Friday, December 28, 2012

Trip Report: WFC Vegas '12, Meeting Adam Richman

By Dru Chai

The World Food Championships wrapped up in Las Vegas about a couple of months ago, but the memories are still fresh. Not only did I get to judge some of the best BBQ in the county, but I also got the chance to meet and chat with Adam Richman. Overall, I thought that the event was a success -- not quite the rousing success that the promoters had anticipated, but I think it's something that they can build upon for next year.

I was fortunate to be able to judge two days worth of BBQ, as well as the first round of the sandwich competition. The BBQ was some of the best I've had in my short tenure as KCBS certified judge. I gave some of the highest scores for both ribs and brisket, while the pulled pork deserved some moderate-to-high scores. Because of some promotional restrictions, there was no chicken in this competition. Instead, it was sauce. I'm just not a big fan of judging BBQ sauce.

During one of the judging days, Adam Richman dropped by to sample some of the pulled pork. Many of the judges simply stopped and started taking pictures, including myself. Hey, when one of the more popular food celebrities walks over, you have to take notice, right?

During one of the days, I was lucky enough to be able to win free admission to the VIP burger event, which took place right in front of Bally's. This event was heavily promoted, mostly because Adam was going to be there in person, but the high price of admission ($175, I believe) deterred many people from attending. The few burgers that I sampled were great in concept, but unfortunately were lukewarm to cold at night. Burgers are at their best hot and fresh off the grill.

Of course, the highlight of the evening was meeting Adam. My conversation with him was brief, so I just asked him what some of his favorite BBQ restaurants were -- a very open-ended question. He proceeded to rattle off about a dozen BBQ places off the top of his head, many of which I recognized from his show Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel. He mentioned the Salt Lick in Austin and Rendezvous in Memphis. He even talked about Phil's BBQ in San Diego, one of my favorite BBQ restaurants in Southern California.

All in all, the World Food Championships was well organized with plenty of star power in the food industry. I saw Dr. BBQ, Chef Tim Love, Chef Eric Greenspan, and even the winningest man in BBQ himself -- Myron Mixon. If they can gather even more celebrities to help draw more people to the event, it would definitely raise the profile for this food competition a couple more notches. Who knows, they should even start judging and competing international food dishes, instead of just American food. 'Til next year!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Judging the World Food Championships in Vegas

By Dru Chai

Going to Vegas as a kid, the only thing I looked forward to was playing carnival games and eating buffet at the Circus Circus. I knew that eating at the buffet was my one and only opportunity to go full Fat Albert without my mother chastising me to eat more greens. I went all out, picking up all the fried and fatty, American fare like burgers, sandwiches and BBQ -- food that wouldn't normally be anywhere near my standard Chinese home-cooked meals of rice and vegetables.

So it's only fitting that I return to Sin City about a couple decades later to check out the World Food Championships (WFC) from Nov 1-4. Hosted by Adam Richman, it's tauted as the biggest and baddest food competition in the world. (Here's a great interview by LA Weekly). Vegas is a great destination to host this event, as the city has grown into a culinary powerhouse over the last several years. Buffets are fancier and bigger than ever, celebrity chefs are all over the place, and "foodies" have flocked to the city in search of hidden gems in Chinatown.

One thing's for sure, America will still and always love their comfort food. The WFC won't be judging fancy food here -- it's all about the burgers, sandwiches, chili, side dishes, and BBQ. With bragging rights and more than $300,000 at stake, who will elevate their dishes to the next level without compromising its true integrity? Hundreds of chefs and food lovers, including myself, will be judging. I'm slated to judge the first round of the sandwich competition, while judging all of the BBQ (pork, sauce, ribs, and brisket). One thing's for sure, I'm arriving on an empty stomach!

Friday, September 28, 2012

How To Make Homemade Thin-Crust Pizza Dough

By Dru Chai

I've always got BBQ on my mind, but pizza has really started to creep into my cranium. Ever since I started grilling my own pizza, I've been wanting to perfect my homemade pizza dough. Even though I don't discriminate and love all types of pizza, my favorite is NY-style thin crust. I love being able to pick up a slice with one hand, make the fold, then go to town with all that hot and cheesy goodness. My philosophy is -- if it didn't burn the roof of my mouth, I didn't eat it right.

