Thursday, March 24, 2016

West Coast BBQ Classic '16 at The Queen Mary

By Dru Chai

I've been following the BBQ competition scene in Southern California for the past 5 years -- judging, cooking, and eating my way to a larger waistline. Based on venue, organization, and quality of BBQ teams, the West Coast BBQ Classic at The Queen Mary in Long Beach has consistently been one of my favorites.

Saturday, May 14th, marks the fifth annual competition and every year just gets bigger and better. The BBQ competition circuit is one of the few "sports" in which amateur and backyard BBQ smokers can go toe-to-toe with experienced, semi-professional teams. The $260 entry fee gets you into the door, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Other costs including equipment setup, meat, and supplies that will push the average cost of entering a BBQ competition in the range of $1,000 or more. For many teams, it's well worth it for the bragging rights -- along with a shot at the $10,500 cash purse.

For those not interested in competing, you can count on eating your way to BBQ bliss. With a scenic backdrop near the historic Queen Mary by the water and near perfect sunny weather, it's a great location to try different samples of BBQ with a fistful of tasting tickets.

PRO TIP: Avoid the lines and go early. Many teams will run out of BBQ later in the afternoon and you'll be stuck eating scraps and leftovers. For more tips, check out my tips to enjoy a BBQ festival.

For more information about the West Coast BBQ Classic at the Queen Mary and to buy tickets, click here.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Eating Out: la Barbecue in Austin, Texas

By Dru Chai

It's no secret that Texas has some of the best barbecue in the country. In fact, one could make a strong argument that Texas has THE best barbecue in the world. The monstrous beef ribs. The Texas post oak wood. The long lines. It's all part of the experience.

I've been to a handful of barbecue restaurants in the Lone Star State, but not nearly enough. It had been three years since my last visit to Austin, so when I had the opportunity to visit one barbecue joint -- I picked la Barbecue

Shortly after opening its trailer in 2012, la Barbecue was already praised as one of the top barbecue joints in Texas. So it's no surprise that owner/pitmaster John Lewis used to worked for Franklin, He honed his craft by building his own smokers and entered in barbecue competitions, 

After reading about the long lines at la Barbecue -- but not nearly as long as Franklin -- I showed up at 10am expecting at least several people waiting until the 11am opening. To my surprise, I was the first customer there. My guess is that the rain showers slowed some people down. 

When I wasn't seeking refuge from the rain underneath the tarp, I killed my time checking out the two offset pit smokers. Both run 24-7, and there is someone there at all times to manage the fire and temperature. These were the kind of smokers that I dream about building in California. 

With about 15 minutes to go before 11am, there was a line of about 20 deep. After skipping breakfast, I was beyond starving. I settled on one beef rib ($22 per lb, and one beef is about 1.5 lbs), a slice of fatty brisket, and an order of potato salad. 

With my first bite of the fatty brisket, it literally melted in my mouth. The slow-smoked rendered fat with the crusty bark is just about the perfect bite of brisket. la Barbecue's brisket tasted very, very similar to Franklin -- just without the 3-hour wait. The flavor of the beef rib is more pronounced -- deep, rich, intense. The meat is super juicy, with lines of fat running up and down the bone. 

la Barbecue will inevitably be compared to Franklin, and rightly so. Both started in a trailer, both are in close proximity to each other in Austin, both serve awesome brisket, and both have 30-something owner/pitmasters. But if I had to choose, I'll take the one with the shorter line. 

la Barbecue - Austin, TX - (Dirty Smoke rating of 5/5 stars)
Highly recommended - splurge for the beef rib (trust me), fatty brisket
Not recommended - skip the sides, and the sauces provided