Eating Your Way through California’s BBQ Competitions With a BBQ Judge & 10 BBQ Events You Should Visit this Summer

With BBQ being the new thing on the food scene, we thought there was much we needed to know about the BBQ competition circuit.  So we turned to our friend in eating, Melanie Wong, who has been training as a Kansas City Barbeque Society judge. Tough work if you can get it –and boy does she get it. Melanie takes us behind the scenes on the ‘que circuit, shares her tips on how to evaluate bbq like a pro, tells us what a “BAT” is, and finally lists her 10 picks for BBQ competitions to try this summer.  [All photos by Melanie Wong; to view her full Flickr Stream click here. ] / Laiko

By Melanie Wong, Epicurator and BBQ Judge

For my first contribution to the Epicuring blog, let me introduce myself. Melanie Wong, here.  Better known for wine judging expertise or the chowhound chase for taco trucks, and I became a Certified Barbeque Judge through the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) three years ago.  Why? Because like jazz music, barbecue is America’s homegrown treasure and I wanted to taste the best.

Around here, the finest “low and slow” barbecue will be found on summer’s competition circuit.

“Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ”

The sport of competitive barbecue has exploded in California, tripling over the past three seasons.

Mike Sutton of “No Smoke No Glory” showing off brisket

Not only are there added opportunities to watch top pitmasters in the heat of battle, more contests also promote “People’s Choice” tastings to raise money for charity and give you a chance to vote for your favorites.  Once teams submit their finest cuts to the judging tent, the remaining barbecue is sold, typically for $2 to $3 per taste.

“When Pigs Fly” People’s Choice

To hone in on the most promising selections, keep an eye out for teams with BAT’s (“big ass trophies”) earned by high standings in other contests.

“I.A.B. 30 BBQ” BAT’s

KCBS-sanctioned contests feature four meats: 

Chicken, Pork ribs, Pork shoulder, and Beef brisket.  You might also find these specialties on the menu:

  • Moink balls – meatballs encircled with bacon
  • Burnt ends – twice-smoked, extra flavorful cubes of brisket
  • Cupcake chicken – thighs smoked and molded in a muffin tin then browned on the grill
  • Bacon explosion – core of crispy bacon rolled in a sausage log and wrapped in a weave of more bacon
“Smokey Bones BBQ” cupcake chicken

To evaluate barbecue like a judge, remember: It’s all about the meat.  Look past the pretty blondes to concentrate on the quality of the smoked meat.

Jennifer Fricke of “All Sauced Up BBQ” selling spareribs

How to Choose? Does the barbecue look appealingly colored with smoke, moist and not drowned in sauce? Then this is the place to sample.  Since the meat dries out quickly, be ready to pounce as soon as it’s sliced or chopped.

El Fuego Fiasco pork butt

How to Judge: Take a bite to assess the texture and taste. Is the meat tender enough to bite through yet not falling off the bone nor mushy? Is the marriage of smoke, meat and seasoning harmonious and in balance? Can the flavor of the meat stand on its own without sauce? Is the sauce complementary and not obscuring faults in the meat?

“Otis and the Bird BBQ” rig

Competitions offer up car show-like attractions as well.  Be sure to check out the custom-built smokers: Rigs can range from hot rod sleekness to phantasmagorical fusions of ironwork and winged hogs. 

“I Smoke Inc.” rig

Hogs of another kind, Harley-Davidsons often make an appearance.

“Just Blowin’ Smoke” bike

The season just went into full swing after Memorial Day — competitions with tasting opportunities are linked below.  See you on the circuit!

The Top 10 BBQ Competitions in California

This Summer

June 9 & 10 – Orange County BBQ & Music Festival (Costa Mesa)

June 30 – Silicon Valley BBQ Championships (Santa Clara)

July 7 – Bay Area BBQ Championships (Oakland)

July 14 – Wine Country Big BBQ (Santa Rosa)

July 28 – Siskiyou Beef Country Cook-off (Montague)

August 4 – Smokin’ Q Classic (Vista)

August 18 – Way Out West BBQ (Stockton)

August 18 – Ribs, Pigs & Watermelons Summer Festival (Westminster)

August 25 – Smokin’ on the Water (Lakeport)

September 22 – Smokin’ for Gold (Placerville)

2 thoughts on “Eating Your Way through California’s BBQ Competitions With a BBQ Judge & 10 BBQ Events You Should Visit this Summer”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

64 − = 62