Well, after some homemade pizza dough experiment failures, I think I may have found the best thin crust pizza dough recipe. If you search online for "home made pizza dough," you'll find all sorts of variations of this recipe. But the ingredients are only half the story -- it's what you do afterwards that affects the dough. It's a simple recipe that I've tried several times with the most consistent results.

Thin Crust Pizza Dough Recipe:

1 package instant dry active yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 tablespoon sugar
3 cups flour
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Combine sugar, yeast, and water. Whisk, then wait 15-20 minutes for yeast to activate (see tiny bubbles).
2. Stir in olive oil and salt.
3. Add flour, hand mix into a ball (it's more fun, and make sure your hands are clean).
4. Knead dough several times around 10 minutes.
5. Place ball of dough in bowl, spread with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap or towel.
6. Let rise for at least 2 hours, or even better... overnight in the fridge.
7. Portion either 2 or 3 balls, smooth out the top surface. When ready, flatten out really thin. I like to use hands to slowly push out the outer edges to make a round pizza (or go abstract shaped).
8. Put toppings on (I first sprinkle cheese, then dabs of sauce -- too much makes the bottom crust soggy), brush olive oil and/or sprinkle garlic power on crust. Don't go overboard with the toppings, I say no more than 3.
9. Put pizza in oven at hottest temp (mine is 550F) for 5-10 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your pizza. If you want to grill the pizza, check out my top 5 tips.
10. Enjoy pizza. Burn roof of your mouth!

So soft and pillowy -- I just love making homemade pizza dough

Go easy on the toppings -- for this one, I used mushrooms and hot dogs!

If done right, the pizza should have a crispy and flavorful crust on the outside, but still a little bit of "springy" chew on the inside. Of course, it would be nice to have your own wood-burning oven in your backyard, to go along with some pizza stones or pizza pans. Next time, I'm going to use some pulled pork or chopped brisket to top my homemade pizza. Oh yeah!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

How to Pick the Best Watermelon; Ribs Pigs Watermelon BBQ Contest at Westminster, CA.

By Dru Chai

Watermelon is probably my favorite fruit of all time. It's the perfect way to end a BBQ meal and it just makes you want to go pee every other minute. Plus, it's fruit, and everyone could stand to eat more fruit these days. I also take pride in going to the local grocery store or Costco to pick out the best one. Everyone wants a watermelon that's super juicy and sweet, but how do you know without slicing it open?

Well, everyone has their theories and own way of doing things -- but I like to tap the watermelon several times like a congo drum. If the result is a deep sound, then that means it's more ripe and juicy with a higher water content. In all my years of picking out watermelon with the congo drum method, I would say my success rate is about 90%.

At the market, I get the occasional weird look, but surprisingly not very many people do the congo drum method when picking out watermelons. I see people just randomly selecting one, thinking that they are all good. Also, you should also pick the watermelon up -- you want the biggest and heaviest watermelon you can get. If you have leftovers, no big deal -- just blend it up and make a slushie or granita

I'm talking about watermelon because I attended and judged the first annual Ribs, Pigs and Watermelon Summer Festival and BBQ Competition in Westminster, CA. It's a 3-day event organized by American Family Housing, which helps those in need with much-needed shelter. I thought that the event had some very reasonable prices, of which the proceeds go to a very worthy cause. They even had free watermelon throughout the event!

For their first event, I thought it was well-organized -- the layout was good, and I liked how everything wasn't completely spread out too far from each other. It just felt like a cozy, hometown BBQ event -- just a very hot one! Since it was in the parking lot at the Westminster Mall, it was scorching hot during the afternoon hours, so mostly everyone took refuge in the shade from the large tent nicknamed the "Watermelon Zone."

As always, it was good to catch up with familiar faces. OC Weekly's Shuji Sakai gave me plenty of tips and recommendations for my planned trip to Austin and Lockhart, TX next year. Mr. Slap Yo Daddy himself, Harry Soo, just returned from a competition and training students in the UK. He's got some awesome giveaways on his website, so check those out. 

As far as judging, it's always fun meeting new people because you always sit with random people at random tables. Everyone may be quiet strangers at first, but after several hours together -- it's the common bond and love for BBQ that has everyone talking. It was even cool to find out that the person who sat next to me at the judging table was one of my blog readers. This competition marked my 5th competition that I judged -- hard to believe it was only a few months ago that I was a BBQ judging rook. 'Til next time!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Big Beef Rib at the OC Fair '12

By Dru Chai

Last year at the OC Fair, I wrote about deep fried kool-aid. It was alright, but it just didn't provoke any excitement. I'm not really a dessert kind of guy. I'm all about the meat. Call me a BBQ snob -- but generally when it comes to BBQ at the fair, I just have to shake my head. It's all the usual dry, lifeless BBQ plates and sandwiches. But when I first read about the Big Beef Rib on OC Weekly and OC Register, I just knew I had to check it out for myself.

