Steak Challenge: Organizers hope mouths, not skies, are watering

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, September 21, 2013

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Carey Williams believes the Chisholm Trail Steak Challenge is “growing some legs.”

Stephanie Quarles just hopes this year, it doesn’t need fins.

Quarles, principal of Decatur’s Carson Elementary, and Williams, executive manager of James Wood Motors, one of the event’s key sponsors, spoke to the directors of the Decatur Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Thursday, reviewing the background of the Sept. 28 cookoff, its purpose and how it works – and seeking continued support.

She had them at “steak.”

Heres the Beef

HERE’S THE BEEF – Don Tucker, owner of Mas Meats in Bridgeport, eyes a stack of ribeye steaks like those he will provide for next Saturday’s Chisholm Trail Steak Challenge, to be held at the Reunion Grounds on FM 51 South in Decatur. The public is invited to come out for dinner. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

The EDC board quickly voted to donate $1,000 from its marketing budget for the steak-cooking competition, sponsored by the Decatur Chamber of Commerce, that raises funds to help send Decatur ISD kids on field trips, including sending all the eighth graders to Washington, D.C. each spring.

The Chisholm Trail Steak Challenge runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at the Wise County Reunion Grounds. Other sponsors include Mas Meat & Produce of Bridgeport, North Texas Bank, iCopy, Miller Beer, AgVantage Farm & Ranch Supply and Ben E. Keith Foodservice Distributors.

IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER – More than 500 ribeye steaks will be ready for the grill at next Saturday’s Chisholm Trail Steak Challenge. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

The Steak Challenge calls for cooks and teams to compete for a total of $5,600 in prize money to see who can grill the best steak. The top five will earn $2,500, $1,000, $750, $500 and $250. The best dessert and appetizer will also bring in $250 prizes, and a “People’s Choice” award is worth $100.

For the public, it means a chance to sample them all, and choose the chef of their choice to grill their steak.

For $25, festival-goers get a “Taste of Texas” bracelet as well as a Chisholm Trail ticket. After they sample the cooks’ wares, the ticket entitles them to a steak prepared to their liking by a chef team of their choice, along with a baked potato and salad.

The event started in 2011 with 20 teams competing. Last year it drew 22 entries – but the skies opened up and several inches of rain fell that day, putting something of a damper on the festivities.

This year, Quarles is hoping for good weather, more cooks and more people – so more kids can write grants and have their dreams fulfilled.

“Our fourth graders have the opportunity every year to go to Camp Grady Spruce at Possum Kingdom, as a class,” she told the EDC board Thursday. “Seventh graders have the opportunity to go to Austin. Those are great, great field trips – and there are lots and lots of opportunities like that for kids.

“But those are available to kids whose parents can afford those things.”

She said as she and some other teachers were returning from a field trip to NASA in Houston a few years ago, they began talking about a way to make the 8th grade Washington, D.C. field trip available to every member of the class.

“We thought it would be really neat to see if we could sponsor every single eighth grader,” she said. “It was going to cost us something like $300,000.”

That year, she noted, Rod Townsend became Decatur ISD’s superintendent – and brought with him an idea.


“One of the things he had sponsored in Hico was the Hico Steak Challenge,” Quarles said. “That was his vision – and it ended up on the Food Network.”

During a visit with her boss, Quarles’ goal was “to figure out just what kind of fundraiser it was, what the potential was for making money.

“I think that he probably did, every year, make that ($300,000) and up for the Hico Steak Challenge,” she said. “So that’s how we got started.”

Quarles, Brandi Edgar, Erin Griffith, Dene Mathews and Lorna Franke founded a non-profit organization called Outside Four Walls to serve as a “grant-writing foundation” for students. Michelle Stokes, Danielle Scroggins and Troy Bagwell joined them on the board, and they began planning the fundraiser – with lots of help from Williams and Wade Watson.

“If their mom couldn’t afford to send them to New York on a drama club field trip, they could write a grant for that,” Quarles said. “If they couldn’t afford the dues for a club or an organization, we wanted them to be able to do those things.”

The first year of the Steak Challenge, they learned there is a group of people who spend a lot of time and money on their cooking rigs just for the opportunity to travel and enter such contests.

“The second year, we had 22 teams, and I think it rained six inches,” Quarles said. “It was crazy, but we still had a lot of fun. We also added wine tasting – we had four local wineries that came – and last year we also opened up the Reunion Grounds cabins.”

This year’s event will continue with wine tasting and open cabins on the Reunion Grounds, and will also include the Steak Break 5K run that morning, a washer tournament at 2 p.m. and a car show at 4. There will also be vendor booths on the grounds.

“We’re just hoping that every year it gets bigger and bigger,” Quarles said. “We already have more entries this year than last year, and it’s still open.”

Having it at the Reunion Grounds – at a time of year when it is usually cooler – adds to the appeal for both the cooks and the public, Quarles said.

“We thought about having it on the square, which would have been really neat,” she said. “But I really think that’s one of the draws to the event is the fact that we have it in this big, beautiful park setting with pretty trees and pretty grass. Everyone who comes here comments on what a beautiful setting it is.”

The abundant Reunion parking also helps, Decatur City Manager Brett Shannon, who sits on the EDC board, added.

Shannon has also served as a judge for the event, and says the difference between first place and tenth place is negligible.

“I’ll tell you, that steak is good,” he said. “They all get a one-and-a-half inch thick ribeye to start, then they do what they do to it.”

This year’s event starts with a cooks’ meeting at 9 a.m. Appetizers are due at 10, and the first steak turn-in is at 11. At 2 p.m. desserts have to be turned in, and at 3 the top 10 finalists will be announced and draw new steaks for the final cook-off.

The top 10 steaks have to be turned in by 4:30 p.m.

At 5:30, steak ticket holders can start having dinner, and at 7 p.m. the serving line closes and winners are announced.

Steaks are judged for taste, appearance, texture and tenderness. Steak teams pay $250 to enter, but if they enter to cook steaks, there is no additional entry fee for appetizers and desserts.

For more information, call (214) 683-1766.


The Decatur Lions Club will host the Steak Break 5K on Saturday morning while the Chisholm Trail Steak Challenge is gearing up.

The event will include a one-mile untimed Fun Run which starts at 10 a.m., led by Fit-N-Wise, and a disposable chip-timed 5K run that starts at 10:30 a.m. The awards presentation will be at 11:45.

The course is a unique closed-loop beginning at the Reunion Grounds and running through a nearby subdivision before bringing runners to Old Reunion Road. They will return to the Reunion Grounds through the back entrance and finish the course running through the Reunion camps and circling the Steak Challenge competition area.

Proceeds from the race will benefit charities and organizations sponsored by the Decatur Lions Club, and runners are invited to stay and participate in the Steak Challenge events.

Race packets include a free parking pass, a $15 off coupon which can be applied toward the purchase of a steak & potato dinner or toward wine-tasting.

To register, visit the Decatur Lions Club website at

For more information, contact Will Klose at (940) 626-2060 or email

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