Behind the Scenes at the “World’s Largest Free Barbecue”

Twenty-six hours before the Feed: A huge group of coordinated volunteers throw the meat into the pit at a rapid pace. The pits need to be covered as quickly as possible to cut off the oxygen supply and stop any fires from flaring up. Once all the meat was loaded, a triumphant cry rang out:“Thirty-eight seconds!” Volunteers didn’t have time to congratulate each other on the impressive time, as they immediately had to cover the pits with tin sheets and tons of dirt. It’s essentially the same method used for backyard barbacoa, just on a massive scale.

The beginning of August means one thing in the Panhandle: it’s time for the XIT Rodeo and Reunion. The annual event in Dalhart—held on the first weekend in August—celebrated its eighty-first year earlier this month. The event, which after its opening year in 1936 was permanently relocated to the northwest corner of the Panhandle, was a way for the cowboys from the original XIT ranch, which ceased operations in the early twentieth century, to get together and share stories. Chuck wagon fare was provided in the early days, but the three nights of rodeo and music are now centered around the “World’s Largest Free Barbecue” on Saturday afternoon. Locals call it “the Feed.”

Photographs by Ted Albracht