Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pechanga BBQ Championship - Featuring Left Coast Q

Over the last 6 months, I have covered several BBQ Competitions and I have gotten to know Organizers, competitors, fans, and carnivores. I have learned a lot about what great barbecue is. I also feel that I have only scratched the surface of what great barbecue is all about. In an effort to dive deeper a team currently ranked 13th in the nation, Left Coast Q, has offered to let me get up close and personal to find out what it takes to be up there with some of the best.

Ok - so I’m sure you’re all waiting in suspense. I left LA around 5:30 am to head out to Pechanga BBQ Competition in Temecula and meet up with Matt Dalton of the BBQ Team - Left Coast Q - to find out what it takes to be one of the best.

MEAT ME: (7:58am) So today we’re gonna talk a little bit about your process. When did you guys actually arrive here at Pechanga?

Left Coast Q: We got here Thursday Night. This is a good thing to know for someone who is just starting out As you can see the teams are pretty packed in. If you come in here as early as possible you are at an advantage. You can come in and drop your trailer or equipment down and get set up. We live fairly close to this event so we were here early Friday morning. We got our meat inspected pretty early too - about 8 am.

MEAT ME: So what is involved with getting your meat inspected?

Left Coast Q: The KCBS Reps come by and look at your meat. They are looking to make sure your pork butts are a minimum of 5 pounds. They are also looking to see if your meat is seasoned or injected which you can’t do before it is inspected. They make sure everything is kosher and on ice. You can start your prep process at any time after it is inspected.

The brisket is getting close to done while Matt adds more rub to the ribs.
We started trimming and injecting our pork butts at that time. That sat over night and put those on at 4 am this morning. So they had a good long soak on them basically.

A near by team offers breakfast as a random at of kindness.
MEAT ME: Do you just inject pork butts?

Left Coast Q: No brisket too, we inject both. It’s a pretty concentrated mixture. When you taste it, it’s strong but it needs to be that way because as the meat cooks it is going to push some of the injection out. It’s really the only sure fire way to get flavor into the pork. It’s a very bland meat, you could put everything on the outside but you are only going to get it on the crust. You really have to drive the flavor into it. Injecting is the only way to achieve that. You really don’t have the time to brine it; I really don’t think it would work in the time frame.

Doing work, prep and strategy.
MEAT ME: How much time do you have from when you brine it to when it actually goes in the smoker?

Left Coast Q: It ranges. It just so happens that we got our meat inspected early. Sometimes it might get inspected in the afternoon. So it sits roughly for about 12 to 14 hours sometimes longer. It has a really good long time to sit. See, we like to cook hot and fast. What I mean is we are cooking above 275º; we are pushing the 325º range at the beginning of the cook and then taper down. Now you see we are running at 225º because I have ribs on there and I don’t want to cook those that hot because the sugar will scorch much faster than on a butt.

The KCBS judge comes by each team to let them know that official time so they are not late in turing in their food.
I usually come to the contest with the ribs and the chicken already pre-trimmed. You are not allowed to season, inject or brine any of the meat but you are allowed to trim the meat. But it is just a convenience factor with the butts and brisket; I would just rather trim them here. Chicken and ribs are the most time consuming to trim so I would just rather do that at home and freeze them and bring them to a competition.

The morning shot to get the day going.
We start at 4 in the morning so I got up and I rubbed the butts. These guys started the fire at about 3:30 am and I put the meat on at about 4:15 am. Once they come out of the cooler, I just rub them and put them on the smoker.

They set up the Left Coast Q tent were people can buy meat.
MEAT ME: What type of smokers are you using?

Left Coast Q: This is a Mak Grill. It runs on pellets. This is a Jack’s Old South whole hog cooker. We start it with charcoal but we run it Pecan wood on it for smoke. We have been using Pecan and Cherry and it’s to sustain the fire along with adding the wood and smoke for flavor.

Matt sprays down his ribs with his secret liquid.
MEAT ME: What is the difference when it comes to a rub versus a brine?

