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Yoakum's Tom Tom Festival brings community together (video)

By Elena Watts
June 7, 2014 at 1:07 a.m.

Noe Barrera, of Yoakum, sprays the Hochheim Prairie Insurance team's chicken breast to keep it moist for the barbecue competition at the Tom-Tom Festival in Yoakum on Saturday.

YOAKUM - Smoke poured from three barbecue pits as the Yoakum Fire and Rescue barbecue team tended its brisket, ribs and chicken breast at the 86th annual Tom Tom Festival.

More than 3,000 people attended the festival, which debuted activities such as motocross performances, monster truck rides and tug-of-war competitions. Musical performances, the carnival and the barbecue competition were familiar features.

Steven Stary, a paramedic for the Yoakum Fire Department, and Wesley Mikulenka, a Yoakum volunteer firefighter, were already winners when they threw their meat on the pit at 5 a.m. Saturday. Their bacon-wrapped onion rings had won the Chef's Choice top prize, $100, Friday night.

"It was different, so we thought we had a good chance of winning something," Mikulenka said.

The team also took fourth place for its bacon-wrapped, boudin-stuffed pork loin with bacon-wrapped asparagus.

Stary and Mikulenka share a passion for cooking, and they enjoy competition.

This was their first time to cook in the Tom Tom Festival, but they have participated in other competitions for at least a decade.

"I think everything we cook is good," Stary said as he and Mikulenka patted their stomachs in unison.

Their secret, award-winning seasonings, which include lots of hot spices, evolved through many years of trial and error.

The cooks believed they had a good chance of winning with their brisket, chicken and beans. Twelve judges per category based their decisions on criteria, including aroma, tenderness, appearance, taste and texture. This year, 42 teams competed.

Noe Barrera, of Yoakum, has cooked for the Hochheim Prairie Insurance team for the past 15 years.

He and other insurance company employees began cooking 250 pounds of brisket and sausage early Friday morning for the city of Yoakum.

Saturday, the city served lunch to delegates invited to town for the annual event, which celebrates the area's once abundant tomato crops and harvests and is hosted by the Yoakum Chamber of Commerce.

Barrera and his team won fifth place in the Chef's Choice competition for their Texas version of a Philly cheesesteak Friday night.

The sandwich consisted of brisket, provolone and mozzarella cheeses, avocado, grilled onions and mushrooms.

The insurance team also cooked brisket, sausage, chicken breast, ribs and beans for the barbecue competition.

"It gets company employees and their families together," Barrera said. "We've won in every category, but the contest is a side thing."

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