With a name like Biggy's Meat Market, the new guys in town for the OC Fair wanted to create something that would stand out other than the usual giant burgers and fries. Hence, the Beef Rib (or La Super Costilla, if you want to say it with some latin flare) was born, and from speaking with owner Dominic, he's one proud papa.

The Big Beef Rib isn't an actual, natural rib commonly found in restaurants (for my money, my favorite restaurant beef rib is from Phil's BBQ in SD). Dominic's beef rib is "engineered" to basically look like a giant meat lollipop. He wouldn't divulge any details, but he has assured me that there is no meat glue, chemicals, or anything artificial into the making of the Big Beef Rib. One thing's for sure -- there's something satisfying about waving an enormous meat club in the air while grunting like a caveman.

It's 2 lbs of USDA Prime meat wrapped around a 17-inch bone, forming a giant meatsicle (yeah, I just made that word up). According to Dominic, they are initially smoked for a couple of hours at a little higher temperature than the usual low and slow -- around 280 degrees F over oak wood. Then it's finished off over an open mesquite fire before being slathered with sauce.

At $16.95 a pop, these suckers aren't obviously cheap. But we're at the OC Fair, and just about everything is overpriced. When I first ordered the Big Beef Rib, I was given a choice of how I wanted the meat cooked -- best at either medium-rare or medium. Then I had my choice of sauce -- smoky, zesty garlic, or spicy. I chose medium and the smoky sauce.

So how did it taste? I could taste a smidgen of smokiness, but I would've liked more. I was expecting to gnaw on some tough shoe leather, but the meat was actually tender -- especially the outer meat away from the bone. As far as the flavor, the meat itself could've used more of that "beefy" profile, and perhaps more seasoning. The slathering of the BBQ sauce definitely helped provide more flavor to the meat. I had to ask for more after eating about half of the rib.

As a BBQ guy, I obviously would've loved to have more smoky flavor in the meat and some more char on the exterior. It looked like the open mesquite fire was really low -- if the rib was finished off on a larger open flame to give it those awesome, blackened, grill char marks, that would've really elevated the rib. When it was all said and done, I had to put the leftover bone into the custom doggy bone bag for... who else? My dogs. They sure were happy!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eating Kobe Beef and... Meeting Kobe Bryant?!

By Dru Chai

Talk about lucky. When I was notified that I was the winner of a Twitter contest for a chance to meet Kobe Bryant at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, my jaw dropped. I rarely win anything good. If I do win something, it's usually something lame like a mug or a book. But a chance to meet Kobe Bryant in person, take a picture with him, AND a free night stay at the Palazzo? Pssshhh, you got to be joking me.

Well, it was no joke. I won the contest on a Friday, and the very next day I was off to Vegas. The 4-hour drive seemed to take forever, and seemed to be more of an exhausting drive than the usual. When I finally arrived at the Palazzo, and checked into my room, I had to count my blessings once again. The view of the Strip high above the hotel was fabulous. Thank you, Palazzo and Vegas!

View of the Strip high above the Palazzo hotel

After a well-deserved nap and a couple of successful hours at the blackjack tables, we had some time for dinner before meeting Kobe. One of the restaurants I've always wanted to try is Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse CUT. There's a location in Beverly Hills, CA, but I've walked by the location inside the Palazzo hotel countless times without even a glimpse at the menu. This time around, I figured why not.

First time eating at CUT
Get the wallet ready

I had already braced myself for the high prices, but it's another thing to see the menu in person. After a bit of deliberation, I knew it was only fitting to celebrate the occasion by selecting the American Wagyu / Angus "Kobe Style" Beef ribeye from Snake River Farms (SRF). It's not quite on the level of Japanese Kobe beef, but it's still good. SRF is one of the top meat purveyors for BBQ competition teams, especially when it comes to brisket. If you've been watching this season's BBQ Pitmasters, you won't miss the SRF logo on the meats being used.

