first got interested in the art of cooking meat over an open flame when he was stationed in Japan in 1955 and discovered hibachis. In 1963, with his Texan co-pilot, he experimented with cooking in smokers in the snow-covered back yards of upstate New York.

"He was a taster more than a cook," Lankford says of his friend. "Whenever he heard of a new barbecue joint opening up, he had to try it out." Roberts was known to drive out of his way or make an abrupt stop just to sample barbecue at a roadside stand.

His expertise in good barbecue joints got him credited in several national books on the subject. Roberts' organization skills made him an asset on cookoff committees around the state. Besides serving as general chairman for six years on the Taylor International Barbecue Championship and a consultant for most of the other 17 years, he volunteered at Chilympiad in San Marcos and helped start the barbecue cookoff portion of the famous Terlingua cookoff.

When asked what is the secret to great barbecue, Roberts answered honestly, "I wish I knew. It's the combination of a lot of things -- cooking time, seasoning, sauce, and even atmosphere has a lot to do with it."

But Bob Roberts' best advice to anyone looking for a roadside barbecue restaurant was: "If you don't see a woodpile out back, don't stop."

"His greatest contribution to Texas barbecue was as an ambassador," Lankford says. "He was like a coach who might not have been the greatest player in his day, but he knew how to inspire his team. He was really one of a kind and is going to be missed very much."

This year's Taylor International Barbecue Cookoff will be dedicated to the man who was instrumental in getting it organized. On August 19 at Murphy Park on the northern edge of Taylor, the cookoff will attract 80 to 100 cooks competing for bragging rights in beef, poultry, lamb, seafood, pork, goat, and wild game categories. Although about a third of the cooks are from the Taylor area, teams have come from as far away as Australia to compete.

For spectators this is one of the most fun cookoffs in the state, with an assortment of smokers made from some of the most unusual objects. The competition for the showmanship award is almost as hot as the smokers. "It really seems to bring the crazies out of the woodwork," says Chris Naivar, chairman of the judging.

This year the organizers have added new categories for side dishes and a special "People's Choice" award. Visitors can purchase tickets that are redeemable to the cooks for samples of their foods. The team with the most tickets at the end of the day wins the award. There also will be an arts and crafts show under the pavilion.

On Sunday, August 20, the Jaycees will also be sponsoring their annual Tejano Music Festival in Taylor's Murphy Park. Proceeds from the two events go to supporting civic projects. For more information, call 512/365-1184.

Coming up this weekend ...

Blanco County Fair in Johnson City shows off the best of the area's livestock, crafts, and food, plus evening dances, Aug. 17-19. 830/868-7684.

International Barbecue Cookoff in Taylor features all sorts of foods cooked over a grill from beef to seafood along with arts and crafts and live music in Murphy Park, Aug. 19. 512/352-5600.

Harvest Wine Trail celebrates the harvest season with special events at Central Texas wineries. Participants include: Becker Vineyards, Cana Cellars Winery, Comfort Cellars Winery, Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Fredericksburg Winery, Grape Creek Vineyards, Sister Creek Vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards, and Texas Hills Vineyards. 830/868-2321 or www.texaswinetrail.com.

Ice Cream Smorgasbord in Brenham invites the state to come help the town eat all the Blue Bell Ice Cream they can and then they'll sell what's left. Lots of fun for the kids with games and shows, Aug. 20. 409/836-3695 or www.brenhamtexas.com.

Coming up ...

Soul Brothers, a new folk art exhibit at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, shows the work of Norbert Kox, Rev. Kornegay, Walter Cotton, and Carl Dixon through Sept. 3. Gallery hours are 1-5pm Saturday and Sunday or by appointment. 972/938-8085 or www.webbartgallery.com.

On the Trail of Echols takes visitors to the Big Bend Ranch State Park on two-day camel treks following part of the route covered by Lt. William Echols in 1860. Package includes camels, guides, food, and camping, reservations required. Rides held Saturday and Sunday in September. 254/675-4867.

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