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Aug 17, 2008 02:37 PM

Fairfield’s West Coast BBQ Championships

When I saw this mention by “Civil Bear” for the West Coast BBQ Championships, , I put a call in to my Barbecue Culinary Consultant and we made a plan to be there. Unfortunately, he pulled up lame yesterday morning. While I didn’t have to shoot him, I was on my own for an afternoon in downtown Fairfield.

I got in a little before 1pm when the teams had already wrapped up their rib entries and those competing in the tri tip class were busy prepping their plates to turn-in. The Tomato Festival website, , promised “Sampling booths available.” However, I soon learned that there was only ONE booth, Big Belly, authorized to offer samples of “Championship BBQ”, but only pulled pork and tri tip. I bought a taste of the pulled pork, $2, and it was wretched. It was not tender enough to “pull”, tasted more of petrochemicals than wood smoke, and the sauce had a metallic aftertaste under the excess of salt and MSG. Toss that one.

One competitor informed me that the teams were not allowed to offer samples to the public, and that it was “illegal”. I’d had my heart set on tasting some great brisket here, and while I saw some beautiful specimens come out of the smokers that sliced through like butter, I didn’t get to try them. It’s really a shame that the contest is set up this way, as several of the competitors really wanted to show off their efforts and get feedback. I had a few surreptitious samples of ribs, chicken and pulled pork snuck to me under the table when I had questions about their equipment or smoking methods.

I’d kept my eyes peeled for a big teddy bear of a guy, who I thought might adopt the handle “Civil Bear”, and I managed to find him! It was fun to introduce myself and get a peek behind the scenes and chat about his competition strategy.

My camera ran out of juice (forgot to recharge the back-up battery) before I could photograph all the teams. Since I could only eat with my eyes, the smoking rigs and colorful team names made up my memories of this contest. I didn’t stick around long enough for the awards announcement so can’t tell you who won.

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  1. Glad I got to meet you Melanie! As you say, it is a darn shame that these events are not more spectator friendly. Some of the events have been experimenting with a "people's choice" category, where the contestants get to sell to the public after the turn-ins, and the public in turn gets to vote for their champion. Depending on the county, the health department requires permits for those teams that participate, but for some reason Fairfield required 100% participation by all the teams, so it never really got off the ground.

    If there is no "people's choice" category, I would guess the best time to get samples would be after the turn-ins (usually about 2:.00pm). Many teams have tons of food left over and like to picnic with friends and family afterwards.

    FWIW, Smokey Luv BBQ picked-up the "Reserved Grand Champion" (fancy for second place) trophy in the Backyard or "Competitor" series. We managed 2nd in chicken, 8th in ribs, and 5th in tri-tip. We also took 2nd overall in the tomato category with a stacked Capri salad that included fresh tomatoes and basil, smoked mozzarella and grilled eggplant, and a pesto oil drizzle.

    As for the pros or "championship" series, the top 10 overall we as follows:

    1 Cecil's Smok'n BBQ
    2 Rusty Barrel
    3 Smitty's Smoke Patrol
    4 Rhythm n Que
    5 All Hogs go to Heaven
    6 Notley Que
    7 Smokin Yankees
    8 Hog Me Tender
    9 7 Kinds of Smoke BBQ
    10 QN4U

    6 Replies
    1. re: Civil Bear

      Funny, QN4U is running a radio ad here (Fresno) about how they've won all these first place awards and are now going after the national titles(s)? I have heard they just opened up a bricks 'n mortar in addition to their catering so will definitely have to check them out.

      1. re: PolarBear

        No doubt QN4U is the most feared team on the west coast, but they have been a bit down this year while opening their restaurant. I believe they were named the California Team of the year 4 years straight!

        Although they finished 10th out of 40 in Fairfield, they did manage 1st in the tomato category with a BLT (Bacon, Lobster & Tomato sammy) and 1st in dessert with their bread pudding. Unfortunately for them those categories do not count in the overall standings.

        Please check out their new restaurant and let us know what you think. Just know that there is no way they can provide the same product that they enter in their contests.

        1. re: Civil Bear

          Thanks for the feedback, CB. As one Ursa to another, let me say, screw the overall standings, my gawd, a lobster BLT (should that be a BLoT?), combined with #1 in Bread Pudding!!! .... be still my heart (no not literally), I'm gonna be on them like blanco on arroz. It's really sad, here we are a city of half a mill and another half a short distance away, high percentage of transplants from the south, Texas, midwest, and not a god d*mn decent Q to be found, Hope to report a more positive view in the near future. Melanie, where the hell are 'ya? Need some support down here.

          1. re: PolarBear

            Heheh, I'm waiting for the outdoor air-conditioning to return. Here's the website for QN4U, that says will be opening a place in Clovis.


      2. re: Civil Bear

        Congratulations! I'm so pleased that I found you. Thanks for posting the results. I talked to a friend who has attended contests in Texas, and he was flabbergasted that a public tasting wasn't part of this. He also mentioned that the meat is supplied by the sponsors so that everyone has the same starting material. I'd love to know about the next one if there's a chance to try the results.

        I was also surprised by the number of bottled sauces I saw. Maybe the contents are something else and they're just re-using the bottle. While I do understand that the main component is the meat and the quality of the smoke, I guess I thought some love would go into the sauce too.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks. The next big event is in Clovis next month, but I don't see anything about public tasting just yet:

          Here is an excellent site to keep up to date on events sanctioned by the California BBQ Association (CBBQA):

          Regarding sauce, in an effort to give the judges what they think is true bbq, a lot of teams will use bottled sauces like KC Masterpiece as their base and doctor it up some. While that may take out some of the romance, it has worked when it comes to wining, which why most of the teams are there in the first place!

      3. That's odd, really? No tasting? Funny, I got 6 pieces of chicken, 6 ribs, 6 slices of tritip and 4 slices of brisket. Oh wait, I was judging !!! The contestants can't serve the general public unless the health department has inspected and passed their NSF approved kitchens. Oh well.

        There were 60 of us, all seated facing one direction, biting & judging. Usually there were 1 to 2 worthy pieces per 6 served. I too was a little amazed at the use of bottled sauces, oh well. It was a great day, with really great people, enjoyed it immensely.

        Thank you to Ben Lobenstein (the promoter) for the invite to judge and thank you to the fine people at KCBS for their hard work in making the day as good as it could be.


        2 Replies
        1. re: DrBiggles

          "The contestants can't serve the general public unless the health department has inspected and passed their NSF approved kitchens." .
          That's pretty standard. I worked at a place where seismic retrofitting was needed for the customer areas but not necessary for staff and administrators' spaces.

          1. re: DrBiggles

            Hey there, so more judges than teams?!? Sounds like you had a fun time.