So this was my first time tasting meat from SRF. I requested the ribeye to be cooked medium, and it was absolutely perfect. Well seasoned and charred on the outside, while juicy on the inside. I loved all of the marbling throughout the meat, which gave it that intense, rich, and beefy flavor. They even provided a wide array of complimentary sauces and salt for the steak -- but it shouldn't even be touched. Just enjoy the meat, and nothing else. But overheard on the table next to ours, "can I get some BBQ sauce?"

The meal was excellent. So after eating some Kobe beef, it was time to meet Kobe Bryant. I know this is a BBQ blog, but I wanted to detail the experience and post some pictures of the Kobe meet-and-greet before developing a sudden case of amnesia. I'm a die-hard LA Lakers fan and have seen Kobe grow up since he entered the league as a rookie straight from high school way back in '96. So meeting Kobe is uh, something of a big deal for me. So excuse me if I sound like a giddy school girl in the following paragraphs.

As you can imagine, my interaction with Kobe was extremely quick. I had all of these things in my mind that I wanted to tell or ask him, but with no more than a minute to chat  -- it was all a blur. The security personnel made certain to tell us to keep things moving, that Kobe would not be signing any autographs, and that you could not pose with him and take pictures with your personal camera -- each group was only allowed one picture by the professional photographer. If you blink, or get caught in an awkward grade-school-like photo, tough luck. No do-overs.

So it went something like this:

I walked up to Kobe with a huge smile, and gave him a "bro hug" and said it was awesome to finally meet him in person. I told him I was a die-hard Laker fan for life and that I was looking forward to another ring. I emphatically said "Yeah, we got Nash!" with a little fist pump. Kobe looked at me with a big grin and said "we're gonna win it next year." I quickly said, alright then and I wanted to say something else... but before I knew it, it was time to pose for the photo.

The next person in line was already approaching Kobe, but I had to thank him again and that it was great he was doing this for his fans. I asked him if he still lives in OC (Orange County, CA) and he replied yes. I said I live in OC too. Kobe replied, "maybe I'll see you around." I smiled and pointed at him. It was all over. I was grinning from ear-to-ear, with an experience of a lifetime I'll never forget.

Security blocked off the waterfall atrium area for the special event
We asked if we could keep a poster - no luck
Line was already forming about an hour before entrance
About a hundred fans waiting for Kobe's arrival and photo-op
Kobe's in the house! With shades... indoors. But he pulls it off.
Kobe waves to the shrieking fans on the top level
Kobe soaks in the chants of "MVP! MVP! MVP!"
We met these cool, lovely ladies from LA while standing in line
They provided some hors d'oeuvres - these were potato samosas (okay, dry)
These were chicken skewers (bland, rubber-like texture)
After about half hour of photo ops, it was time for Kobe to exit the building
Kobe paparazzi shot, up close, with view of the goatee
Kobe being surrounded by fans following him, like the pied piper
See ya, Kobe! Go take home the gold and another ring next year!
It's like one of those old family portraits (I wish).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Top 5 Tips For Making BBQ Grilled Pizza

By Dru Chai

Happy July 4th! I want to write a post about pizza. I love pizza -- it's one of my favorite foods (aside from BBQ, of course). I think I read somewhere that over 3 billions pizzas are sold every year, and the average family eats over 30 pizzas a year. I've had all kinds of pizza from all over the place, but my first exposure to really good, thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza was at Pepe's in New Haven, Connecticut about 12 years ago. It really spearheaded my love for pizza, and the rest is history.

Since then, I've had thick crust pizza in Chicago, New York, and even Pizza Hut in China where they put toppings like corn and imitation crab on their pizza (yuck). Of course, in my home state of California, Wolfgang Puck started the whole fancy topping pizza revolution with Spago -- which inspired places like California Pizza Kitchen. Nowadays, if I want to splurge on fancy pizza, I'll head over to Pizzeria Mozza -- I just love their crust.

But enough of the pizza history lesson. I recently decided I wanted to grill pizza at home. If you Google "how to grill pizza," you'll find tons of useful websites, links, and recipes. I skimmed through most of them and decided to give it a shot on my own. I just recently purchased a 22" Weber grill, and have been itching to do something different on it aside from the usual burgers and hot dogs.

Serious Eats has a great summary of grilling pizza, and I essentially followed their instructions and recipe. I also found this dough recipe, which is good as well. So how was my first time grilling pizza? I can honestly tell you, it turned out great. The hot temperature from the charcoal produced about 500+ degrees F, which isn't quite as scorching as the brick ovens in restaurants -- but for personal sized pizzas, it does the trick. The dough had that great charred flavor -- crispy on the outside, but still soft and chewy on the inside. You just can't replicate that in a conventional oven, and there's something utterly satisfying about seeing BREAD BUBBLES form while grilling dough.

