| 2nd Annual West Coast BBQ Classic
By Donna Fong
May 11, 2013
Long Beach, CA
2nd Annual West Coast BBQ Classic in Long Beach felt more like a vacation get away than it did a heated BBQ championship. Truth was, it was both. The contest was held at Harry Bridges Memorial Park which is a nice green patch of carefully groomed grass next to the RMS Queen Mary. Our back drop was the harbor shortly before it pours out to the Pacific Ocean. Beyond that was a gorgeous Long Beach skyline. The Aquarium of the Pacific is brightly lit at night and the roof flows like breaking waves. To the right of the aquarium is the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center is a large cylindrical building decorated with the world‚Äôs largest mural at 116,000 square feet. The mural depicts migratory whales and other aquatic life which reflect the Long Beach area. Towering to the right of the contest was the Queen Mary which serves as a hotel, restaurant and museum. At night it is decorated with a string of multicolored lights like a large floating Christmas tree. The loud and low sounding horn from the ship blows four times a day, at 10am, noon, 3pm and 6pm, interrupting BBQ small talk and reminding us of her presence.
Trees at the park provide a shady resting place for visitors. There was always a pleasant breeze. Our contest organizer Arlie Bragg had found a prime real estate spot that few of us could normally afford. He made us all feel more than a little spoiled, which isn‚Äôt easy to do in California.
Teams were given a packet which included 8 wrist bands for team members, a Jack Daniels cookbook and a Jack Daniels apron. The wrist band let you in and out of the contest plus provided you free entry on the Queen Mary. Judges got a little Queen Mary squeezable toy as a keepsake.
The West Coast Classic had an extra category of Rancher‚Äôs Reserve top sirloin steak sponsored by Safeway/Von‚Äôs. After a one year hiatus, the well paid steak grill-off had returned to KCBS. 3 of the 10 contests are to be held in California with a payout of $900/$700/$500 for 1st/2nd/3rd place entries and no registration fee was required. The next RR contests are to be held up north in Santa Rosa in July and then back down south in Dana Point in October. The team that accumulates the most points will earn $5k for 2nd and 3rd, $2500 and $1000, respectively at the KCBS annual banquet.
As night approached, the horizon twinkled like diamonds. It was breathtaking to behold. Many Pitmasters walked the few steps it took to reach the shoreline and just took in the beauty of the surroundings and felt lucky to be there. The temperature didn‚Äôt drop much so staying up to attend to one‚Äôs meat and fire seemed easier than usual. It was certainly easier than how it was at the Royal only 7 months earlier. Experience cooking at other contests made the moment richer.
Though it was the perfect venue to party and drink, most teams knew well enough that the field was too tough to do anything else than concentrate on one's cook. While standing outside at the porta potty waiting for my daughter, I had a moment to look around me and I realized I was surrounded by Grand Championship teams, one after another. At this contest, even if you cooked your A game, you weren‚Äôt guaranteed to hear your name called. Everyone is just that good now. Luckily, I know that we are defined not only by how many trophies we have won, but more importantly by the strength of our character, the stories we love to tell, and the generosity we demonstrate to others. These were also the best souls on the planet, both outside and inside the tent. Those that compete feel the camaraderie. It is no wonder why the sport of BBQ competition is growing.
Judges arrived and were instructed to line up according to number of contests judged. As usual, Joseph Miles, California‚Äôs most experienced judge was at the front. Joe is the Nolan Ryan of California judging with eighty contests under his belt since 2000. Judges counted off and were evenly distributed among the tables so as no one table had too much or too little experience. It is a great system invented here in California by Carol Whitebrook back in 2010 at the 1st Annual Blues & BBQ Festival Harrah's Rincon Valley Center.
By mid morning, a few visitors began strolling into the park. At my location, teams were not faced back to back so people could visit the back as easily as the front of our cook site which made for a more interesting viewing. I demonstrated how to cook ribs and people watched as many of us prepared our entries. I was relaxed enough to give a few lessons about grilling steak and smoking meat on the fly. The line for people‚Äôs choice tickets in front of my tent stretched to at least a hundred people.
