On the first Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in August for the past 61 years, thousands have converged on a park on the outskirts of Dalhart for the XIT Rodeo and Reunion, celebrating the history of the XIT Ranch, once the biggest ranch in Texas. (This year’s dates: August 7—9.) In the spirit of fellowship the reunion part of the long weekend includes free feeds, culminating on Saturday afternoon with the world’s biggest free barbecue (more than twenty thousand plates of beef and all the trimmings were served up last year, with plenty of leftovers to go around).
Dean Stull, the barbecue master and one of nine directors overseeing the entire event, explains how it’s done: “All winter long we cut wood—elm, mesquite, anything we can get—approximately twenty-five bobtail truckloads. Then we dig two pits, four foot deep, four foot wide, and seventy-five foot long. We dig two in case it rains and one of ‘em gets flooded out. Then we put the wood in one of the pits, filling the hole and stacking it up about five foot high above the ground. We light it at about two on Friday morning and let it burn down to the coals for about twelve hours.
“Friday morning, we go to cutting and wrapping about eleven thousand pounds of meat, rolling it in our seasoning—I can’t tell you what’s in that. Each roast [topside round] weighs about fifteen pounds, and we cut it in half and roll it. Then we put the roast in a paper ice sack, then in a burlap bag, and tie it with wire. We soak it in water, put it in the truck, then—just before we throw the meat on the coals at about two in the afternoon on Friday—the fire department comes along and soaks the bags of meat again. Then we lay grader blades [from a road grader] across the pit and cover them with tin, then dirt. It takes about six minutes to fill and seal the pit. Then we let it cook for twenty-four hours. Afterward, we scrape away the dirt, pull away the tin, remove the grader blades, and eat. You’ll never taste anything like it.”