Left Coast Q: Well, a brine is a liquid. What that does is creates osmosis.  A flavorful combination brine is just salt, sugar and water. What is does is pulls the salt in and doesn’t let it back out. This holds the moisture in and makes the meat more moist. A rub is dry; it is just a spice mixture that is applied to the exterior of the meat. You never inject a brine, it’s more like a soak or a marinade. A lot of people brine or soak their chicken because it is a smaller piece of meat; not very many people do butts. There are products out there for brining pork butt but we don’t use them. We inject and then rub and it goes on the smoker. We also spray the meat with a concentrated juice, I can’t tell ya what’s in it but I’ll let you taste it if you want.

Everyone gathers for the morning shot before competition begins. 
MEAT ME: It kind of taste like Hawaiian punch. I have no idea what’s in it but it reminds me of those Capri Sun’s I used to drink as a kid.

Left Coast Q: Yea it’s really sweet and that helps build bark, because were cooking fast I am spraying it on there as the meat dries out, it also caramelizes on there. So there is a dual purpose plus it adds another layer of flavor. That’s what you are trying to do is stack flavor on top of flavor and pack the most punch into one bite.

Everyone drinks their shot after the morning toast.
MEAT ME: Everybody has their way of doing barbecue sauce. Do you guys use barbecue sauce and where does it fall into your process?

Left Coast Q: Yes. Our sauce is more of a finishing glaze once it gets hot. I am trying to add another flavor and I don’t want it to muddy the other flavors I have already got. It needs to be just a finishing and very thin. It has a lot of flavor and it complements the meat. It’s not covering up the meat; it’s not hiding anything - it’s actually really clear so it makes the meat shine as well. I am actually using 2 commercially available sauces. I am mixing those 2 sauces and then adding about 10 other ingredients to that. I can tell ya I have butter and apple jelly in that sauce. You can’t really place one thing. You know - like you were saying with the Hawaiian Punch, which it’s not…

Keeping the ribs from drying out.
MEAT ME: Yeah, that would be pretty funny if Left Coast Q’s secret was Hawaiian Punch. (we laugh)

Left Coast Q: People do crazy stuff. I have heard of people using Tang on their ribs, or Gatorade. Using the powder to get that citric acid pop. I have never used that. I have heard people using Jello for color.

Spritsing in action.
MEAT ME: Why would you use Jello?

Left Coast Q: The powder, you would just put it into the rub.

The color on the ribs is perfect so they are now ready to be wrapped and placed back in the smoker.
MEAT ME: In the Midwest and the southeast everybody claims that wet ribs are better, or that dry ribs are better. How do you explain the difference between wet and dry ribs?

Left Coast Q: Basically it is un-sauced and sauced. Memphis style is basically pulling them out of the pit and hitting them with a dusting of rub. Wet would be mopped with sauce. That is the only difference. They both have rub on them. It is all done at the finish of it. They are the same ribs until they put sauce on them.
Matt checks the tenderness of the pork to see if it's done.
MEAT ME: What types of preparations are made before the food goes in to the judges?

Left Coast Q: You have got to make sure every piece is on point. You want uniformity and juicy meat. Chicken is a different story. I could take a bite out of a piece that I am not submitting to the judges but it is not going to tell me that the other pieces are good. Everything else you can taste. There is not much of an adjustment after the fact. When you are going to build the box, you can taste the meat and see if that is the flavor you want. I also try to build a full box with eye appeal. The way you lay the food out has to wow them from the beginning. You eat with your eyes first. If it looks good they expect it to taste good. It is just human nature; it’s that wow factor that I am trying to put in there every time.

The strain the juice before it goes on the meat.
MEAT ME: If you could rate your dry rub in terms of how spicy it is from 1 to 10 where would you put it?

Left Coast Q: I would say right in the middle, about a 6. It’s not really spicy. I really try and come in with a balance marriage. It’s sweet at the front and finishes with a little back heat. I have tasted a lot of food out here and I have walked away and a lot of spice has kicked in. Ours is not like that it is pretty faint but there is some heat in it.