Teams turned in the four meats (chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder & brisket) at 30 minute intervals plus the Rancher‚Äôs Reserve top sirloin entry, 45 minutes after brisket. The public began sitting down underneath trees, drinking sodas and lemonades along with their BBQ samples. The Jack Daniels lounge had full bar service. Three live bands played all day (Knight Ryder, The Record Company and Shoemaker Brothers). The kids zone kept children occupied. The watermelon and peach cobbler eating contest took front stage at 1:30PM and 3:30PM. The day was lazy and long. It was perfect.
54 teams cleaned up their cook sites and got ready for the awards ceremony. Some teams typically put on their team shirts, hats and ties for the special occasion. The Rancher‚Äôs Reserve top sirloin category was won by Hog Wild BBQ led by Craig Andrich with a check for $900. Second was Jeff Pollack from My Smokin‚Äô Grillfriend from Bakersfield. In third was Curtis Trigueiro of Ridge Route Boys, also from Bakersfield.
In the chicken category, Stephen Franklin of Simply Marvelous BBQ from Ventura came in fifth. Rich Walters of Soaked in Smoke from Vista came in fourth. Sterling Smith of Loot N‚Äô Botty from Scottsdale, Arizona came in third. Neil Strawder of Bigmista‚Äôs Barbecue from Los Angeles came in second. And Jeff Pollack from My Smokin‚Äô Grillfriend came in first place.
In the pork ribs category, Dennis and Sherry McGrath of Porketeers from El Cajon took fifth. Chris Juenke of Smokin Yankees came in fourth. Matt Dalton of Left Coast Q from Banning came in third. Donna Fong of Butcher‚Äôs Daughter from Alameda took second. Ray Porter and Lamar Ware from Who‚Äôs Smokin‚Äô Now from Banning took first place. In the pork shoulder category, Steve Aguilar of Vicious Smoke from San Diego took fifth. Chris Juenke of Smokin Yankees from Stockton came in fourth. Steve Madule of All Hogs Go To Heaven from Lancaster took third. Andy Allen from Rooftop BBQ from Menifee took second place. And Jason Eads in a kilt, from Eads Downhome from Eureka (but also Long Beach) took home first place.
In the beef brisket category, Donna Fong of Butcher‚Äôs Daughter took fifth. Mike Lindley, the happiest guy in BBQ, of Smokin Mo‚Äôs from Yucca Valley took fourth. Kim and Ryan Moore of Knock UR Sox Off BBQ from Fontana took third. Curtis Trigueiro of Ridge Route Boys took second. Dennis and Shari McGrath took first place in the brisket category by four points.
From the list of winners, it wasn‚Äôt clear to anyone who was going to be GC or RGC in a few minutes. Nobody walked in more than two categories. Left Coast Q walked in chicken and pork. Porketeers walked in ribs and brisket. Vicious Smoke walked in ribs and pork. Butcher‚Äôs Daughter walked in ribs and brisket. Rooftop walked in chicken and pork. Jerry Aguilar of Burnin and Lootin walked in chicken and brisket. Slap Yo‚Äô Daddy walked in chicken and ribs. Two medals were the most anyone took home before the final results were given. The most consistent cooks in all four categories were rewarded. Top five finishers were Harry Soo of Slap Yo‚Äô Daddy BBQ from Diamond Bar; Curtis Trigueiro of Ridge Route Boys in fourth; Donna Fong of Butcher‚Äôs Daughter in third and Dennis and Shari McGrath of Porketeers with a Reserve Grand Championship. When Arlie Bragg announced that Left Coast Q had won Grand Champion, Matt Dalton pushed his victorious fist up in the air and shouted with excitement. His wish had come true. That was his second GC in a row. He edged out Dennis by little more than point. And only five points separated first from fifth. It was a narrow victory, made sweeter by the unknown.
Congratulations to Matt Dalton and his hard working team. Congratulation to Dennis and his wife, Sherry, on their first Reserve Grand Championship. Many thanks to Arlie Bragg from bringing a KCBS contest to the Queen Mary and to the Queen Mary staff for making this an enjoyable event for the teams and judges. And thanks to Kelly and Kathleen McIntosh and to Gene Goycochea for all of their hard work in ensuring this KCBS contest was fair and efficient.