Barbacoa and Big Red is puro San Anto, so it’s quite natural to have a festival for it.
Parking for the Barbocoa & Big Red Festival was along both sides of South Pleasanton Road at the R&J Music Pavilion. A man on horseback ushered cars in to a freshly mown field for parking. South Texas doesn’t get much more authentic than this (see photo gallery above).
Robert Morris, the founder of All of San Antonio’s Barbacoa & Big Red Festival, wanted to pay tribute to his heritage.
“As I grew up, my parents went out and bought barbacoa and Big Red every Sunday,” Morris wrote. “I thought, why not bring the community together over a common San Antonio staple? So here we are celebrating our culture.”
People at the festival were the nicest around. Several times I saw people picking up a food wrapper or a bottle from the ground. A car got stuck in the mud on the way out and instantly, five people stopped by to help push the vehicle out of the muck.
The booth for Alamo Molina had the longest line to get a barbacoa taco. Their banner invited customers to “Eat the Cheek.” “We’ve been in business six or seven years,” John Villela said, “but this is our first time at the festival.”
Servers from Los Reyes Barbacoa & Tacos said it was their first time at the festival as well. In fact, most contestants were at the Barbacoa & Big Red Festival for the first time.
Raul Vela, manager of Raul’s Enchilacos in Floresville, said it was his first time at the festival and explained why his recipe is different. “Our meat is perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. It is not fatty but is still tender,” he said.
Raul invited customers to visit his café in Floresville. “Our specialty is a cheese enchilada taco with sour cream, avocado, and pineapple pico de gallo with a flour tortilla.”
His neighbor at the festival, the Cajun Taco, sold even more exotic fare. Brandon McLure, originally from Baton Rouge, was selling tacos with alligator for $5.00 or crawfish for $4.00.
Big Red sold for $3.00 a bottle but Roxanne Sanchez and her friends were giving away samples of Big Red Zero. She said there’s a lot more people this year than last. “Last year had way less people,” she said.
This is the fifth year of the Barbacoa & Big Red Festival. Gloria Castellanos said this is the fourth year Celorio Tortillas has participated. “We won first place the last two years,” she said.
Ernie Garibay is keeping his brother’s tradition alive with his band, Cats Don’t Sleep. Randy Garibay died of cancer in 2002 but his song from the late 1990s, “Barbacoa Blues,” is sort of a national anthem for barbacoa fans.
I asked Ernie how long he’s been eating barbacoa. “I’ve been eating it all day long,” he quipped. His sense of humor is as strong as ever. “There are so many people here today, we had to have a helicopter bring us in,” he laughed. Estimates ranged from 1,500 to 2,500 participants for the festival; enough to create a traffic jam.
Watching people is part of the fun at the Barbacoa & Big Red Festival. One woman had a t-shirt emblazoned with “DTF.” “It means ‘Down to Fiesta,’” she said. A boy with a Big Red mustache seemed transfixed by the heady mixture of food and drink.
Mother Erica enjoyed her food while Baby Jaylen slept. Bobby and Sylvia Garcia and their friend, Queta Saldana, enjoyed their drinks while in the shade of the VIP area.
Eating barbacoa and drinking Big Red is almost like a religious experience for many San Antonians; at least enough to wax poetic about it.
Church of Barbacoa – A Poem by Don Mathis
Fiesta is over but we’re not going to rest.
We’re going to go the Barbacoa & Big Red Fest.
A man on horseback helps you park your car
across the street, not very far
to the front gate where fun begins
and the food and drink never ends.
Several thousand fans come out to play
to enjoy barbacoa on a Sunday in May.
It’s great to eat the meat from the head
and wash it down with a cold Big Red.
If barbacoa is the sacrament at the R&J Pavilion,
then Big Red must be the holy communion.
Under the roof are throngs of all classes.
No doubt they arrived after their masses.
Instead of a choir we have Cats Don’t Sleep.
They howl all night and then they eat.
You know you found good barbacoa by the smell
and a good salsa is hotter than hell.
It’s a tradition for many every Sunday morn
to have Big Red, barbacoa, and tortillas of corn.