Eddie Posas of La Grange says he barbecues for the pure enjoyment of feeding people, and if he wins, fine. If not, he'll be back another day.

Since 1982, Posas has been entering cooking contests to show why his brisket is the best. "It will melt in your mouth. I can give you a half-inch piece of brisket, and you can cut it with a plastic fork," he said.

He's got a right to brag. His company, This Is It, won it all in the brisket category in 1984 and 1985 in the World's Championship Bar-B-Que contest at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo , he said. "And I was second runner-up a year ago," he said.

On a sunny, balmy Saturday afternoon, the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo at the Travis County Exposition Center was the place to be . With students returning to class from spring break on Monday, families took advantage of all that comes with the event: livestock shows, a carnival and an array of music.

Although attendance in the area of Betsy's General Store and livestock barn was sparse, the carnival was busy. The happy place was the barbecue cookoff, where 70 teams competed for prizes in chicken, ribs, brisket, beans and bloody marys. That is also where the beer was flowing freely.

"We do this for the kids," said Chris Thigpen, one of three cooks for Dirrty Swamp Cookers of Austin. "Last year, we donated $7,000 from our tip jar. Altogether, all the teams raised about $200,000 that goes to the Rodeo Austin Scholarship Program."

The show that began with the exhibition of 16 animals in 1938 has grown into a premier event featuring professional rodeos and daily concerts .

And Betsy's General Store, where vendors peddle just about anything, including free ring cleaning and a makeup counter that also offered a natural alternative to Botox. And what is a show without a chef with a microphone hyping the next greatest thing in cookware or knives? James Glendening of Kitchen Craft Waterless Cookware was pitching a 6-quart Dutch oven . "You can cook a 12-pound turkey in an hour on the top of your stove," he said.

The children's tent featured a petting zoo. Azahel Zamora and Norma Chavez were taking their 2-year-old son, Aztek, to see goats, llamas and deer. "As a father, you have to do the petting zoo thing," Azahel Zamora said.

The one parent who didn't know how a day at the fair would turn out was Kalisha Moore. She and Jayla, 5, were waiting for a milking demonstration. "Jayla knows where milk comes from, but I think it's going to gross her out to see it live coming out of the cow," she said. "What am I doing here?"

rgandara@statesman.com; 445-3632