Growing up in Houston, I have been attending the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo since I was a little girl.  From Go Texan Day to the rodeo art contest, the rodeo is such a quintessential part of a Houston upbringing.  As an adult, I still love it and have learned more about all that the rodeo has to offer over the last few years.  The rodeo can be a bit confusing to navigate for out-of- towners or recent transplants.   I’ve tried to share a bit on Instagram, but there still seems to be questions about how the Rodeo works.  So I decided to take it back old school with a blog post,  here are my 9 Tips for Rodeo Houston.

Understand the Schedule

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Sign

People who are new to the rodeo often say to me “I want to go, what day is it?” That’s the big thing, the rodeo is not a day.  It’s weeks of events during the official rodeo and even more smaller committee events before the rodeo starts.  As you are planning out your trip (or trips) the rodeo, please play close attention to the important days.

Rodeo Uncorked – Round Up & Best Bites Competition – Feb 18th 2024 (Sold Out)

World Championship BBQ Cook-off – Feb 22nd – 24th, 2024

Rodeo Parade – February 24, 2024 (Downtown Houston)

Opening Day – February 27, 2024

Community Day – March 6, 2024

After opening day (February 27th), each day the rodeo grounds will be open (carnival, NRG Center and NRG Arena).  Then in the evening, guests can enjoy a rodeo in NRG Stadium (bull riding, mutton busting etc) with a concert at the end.

World Championship BBQ Cook-off

Let me start with this note, I cannot personally help you secure tickets for cook-off, but I’ll share some details on how these passes are given out.   The World Championship BBQ Cook-Off  is a true barbecue competition with trophies being awarded for categories like best brisket and ribs.  Groups of Houstonians have created cook teams to compete in these competitions for decades.  During the event, the cook teams will host friends in their private tents allowing them show off their barbecue.  The public can purchase tickets to the grounds and enjoy a pretty mid barbecue plate offered by the rodeo, but the fun is in the private tents and those invites are hard to come by!

Here are the key ways that people get invites.  First, you know someone on a cook team.  The cook teams, buy-in to support their tent and divvy up passes   The next way is your employer.  Houston’s biggest companies sponsor tents and offer tickets to their employees.  This includes most of the oil & gas companies and others like United Airlines.  Liquor brands will also host tents and provide tickets to industry folks.  Another big group are alumni groups, like University of Houston.  They offer opportunities for their active alums to gather/convene at the cook-off.   These are often free ticket offers, generally only include two.

Plate of Food

While most of the food is BBQ, they have a little bit of everything

The other option, purchase tickets to the private tents.  When I first started going to cook-off, you could get these tickets for about $50. The price has now increased to $100-250.  You can find these on eventbrite.  This price includes food, open bar and entertainment, but I won’t lie to you that’s still pretty steep!  Understanding how the tickers are given out and working your own network tends to be the best bet.  I can also say, once I’m on the grounds with friends we generally see someone and make our way into other tents.  But it really is who you know and I know this can be more challenging for people who are newer to Houston.

The Rodeo is for Everyone

As a Black Houstonian, I’ve been asked by many Black transplants if the rodeo is for us.  The rodeo is for EVERYONE!  The city of Houston is the most diverse city in the country.  For an event this massive to survive, they have to make it appealing to everyone.  From my personal experience and hearing rodeo executives discuss this, it seems that they want every Houstonian to visit the rodeo.  While country music is the big appeal, they have pop, rap and R&B artists every year.  Additionally, the rodeo has the Black Heritage Day and Go Tejano Day which celebrates these cultures and their contributions to western history.  As someone who grew up in Houston, Black Heritage Day has been a must attend event since I was a kid.

Go into NRG Center

Sheep laying on hay

There is a lot involved with the Rodeo and some folks make the mistake of just arriving and going straight to the stadium.  You can check out the visitors guide for more details on what each building houses.  There are some spaces I haven’t even been to, like the Horse Show at NRG Arena.  However, I can tell you that the NRG Center houses some of the best rodeo aspects.  First, there are lots of vendors.  Most will have typical western apparel and there will be others like Kendra Scott.  Here you can also explore agventure and get up close to animals like sheep, pigs and cows.  The chickens hatching was also a favorite of mine as a kid.  It’s hands down my favorite space to visit during the rodeo.