They discuss team tactics while rubbing more pork. 
MEAT ME: So you have been doing this for how long now?

Left Coast Q: 2 years. I started in May 2010 so a little over 2 years.

Matt checks the ribs to see if they are done.
MEAT ME: So have you noticed any trends in competition barbecue where one year it is a certain way and the next is completely different?

Left Coast Q: I don’t think I have been doing it long enough to be able to notice that. All I know is the target that I am trying to hit. A lot of people that are doing this now have been judges before so they kind of know what to put in the turn in box and how to make it look… I really couldn’t tell ya.

In barbecue this is considered working.
I know that I have it figured out right now but if something were to change six months from now? I don’t know. It all goes back to good food, is good food. I am trying to put undeniably good food in there. When they take a bite they are gonna go “Damn, that’s good!”. Regardless of who you are, if you like sweet or spicy, the meat just has a whole balance to it.

MEAT ME: Do you notice a big difference with the actual meat between using a local farmer or say, Smart and Final? What do you prefer?
Matt blankets his pork to keep it warm.
Left Coast Q: Well as far as beef brisket goes, we use Wagyu. Yes, it makes a difference but the cost is about double. When you’re already accruing all these other cost what is another $40 dollars when it increases your chance to win. The Wagyu briskets are always good. Flavor on them is excellent. I have cooked a ton of other briskets from Restaurant Depot and it just doesn’t compare. The better meat you start out with the better final product you’re going to end up with - every time.

As far as chicken, it doesn’t matter. I usually use Albertsons Brand just for the fact that they have the nicest skin and the biggest pieces. They are cheap and we do so much to the chicken that there is just no way you could tell the difference between free range and main stream.  It is not like you are just slapping salt and pepper on it and putting it on the grill. That is what barbecue started out as, turning shitty cuts of meat into something really good.

Matt prepares what looks to be the last supper. Beautiful.
Ribs we get from Restaurant Depot. They’re fine. We have cooked Berkshire pork but it takes longer to cook and has a higher fat content. The results have gone up and down. It’s good meat and there is a difference in it, mostly it’s just richer. In the 70’s the other white meat was pork and they started breading a lot of the pork out of pigs. Now you have the artists and breeders that are doing Mangalitsa, Duroc, and Kurobuta breeds of pork. They are bring back these heritage breeds that have a higher fat content because there is a demand for it now. Beef is the one we are going to spend the most on every time. We only cook one brisket. I know brisket really well and I’ve already been around the block with it. Wagyu brisket is all I have ever cooked in a contest and our scores have been up and down, but now I have the process nailed. In Vegas it was 2nd place out of 112, 1st Long Beach, 1st in Bakers field, 5th in Orange County and 4th in Boulder. Once you get to the top 5 in scoring consistently it comes down to the smallest of details.

Matt sauces his chicken.
MEAT ME: (9:55 am) We’re about half way through with my questions. How much time until the first submission?

Left Coast Q: The first Turn In – Chicken - is at noon, and then a half hour after that is ribs, half hour after that is pork and another half hour for brisket. We are done by 1:30 so there is a half an hour of crunch time between each meat category. So now we are at the point where the ribs are about to be foiled. Our butts and briskets are foiled now we are just waiting for those to get tender. We have about another hour to hour and a half on those. The ribs will be foiled for about an hour. It just depends on the thickness of the ribs. Right now I have some meaty ones in there so it might take longer than an hour. Sometimes and hour and twenty; if they are thinner it might be 45 minutes. I just have to watch for when I start to see pull back from the bone. That will tell me they are pretty close and I just go by feel from there.

It's easy to work up a sweat preparing that much food.
I will hold the brisket and butts under the blankets and we are just about to get started on the chicken right now.

Brisket with some team dedication.
MEAT ME: How much time do you spend cooking your chicken.