I made a really simple pizza with minimal toppings -- a little bit of marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella, fresh basil, and spinach. I finished it off with a few shavings of parmesan reggiano and red pepper flakes for a little kick.

Even though my pizza turned out well, I learned a few tips just from first-hand experience. I think most of it just about practice and preparation. Here are my top 5 pizza grilling tips. You'll notice that it's mostly about the dough, since it's the most important part of the pizza.

1. Don't forget to season your dough with a bit of sugar and salt, but make it your own and customize it. Throw in some garlic powder or some dried basil. Make sure to give some time to the dough to properly rise -- it will give the crust that bubbly and chewy consistency after grilling.

2. Try to roll or knead the dough as thin as you can without ripping it or making any holes. Since the grill burns really hot, the dough will cook REALLY fast. I had a few of them with tiny holes and it just burned right through them and had that nasty, burnt taste around those edges.

3. Brush your pizza dough with olive oil. Not only does it prevent the dough from sticking to the grill, but it definitely adds some flavor and helps develop that crispy crust that you want.

4 . Depending on how hot your grill is and how thin your pizza crust is, it should be about 1-2 minutes per side tops (or even less). I would use a pair tongs and peek on the bottom of the crust, and start moving it around to find the hot spots on the grill. When the top starts to bubble, it's time to flip it over.

5. As I mentioned before, keep the toppings simple and minimal. But if you want to use something like sausage or mushrooms, make sure to pre-cook it before putting it on the pizza. Make sure the toppings are ready to go, because as soon as you flip the crust, it's time to start to pile on the toppings. Then move it over to the indirect heat without the charcoal and cover for a little so that the cheese melts.

There it is! Those are my tips for grilling pizza, based on my experience. One thing's for sure, I'll keep making grilled pizzas and experiment with different dough recipes, herbs, spices, and toppings. It DOES take a bit of work and preparation (plus, who wants to clean up afterwards?), so it's not like I'll never go back to eating out. But it's nice to know that I have the option of making grilled pizza at home. That's amore!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lizard Lick Towing and BBQ Sauce

By Dru Chai

As a foodie and BBQ enthusiast, it's only natural that I love watching food-related shows like Top Chef and BBQ Pitmasters. But I have to admit -- I'm also a bit of a reality show junkie. I like shows that bring some insight and knowledge into a profession. Of course, now there's a network dedicated to reality shows called truTV.

What caught my attention recently is their show Lizard Lick Towing. I've always wondered what the repo business is like. If you ever stop making payments on your car, or if you're in debt, some of your belongings will be snatched away to help pay back what you owe. So who does the snatching, and what is that really like? 

That's where Lizard Lick Towing comes in, as they go around repossessing vehicles and machinery on behalf of lien holders. It's a crazy job because they not only have to track down and repossess the property, but they also have to encounter the irate owners who will stop at nothing to prevent their stuff from being taken away.

The owners of Lizard Lick Towing, the Shirleys, have their own line of BBQ sauces. Since their business is based in North Carolina, you can bet that the sauce will have that North Carolina influence. I'll review their sauce to see how it tastes in a future post.

UPDATED: Click here to see my review on Lizard Lick Towing BBQ sauce "Peppery Vinegar."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

OC BBQ Festival 2012

By Dru Chai

Since 2010, I've attended the OC BBQ Festival at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Even though I was just a BBQ newbie back then, I always had an interest in the art of low and slow BBQ. I wondered, what does it take to participate in a BBQ competition? What kind of skill and experience is required?

Of course in the last year, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about BBQ. Now as a judge in this year's OC BBQ Festival, I'll definitely have a brand new perspective in the world of competitive BBQ. As a cook, it's no easy task -- a lot of it is knowing what flavors the judges like. The BBQ world is a relatively small community, so you see the same teams (and judges) over and over again.

Check out some pics from last year's OC BBQ Festival.

The 2012 OC BBQ Festival is by far the largest yet, spanning two days and featuring about 70 teams vying for a piece of the money pie. Organized by Kristie's Foundation, all proceeds go to the charity, so it's definitely a worthy cause and you're chowing down on some lip-smacking 'Q.

