Edinburg’s annual Texas Cook ‘Em grills up scholarships for student veterans

Evalynn Celedon, 11, of Edinburg with the Chillin and Grillin team, turns her pork chops during the kids competition at the Texas Cook'em High Steaks on Saturday at H-E-B Park in Edinburg. Celedon placed second in the contest. Photo by Delcia Lopez.

EDINBURG — This year’s Texas Cook ‘Em: High Steaks barbecue competition had a few more winners — 10 student veterans at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley each received a $1,000 scholarship.

J.J. Flores, special events chair for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, said the city wanted to focus on veterans partially because this event is always around the time of Independence Day.

“We wanted to add more value to the event and also do something for them,” Flores said.

Hosted at the H-E-B Park in Edinburg, the free event included a late night concert featuring Los Lonely Boys. There was also a kids zone with inflatable slides and toys. The RGV Toros played a game against Tacoma Defiance on Saturday night. Barbecue winners and some scholarship recipients were brought out during halftime to receive their awards.

DeAnna Garza, director of marketing and special events for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, said the city of Edinburg was originally going to give five scholarships of $1,000 each, but then H-E-B offered to match that.

“H-E-B Park has been super helpful,” said Garza. “It’s been fantastic, working with a great group of people.”

Veronica Gonzales, vice president for government and community relations at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and an Edinburg Chamber of Commerce board member, helped with organizing the scholarships. $50 raffle tickets paid for the scholarships given out on behalf of the city of Edinburg. She said student veterans are very worthy recipients.

“It’s a win for them, for their families and for our community,” Gonzales said. “It’s a great event… to thank them for all they’ve done for us.”

At least 115 teams from all over Texas entered this year’s competition. There were five categories cookers could enter: chicken, ribs, brisket, steak and chicken wings. There had to be at least 75 judges per category. Judging was open to anyone over the age of 18. There was also a kid’s competition in the morning, where children cooked pork chops.

Last year’s overall grand champion, Kirk Filipp from Cleveland, Texas, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Houston, said he likes the comrade in the barbecue community and the relaxing environment of the Valley.

“Barbecue is a large community of brotherly love,” Filipp said. “People are good here. People are very nice.”

Omar Cavazos of The Mesquite Burning Aggies entered this competition for his tenth time. In light of the recent death of Mission Police Corporal Jose Luis “Speedy” Espericueta, Cavazos hung a poster bearing the Mission Police Department badge with lines of black and blue over it to show solidarity and support.

Cavazos, a Border Patrol agent, was born and raised in Mission. He said the community can never forget what happened.

“He may have been out here cooking with us today,” Cavazos said, referring to Espericueta.

Cavazos also described the barbecue community in the Valley as tight-knight, with men often offering their time to cook for fundraisers needed for families.

“These guys don’t think twice,” Cavazos said. “(We) help each other out. That’s what it’s all about.”

Vanessa Reyes and her family from McAllen visited the event for the first time. Reyes, 36, said they all enjoyed it.

“My husband likes to cook so he brought all of us out here,” Reyes said. “It’s really nice.”

For her first time helping to organize the event, Garza said she felt like her work paid off.

“It’s a very difficult event to put together,” Garza said. “You’re dealing with a lot of people, but when you see families having fun, it’s worth all of it.”