Left Coast Q: Usually an hour to an hour and forty-five minutes so we push it pretty close to the edge of noon. It’s a pretty bulletproof process and once the chicken goes on, all of our meats will be on but butts and brisket will be pretty close to being pulled off. Everything will be foiled in the big cooker and then we finish the chicken.

Matt adds rub to his brisket.
MEAT ME: Is the amount of time they give you enough to prepare everything? It seems like all of the submission are really close together.

Left Coast Q: That’s why you want your big meats to be done and resting. Then they are out of the way and you don’t have to worry about them. You can just concentrate on your chicken. Then you move right to your ribs and then your butts and brisket are right there ready. You’re just pulling them out and boxing them up. Is it enough time? It is plenty of time. Most of the time, you’ll see at the end of each submission all of us looking at the clock, wondering what the time is and when I should be pulling out the next meat. You have 5 minutes on each side of the turn in window. You could start submitting at 11:55 am so I will probably send him walking very shortly after that. The turn in door is only a minute a way at this event.

Matt sauces up his ribs. 
MEAT ME: (7pm) How did you feel about the food you submitted today?

Left Coast Q: I felt good about all the food. I didn’t feel like anything was… Well now that I know what the scores were, I didn’t feel like the ribs and the brisket were going to score that low. That is just how it goes sometimes. I felt fine with it. The brisket was may be just a touch over done but I do tend to cook it like that. When I get feed back from judges I hear a lot of tough brisket, tough brisket, and tough brisket. So at least I know it was tender. There were a lot of people that took walks that don’t usually take walks at contests. That doesn’t say much about my food but that’s just how it goes, man. Every contest is different. Every cut of meat is different. There are a lot of variables so you just never know.

It's pretty damn tasty.
MEAT ME: With brisket, what are you looking for to know if it is done or not?

Left Coast Q: I am looking for that butter, tender, probe feel. When I probed it the first few times it was really tight, the muscle hadn’t relaxed yet. The last time I probed it, it just went right in like a hot knife into butter. That’s all I look for. Just to make sure it is tender at that point. Once the brisket is the way I want it to look, it is wrapped and foiled and I am just trying to get it tender.

The team runs in the competition chicken.
MEAT ME: When you are checking the tenderness in the smoker how much are you factoring in the amount it’s going continue to cook while it is resting?

Left Coast Q: The temperature is going to go up some. It is probably going to rise another 10 degrees and that can be the factor of it being done or over done. I cooked the brisket the same way the last 5 comps and it has been top 5 every single time. At that point I am trying to put a minimum of at least 1 hour rest on it or longer. I think it was about 11 am when I pulled it off so it had about 2 and a half hours of rest on it. I like to let it sit for at least and hour so all of those juices can redistribute. When I cut it up it was nice and juicy, where I was running the knife on the backside it was squirting juice out the front.

Ribs and Chicken.
It’s hard to say, it could have hit the wrong table. I did put burnt ends in the box and they have been really, really tender. May be one of the judges got one that wasn’t, but all the pieces I touched were soft. So I don’t know – the judging is objective.

Brisket and Pulled Pork.
MEAT ME: You guys did 8th in chicken, how did you feel about the chicken?

Left Coast Q: The chicken was better than the last few times out. It had a little more juiciness to it. Remember I was telling you I was gonna change the times around on it?  I did. Do I think it should have scored higher than it did? Yes, I do. Actually this week I saw a few other people’s boxes that were posted online and I am thinking wow, compared to mine there is some sloppy stuff out there. That is not to say that theirs didn’t taste better. I could have just been at the wrong table that day. Taste is the score that carries the most weight. It could look the best in the world but the taste is what’s gonna carry you over the top. If it doesn’t taste good and doesn’t pop, you’re not going to win with it.

Brisket and Pulled Pork.
I felt good about the chicken. I felt good about all the meat. The ribs, I put meaty ones in the box and cut ones from the end where they are really juicy. Some of the ones I was cutting in the middle weren’t as nice as I would like. They were done and pulled away from the bone like they should. They just weren’t as juicy as I like to put in the box. They placed 16th and they were the lowest place category of the day for us.

