Big Red and Barbacoa headline festival
The tender mildly spiced beef sits on a warm corn tortilla topped with guacamole and spicy green or red salsa. It is accompanied by a citrus, bubble gum flavored drink. Barbacoa and Big Red. This Sunday morning staple food has made its way to many tables across South Texas.
Barbacoa and Big Red have become so popular in South Texas there is a festival honoring the two icons. The Barbacoa and Big Red Festival will take place on Sunday, May 21 at R&J Music Pavilion, 18086 Pleasanton Rd.
Barbacoa is the cheek meat from a cow’s head traditionally steamed in a hole in the ground covered by maguey leaves to keep the steam from escaping. The meat is cooked overnight to reach its tenderness.
Many barbacoa eaters are introduced to this iconic food at a very young age.
Michael Anthony Fernandez, artist promoter, said he was introduced to barbacoa in the second grade. He wanted what family and friends were running to the local molinos every Sunday morning for and that was barbacoa.
“I wanted to taste that aroma that was sifting through the air, that aroma that could only be barbacoa. Steaming hot barbacoa with a tall glass of iced Big Red to wash it down,” Fernandez said.
Mario Fuentes, 57, owner of Fuentes Barbacoa, 2703 W. Southcross Blvd., said his earliest recollection of barbacoa was as a kid around 8 years of age.
“It was a tradition in Mexico where everybody would get together to talk over barbacoa on Sundays and he has been doing it ever since,” Fuentes said.
Fuentes has been in business for 21 years and has seen several generations of families come in to buy the tender meat.
“I know their sons and son’s sons,” Fuentes said. “It becomes more than just a neighborhood. I care about the people around the neighborhood.”
Fuentes said the traditional way of cooking the meat is no longer allowed due to Metropolitan Health District regulations. The meat is delivered by meat packing production companies and cooked at the restaurant. He starts cooking at 3 a.m. so it’s ready for his customers at 6 a.m. when they open.
He said there are three types of barbacoa meat which he sells by the pound or as single tacos. The “all meat” is cheek meat that has been trimmed of most of its fat so it has little to none in it. The “regular” has been trimmed a little but still has some fat to give it flavor and solely “cheek” is not trimmed and has lots of fat. The “all meat” is the most popular and when sold by the pound it comes with a 10 count pack of corn or flour tortillas, hot sauce and a two liter of Big Red Soda. Fuentes calls this package “El Bobcat” named after the school district’s mascot.
Antonio Villarreal, one of the founders and owners of the Barbacoa and Big Red Festival, said the idea came along when he and his partners saw the huge percentage of San Antonians who would go out every Sunday before or after church to eat barbacoa along with Big Red “and it being a family tradition there was a calling to capitalize on it.”
The festival is in its seventh year and draws over 10,000 guests throughout the day. Villarreal said and it keeps growing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent each year. The festival holds the best barbacoa and the most innovative barbacoa dish contest. Some of the innovative dishes are barbacoa burgers, flautas, sushi and hot dogs.
In reference to the best barbacoa contest, a panel of celebrity tasters judge on specific key attributes; flavor, texture, fat content, trimmings, tortilla quality and appearance. They have first, second and third place trophies for the best barbacoa and first place winners for the most innovative. There will be 15-20 vendors selling barbacoa and a supply of ice cold Big Red to wash it down.
There will be 15-20 vendors selling barbacoa and a supply of ice cold Big Red to wash it down.
“Big Red is very sweet in nature and typically strongly concentrated with a lot of carbonation, so when you eat barbacoa tacos the right way, adding spicy homemade hot sauce and once your mouth starts catching on fire, Big Red comes to the rescue,” Villarreal said.
Along with the barbacoa vendors, the festival will have over 70 vendors selling other types of foods, but barbacoa will be the main food. They will have 19 musical acts on three different stages. Gabe Garcia, Stefani Montiel and David Farias are on the list to perform.
Barbacoa and Big Red. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.