Taking that “most important meal of the day” stuff very seriously, the Cowboy Breakfast came into being in 1979 with a few hundred people looking to kick off the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Sometime over the next couple of decades, the gathering grew so big it earned a Guinness record, in 2001, for the world’s largest cooked breakfast. Indeed, this year’s shebang boasted about 35,000 attendees, vast amounts of food (10,000 beef tacos! 5,000 pints of milk and juice!), and such good deeds as the awarding of culinary scholarships and the delivery of breakfast tacos to Brooke Army Medical Center.

Starting at 4:30 a.m. on the last Friday in January, the event—which relies on both corporate sponsors and volunteers—has survived noise citations, relocations, bad weather, and, of course, the Great Gravy Debacle of 2006, when organizers vetoed biscuits and gravy, telling the San Antonio Express-News it was because of “the mess and the slippery conditions when gravy was dropped on the pavement.” This caused a ruckus the likes of which the Alamo City hadn’t seen since 1836, and the decision was rescinded.

So what’s the big deal? Why rise before dawn and fend off the elements for a cup of McDonald’s coffee and a Johnsonville Brat sausage wrap? Sure, there’s the cow-chip-throwing contest. There’s music and a mechanical bull. But there must be something more; one couple even got married at the event (insert “bun-in-oven” joke here). And maybe that’s it: these breakfasters are family, kindred spirits reveling in the grandiosity of a true only-in-Texas celebration. That’s reason enough to return year after year, come hell or high gravy.