MEAT ME: Based on the results of this competition do you change anything for your next competition? What is your next competition?

Team Meat Inc. showing the crowd how to get down!
Left Coast Q: We are going to Iowa. We will be cooking on the 4th of July, which is unusual. I think it’s the only one in the country that is on the 4th of July. As far as how I’ll cook out there… I will probably cook with a little less spice and a little more sweet. Cause I know for a fact that sweet works out in the Midwest. They don’t want as much heat as we do out here. I will dial a few things back and sweeten a few things up but other than that I will run the same cook.

MEAT ME: As far as scoring, does how you placed in this competition affect your over all national score?

Left Coast Q: Yeah, it actually moves us up. It took us from 13th overall and moved us up to 11th. It moved our chicken up to 11th. Even that 8th place chicken moved us up to 11th in the country. KCBS only takes your top 10 scores in each category and I have an empty score box in chicken so what ever we got at the contest it was going to add points to our total. Now the next competition our lowest score is 10th so we have to score 10th or better to knock that score out. Now were gonna start knocking out low scores with all the categories. I also have a 13th in chicken from Bakersfield from a few months back and the 15th in Ribs and 16th in Brisket I wanna try and knock those out.

MEAT ME: When you guys are done, what is involved with clean up and prep for the next competition?

Sometimes bacon gets people really excited!
Left Coast Q: We clean our smokers we inventory what we’ve got. If I have a lot of contest in a row I will freeze a lot of meat. For this next competition in Iowa, I am taking a brisket. I’m gonna freeze it and pack it in my luggage cause it’s only a few hours flight. It will be fine. Other than that, I will get the rest of the meat there. Typically here in California, we’ll take everything out of the trailer and clean everything up. I will make sure I have everything for the next round. Say we were cooking this weekend in Anaheim doing the double contest; we would have to get double everything. Monday I would be kicking back, Tuesday I would be getting all the meat, prep it and freeze it. I would make sure I have all my stuff to make my sauces. It takes probably 3 days of getting that trailer ready to roll out to go to another contest. So if were gonna do a contest it probably takes 10 to 15 hours of prep time.

MEAT ME: Awesome man well it looks like you have your work cut out for you. Good luck in Iowa and I hope to see you guys in Vegas at the Jack.

I would like to thank Matt for his time and letting me get up close and personal on how Left Coast Q gets its done.

You can find Left Coast Q on face book at:

You can see their events page at:

This woman was found passed out on the floor the night before and still managed to pull off first place brisket the next day.
As for the first annual Pechanga BBQ Competition it was a total success! There was a constant line at the door of spectators trying out the various team’s People’s Choice BBQ and the crowd had a blast. Harry of Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ took home Grand Champion so I would like to congratulate him on his win and you can find the rest of the results at: http://www.kcbs.us/events.php?year=2012&month=6&id=3540

Sometimes when you don't walk away with a trophy a group hug is the best thing.
For those of you who are interested in using my images... You are totally welcome to just click on the image to see it high resolution and download it. I just ask that you please reference Sean Rice and http://www.meatmeblog.blogspot.com in the caption. If you link back to the actual article, that would be awesome.

Written and photographed by Sean Rice, Edited by Aaron Black (Meat, Inc.)

Stay hungry,
Sean Rice


Friday, June 22, 2012

"OC BBQ & Music Festival 2012" Part 2 of 2

If you loved last week’s article about the OC BBQ Competition, you’re gonna love today’s. I am not gonna waste anytime. I sat down with Mr. BBQ aka Big Country aka Brian Zalewski so I can try and find out what it would have been like to be Mr. BBQ. Here is what he had to say.

MEAT ME: So officially your name is? You go by?

Mister BBQ: Brian Zalewski, and I go by Big Country!

MEAT ME: Your BBQ Team name is?