In past years, the event was relatively low-key and not really that crowded. To be fair, there wasn't all that much to do besides walk around, eat, and listen to teenage bands play (with Sugar Ray playing this year, it will remind me of my 'ol college days). This year, I anticipate a huge turnout with all the planned family-friendly activities. So if you plan on going -- go early and avoid the long lines. Although long lines is usually a good sign that the BBQ is good and worth waiting for. There's even been some TV coverage promoting the event. Check it out here.

As the OC Weekly mentioned, BBQ competitions have really taken off over the last several years because of TV shows like BBQ Pitmasters (season 3 is fantastic, I'll write more in a separate post).

But I have to say, if it wasn't for judging this event (and an extra few hundred dollars laying around), I would be out in New York City this weekend, where a huge BBQ block party is going to take place at Madison Square Park. It's called the Big Apple BBQ Block Party, where they've invited dozens of famous pitmasters from almost every BBQ region in the country.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dirty Smoke BBQ Blog's One Year Anniversary, West Coast BBQ Classic at Queen Mary, LB

By Dru Chai

I haven't posted in almost two months (that darn full time job getting in the way), but I've recently had some time to reflect on my BBQ experiences. Something told me to post today -- it was as if the BBQ gods spoke to me. So I looked up my original post and the date was May 24, 2011. Amazing -- exactly one year since I started this blog.

Since starting this journey, I've met so many interesting people from all walks of life, who share the same love and passion for BBQ. In just a year, I've filled my brain with so much BBQ knowledge and experience. As soon as I bought my WSM (Weber Smoky Mountain), it was off to the races.

Of course, about a year ago I had more time on my hands, fresh from being laid off from the corporate world. I took a BBQ pitmaster class from Harry Soo and started applying and practicing the techniques I learned by selling (and giving away) lots of BBQ to friends and coworkers. I became a certified BBQ judge and immediately began judging world-class BBQ competitions from all over the place. I even took a crack at competing in a contest.

Harry Soo of Slap 'Yo Daddy BBQ
Dr. BBQ in Las Vegas
So with a year of BBQ knowledge and experience under my belt, what exactly have I learned about the world of low and slow BBQ? Here are some of my random thoughts about the world of BBQ competitions -- with some more obvious than others.

BBQ is one very expensive hobby.
I'm not just talking about buying a grill for your backyard, then using it once or twice to grill some burgers or hot dogs when your friends come over in the summer. We're talking REAL BBQ that takes hours of low and slow smoking with a temperature of 225-250F. In order to help with that process, there are countless BBQ gadgets that you "have" to have. There are rubs, sauces, knives, thermometers, wood, the list goes on. It's a multi-billion dollar business, and everyone wants a piece of the pie. Of course, that doesn't even include the meat. If you want to practice making good BBQ, you'll end up with lots of leftovers -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Starting a BBQ team and competing is even MORE expensive. If you're interested in seriously competing with the big boys, you better have something saved up in your piggy bank. Unless you're one of the big names, you're most likely not going to make a living by just competing. Most teams will tell it will run about $1K and up (on average) per competition, and that's not including start-up costs. Many teams will to recoup that cost by participating in PC (or People's Choice). When you're at a festival, and you pay $2 for a ticket to sample some BBQ, the team is happy to get your ticket because that's money back in their pocket to help pay for everything. Some of the cash prize money is nothing to sneeze at, but that's no guarantee. BBQ teams have to drive far, set up, and get very little sleep just to compete. For what, a little trophy? Nope, it's all for the love of BBQ.

When judging BBQ, it doesn't mean everything you taste is excellent BBQ. At my first judging experience, I was just excited to be there. I thought I would taste some of the best BBQ of my life. But it was just not the case. Obviously, the BBQ palate becomes sharper with every competition. But part of it is just the luck of the draw. For example, there may be 50 teams competing -- but as a judge, I'm not sampling BBQ from each of those teams (I would be 20 lbs heavier, and you would have to roll me out from being so full). A judge samples up to 6 teams per meat category. Recently, I judged the West Coast BBQ Classic in Long Beach. All of my chicken samples were excellent and I gave them all very high scores. The pulled pork and rib samples were run-of-the-mill. The brisket was some of the worst I've ever tasted. It had me scratching my head, thinking, were these teams serious? But another table of judges could've had excellent brisket samples -- it's just how things turn out.

Nifty logo
Good turnout by the Queen Mary
The view from the judge's tent -- very picturesque