Last Friday and Saturday, September 23 - 24, fifty BBQ teams from across the Western states took over the lush lawns of Sea Terrace Park for the inaugural Dana Point BBQ Championship. Top teams featured on TLC's BBQ Pitmasters show such as Big Poppa Smokers, Slap Yo Daddy BBQ and Four Q BBQ lined up with some of the toughest competitors in California for $10,000 in prize money.
Sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society, competitions like this one and the OC BBQ Festival are different from "rib burns," like the OC BBQ Bonanza that occurred in Fountain Valley in August. Rib burns aren't competitions, but a sales event for large-scale BBQ vendors of the kind that work the county and state fair circuit. Sure, you can stuff yourself at a rib burn --but can a vendor cooking for 5000 people at a time give their food the attention of a team that's cooking only for six judges?
The teams at Dana Point cooked four kinds of meat (beef brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs and chicken) for as long as twelve hours or more so those six trained judges could blind-taste their entries for perfect appearance, texture and taste.
The most popular part of the Dana Point event? Undoubtedly the People's Choice vote, which allowed the public to sample the BBQ that competitors cooked for the judges. This is one area where California contest promoters lead the rest of the country--most contests across the country do not allow the public to taste contest BBQ due to the hassle of health department regulations. What's the point of the public attending these contests if all you can do is smell but can't taste?
While a handful of first-time backyard teams and seasoned restaurant pitmasters tried their hand against the more seasoned competition pros, most of the top placings went to veteran competitors who know the very narrowly-defined strike zone of award-winning competition barbecue. An exception? Rookie team Pig in the Pit BBQ, from Laguna Niguel beat nearly everyone for a third place in the Pork Shoulder category. Congratulations, local rookies!
Winners of the Dana Point BBQ Championship:
Chicken - Big Daddy's Q'n Crew, Manhattan Beach, CA
Pork Ribs - All Hogs Go to Heaven, Lancaster, CA
Pork Shoulder - Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ, Diamond Bar, CA
Beef Brisket - Big Poppa Smokers, Indio, CA
Grand Champion - Big Poppa Smokers
Reserve Grand Champion - Left Coast Q, Banning, CA
Are you interested in attending a sanctioned contest, either as a sample-tasting member of the public, or as a competing team? There are three chances coming up soon in Southern California: one in mid-December in Vista, and two at Knott's Berry Farm over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Keep it tuned here for details!
Disclosure: this author usually cooks on Four Q BBQ and knows many of the parties involved in this contest. For this contest, teammate Sylvia Curry cooked solo as Four Q, so she deserves all credit for her top 10 placings in three of four meat categories. Congratulations, Sylvie!
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The author is an award-winning BBQ Pitmaster who teaches Smoking 101 classes. Details at professorsalt.com