Mister BBQ: Jet Coating Smokin’ and Fishin’ Crew

MEAT ME: How long have you been doing BBQ Competitions?

Mister BBQ: Well this is our 2nd Competition as Jet Coating Smokin’ and Fishin’ Crew, but I have been competing as King Q for about 5 years. We just recently decided to change our name to the name of our company for sponsorship and kind of combine it all.

MEAT ME: What is your background in BBQ?

Mister BBQ: I was always a backyard chef. Screwed around with different things. Got hooked up with the BBQ Brethren (on line forum http://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/) and learned a lot more and then I checked out a contest and it took off from there.

MEAT ME: Where are you from originally?

Mister BBQ: Upstate New York but I have been in California since I was 3 so I wasn’t raised on good barbecue it was something I was fortunate to discover along the way.


MEAT ME: So what did you guys submit for this competition?

Mister BBQ: We did pulled pork, chicken, ribs and brisket and then we also did the potato salad. We also competed in the Slater’s 50/50 burger challenge.

MEAT ME: How did you guys do?

Mister BBQ: I was a little upset when I saw my overall placing which was towards the bottom but my scores weren’t that bad. There’s just a lot of really good competition at this event. We did end up winning the Reser’s potato salad contest – out of 70 plus teams out here, which will send us to the World Food Challenge in Vegas.

MEAT ME: How many competitions do you guys do in a year?

Mister BBQ: This year is only our second. We did Stagecoach and this one.

MEAT ME: Overall, what is it about this particular event that brings you out?

Mister BBQ: It’s a local competition for me. I am from Huntington Beach so this is just down the road. Krisitie’s is a fantastic foundation. Kids are a soft spot for me. The girls that run the organization are really nice and great at putting this together. They do great work for a great cause they are the type of people that you really want to get involved with and do what you can. I was at the 2nd OC BBQ Festival and it’s amazing to watch it grow into breaking state records. Kelleigh, the organizer provides everything that you would possibly need in order to compete in this competition, which makes it all that more enjoyable for us to come out and participate.

MEAT ME: Where do you see your future in BBQ Competitions? Do you see yourself doing a restaurant, sauces, or rubs? What’s the goal?

Mister BBQ: I have kind of dabbled. My old partner and I took over a kitchen and a bar and did that for a while trying to bring great BBQ to Orange County it was a situation that just didn’t pan out. We also had a food truck selling BBQ. It’s a tough place to try and make a living because there is so much time and attention that goes into preparing barbecue. After a 3 day weekend out here at a competition you realize how taxing it is on you. Try and imagine doing that 7 days a week, I don’t know if I could do it. There are places in Texas that only serve BBQ from 11am to 2pm and if you don’t make it to their store or roadside stand, you miss getting any BBQ. I would love to do something like that but I don’t know if it would fly in Southern California.

MEAT ME: What is your favorite type of MEAT?

Mister BBQ: I would have to say out of everything I would go with a nice rib eye steak. It is the absolute go to meat for me, or a if I could choose one last meal on earth it would definitely be the rib eye steak. For competition cooking I would have to go with ribs and chicken. That’s my wheelhouse.

MEAT ME: Congratulations on beating me for the 2012 Mr. BBQ Pageant.

Mister BBQ: Thank you very much! You were really tough competition!

MEAT ME: How did you get involved in the Mr. BBQ Pageant? You’re the only 3-year champion correct?

Mister BBQ: I am the only Mr. BBQ to be crowned 3 consecutive years in a row. 3 years ago Kelleigh came to me and wanted to do this beauty pageant of the men of BBQ. Kelleigh does so much for the BBQ Teams and the charity it makes me want to turn around and give back to her. I was like “sure no problem I’ll help you out”. Cause, believe it or not I am a really shy guy (We laughed our asses off!) To be honest, I live to have fun. Life is way to important to take serious. So I set out to have some fun. I won the first year.

MEAT ME: What were you the first year?