Visit on Community Day and Grab Carnival Packages

On March 6th, the Rodeo hosts Community Day offering free admission before noon.  There are also buy one get one for games and rides.  This is a Wednesday, but generally falls during spring break, so it’s a great time to take your family to the rodeo.   Also, you can grab carnival packages and food cards before the official start of the rodeo.  These packs give 50% off on carnival games and rides.  Please note that the food cards can only be used at certain food stands inside of the carnival area.  A friend of mine is on the committee, that sells these passes, feel free to use her link to order your pass (full disclosure, she receives credit for her committee when you purchase)

The Best Rodeo Food?

Fried Cookie Dough Ice Cream Sundae

This is a Fried Cookie Dough Ice Cream Sundae. I believe I got this from the fried pies booth right outside of the NRG Center

For Houstonians, rodeo food is similar to what others would call state fair food.  And we love it!  There are several different types of food available at the rodeo.  There is a restaurant (more on that later), the food inside of the carnival, the food inside of NRG and the food vendors in the tents outside of NRG Center.  For me, the first place I’m going is to the tents!  Here you can find spots like Trill Burger, be sure to go early.   My other favorite vendor there is Sills Concessions.  They fry up just about everything, but those fried oreos are a must for me.  When you visit, be on the lookout for the Gold Buckle Foodie Award recipients.  The 2024 winners have not been announced yet, but here are the ones from last year.

Parking

If this is your first rodeo (see what I did there), parking may be the most confusing part.   The carnival takes up most of the main parking lots that people use during concerts or Texans games.   So you have to use the parking lots that are a bit further from the venue, mainly along Main Street.  I am a fast walker, but it takes me about twenty minutes to get from these parking lots to the rodeo grounds.  Keep that in mind as you navigate.

Other people prefer to use ride share or the light rail to get to the rodeo grounds.  I will just say, be prepared to wait a bit with either of those options unless you sneak out of the grounds before the concert is over.

Champion Wine Garden

If the NRG Center and Carnival are for the kiddos, the Champion Wine Garden is for the grown folks!  Here, guests can enjoy a large variety of wine from the Rodeo’s International Wine Competition with live music.  This is a great area to hang out before the concerts and after. You can reserve tables or large tents for bigger groups.  Last year, I enjoyed their Sunday Brunch series.  Each week during the rodeo they will feature food from different local restaurants and different music.  This year there will be a R&B Brunch and Jazz Brunch.  You can find the dates and details here.

The Ranch Saloon & Steakhouse

Filet Mignon with oyster topping

Filet Mignon with Carpet Bagger Topping

A few years back, B&B Butchers opened a full service restaurant, the Ranch Saloon & Steakhouse on the rodeo grounds.  Every year I am amazed at what they were able to build!  If you want a more high end dining experience during the rodeo, this is the place for you.  You can expect many of the popular dishes from B&B Butchers like the carpet baggers and great steaks. I would recommend grabbing a reservation and doing it early because they fill up for dinner very quickly.  After the concert is over, they convert to a lounge with live music.

Takeaways and Final Notes

The Houston Rodeo is a fun and festive time around Houston.  As you are looking for more information, the Rodeo website is your best resource.  They have reworked the website over the last few years and it is really usable in my opinion, so be sure to check there.  I also shared some additional tips on this post from 2022, if you want more details. Also, I know someone is going to mention that I did not include in the Hideout as a place to go after the concert is over, this is because every time I go, I can’t get in! I will update when I go though.

Many of you have questions about the Black Heritage Gala, hosted by the Black Heritage Committee which I am part of.  The committee hosted over 3,000 people with proceeds going to scholarships for local Houston students.   The event is generally in January or February and committee members have details in the fall.  I recommend connecting with committee members in your own network so you are ready to join a table next year.

If you are interested in learning more about joining a rodeo committee for next year’s show, please check out my Rodeo FAQ highlight on Instagram or check out the rodeo website section on committees.