Mister BBQ: The first year I don’t think I did much… I don’t think I even dressed up. The first year there weren’t different categories. I just strutted my stuff. Last year they said I had to come back and defend my title. So I took it a little further and put on a pair of overalls and cut them a little too short for most people’s comfort but kept it in good taste. I had a lot of fun with it. I got a lot of laughs.  I like to laugh and I like to make other people laugh even if I have to act like a clown for a little bit… What the heck, why not?


For this year I stepped it up: about 3 months ago we were walking through a farmer’s market and this nice lady was selling aprons and she had a Raiders apron. I am a huge Raiders fan. This apron was a bedazzled Raiders logo with French Maid trim and I thought that it would be pretty funny. So after convincing her that I need a man size along with all the frills – she made me one and it’s been sitting in my closet for 3 months. After making a clown of myself, truth be told I am actually planning next years right now. Don’t know where it’s going to end up but there is some talk of doing body paint. So who ever decides to come out and compete against me next year is really going to have to bring their A game.

I can’t tell you how awesome of a guy Brian is. I had a blast competing with him and I can’t want to hang out with him again soon. Ladies you’re gonna want to get your hands on this one! I think he might even be single.

Next up was the Slater’s 50/50 Burger competition. The winner of the challenge, Pete Lent from Pete’s Fire House BBQ, gets to have his burger featured at Slater’s 50/50 restaurants for a month. Rather than try and feature the winner in this article, I plan on doing a special write up on Pete’s burger he entered as well as some of the other burgers entered into the Slater’s 50/50 Burger Challenge. So look forward to that future article.

Teams submitted all types of burgers: 3 types of meat stuffed with cheese; Grilled doughnut buns with water melon; and waffles with who knows what. Once I saw what Jet Coating Smokin’ and Fishin’ Crew “Monkey Style” created I had to ask them if I could take a bite.

MEAT ME: What the hell is that monster that you are putting together?

Monkey Style: This is a chicken fried burger with sausage fennel gravy. A fried egg on top, drizzled with syrup between a savory waffle with a bacon infused bun.

MEAT ME: How many calories are in that thing?

Monkey Style: Really? Who cares when you are ordering this thing?

I took a bite and I must have died. It was like that moment when two countries are preparing to go to war and lines of thousands of men are facing each other. The moment everyone screams and starts running towards each other, they known they are dying for their country’s freedom. This was exactly how it felt taking a bite out of this burger.

Next I went on to meet with El Fuego Fiasco. I noticed they were using 4 oil barrels to barbecue their with. No one else was doing this so I wanted to find out what was up with that. Here is what they had to say.


MEAT ME: You guys are from?

El Fuego Fiasco: Costa Mesa, CA.

MEAT ME: How long have you guys been doing BBQ?

El Fuego Fiasco: It is our 4th season as far as competing, but we have been cooking BBQ all our lives since we were kids.

MEAT ME: Are you originally from Costa Mesa or did you grow up somewhere else?

El Fuego Fiasco: I grew up in Chino.

MEAT ME: So how did you get into doing BBQ as a kid?

El Fuego Fiasco: My dad was too lazy too cook. So he sent us out into the back yard to cook our steaks. Growing up in Chino is all dairy, cows, and ranch land. We literally ate steak 4 to 5 nights a week. I would cook them on just a little cheap charcoal grill and started doing that at 8 or 9 years old.

MEAT ME: So how did you end up getting into competition BBQ?

El Fuego Fiasco: Just started cooking BBQ at home a lot. Started getting more into BBQ than just grilling with pork shoulders, briskets and ribs. Doing more of the low and slow at home. I bought a decent smoker and started getting really good at it putting out some decent food. Friends and family would tell me how good it was but that’s always biased. I was watching the Food Network and you would see specials on the American Royal or Jack Daniels. There wasn’t really any show like BBQ Pit Masters. I found out what competitive BBQ was about from watching those shows. I did a little research and then for kicks entered my first BBQ Competition in town.  It was the 2009 OC BBQ Competition, which was their second annual BBQ Competition and our first ever.

MEAT ME: How many competitions have you guys done this year so far?

El Fuego Fiasco: Just  2. We did Stagecoach and then this one – the OC BBQ Competition.

MEAT ME: So you guys won Grand Champion at Stagecoach.  Does that change your BBQ plans for this year?

El Fuego Fiasco: Yeah, because we are going to cut back on the local barbecue competitions to save money for the American Royal. I have always wanted to compete in the American Royal. My biggest dream is to compete in the Jack. We are in the draw for the Jack and if we get that draw I would forfeit going the Royal because of money and logistics.

Yes - to answer your question we schedule our competitions. We are going to do the BBQ Competition in Westminster in August and then head out to the Royal or the Jack depending. After that we are planning on going on the World Food Championships in Vegas – it will be our first time ever doing the World Food Championship.

MEAT ME: Comparing your schedule to previous years, do you usually only do a few Competitions per year? What is your ultimate goal with competition BBQ?

El Fuego Fiasco: Our goal is to only do 5 or so a year because our families and careers come first. Our kids are getting older and getting into sports. That takes up time. We can usually only afford to do 5 a year because it cost a lot of money: averaging $800 to $1,000 per competition. It’s a lot of work it is not just Friday evening and Saturday at the competition. From Sunday through Thursday prior to the competition we prepare every evening. Friday we roll out, sometimes Thursday then we are back Sunday or Monday depending on the tear down and travel distance from the Competition.  And then there’s all the cleaning. It’s a lot of time invested. If we were single we’d be out there every 2 weeks.

MEAT ME: I notice you guys have a very unique setup. Is that some thing you guys have always done, or just when you started competing?

El Fuego Fiasco: I started out on Webers and a couple of WSM’s and we did that for one competition. Then I reassessed everything. I really like the ugly drum smokers  (UDS) - they are hokey, archaic and appealing. I saw a video of the American Royal with some hillbilly and he was cooking on 3 of them and it was just disgusting looking trash. The UDS’s they were using were beat up. One was green and orange and it looked like he just stole them out of the park. He actually said he won a Grand Champion on them. So I was like that’s what I want to do! I wanna roll up on the shittiest cooker there is and win one. Cause we are cooking against guys with $8,000 pits. We get call’s ever competition. We don’t always win Grand Champion (that was pretty cool) we are walking right past these guys with $8,000 pits and it’s really cool. They’re awesome! They look hokey but they cook really good. The give your food a good smoke, but it is also similar to grilling because you are cooking your meat 2 feet above the charcoal on a grate. So you are getting grill marks over time and it produces a really great texture and bark.

MEAT ME: Well, I wish you guys good luck and I hope to see you at the Royal or the Jack!

You can check out El Fuego Fiasco on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/elfuegofiasco
They would also like to thank their sponsor Susie Q's Brand


I could only save the best for last Kelleigh Strobel put this entire event together. I have never seen anyone work so hard for so long. For 3 strait days she was at the beck and call for every single team getting everyone everything they needed. On top of this she is also putting on a music festival while meeting the needs of the charity. I finally got some time to meet with this Super Woman and find out what it takes to be such and amazing person.

MEAT ME: How long have you been doing the OC BBQ and Music Festival?

Kelleigh Strobel: The first BBQ Contest & Festival was held in April of 2008

MEAT ME: What type of turn out did you have this year?

Kelleigh Strobel: We didn’t get the numbers we were hoping for but excitedly, we welcomed 12,000+ people through the weekend.

MEAT ME: Did you reach your goal? How much was your goal?

Kelleigh Strobel: Numbers are still in the works, it takes a good week or so to calculate all the sales from the different departments.  We are looking good though.  Without being able to confirm I can guess that the BBQ teams helped raise over $30,000 and the Breweries over $10,000!

MEAT ME: What was the totally number of Barbecue Team Contestants?

Kelleigh Strobel: We came in at 68 solid teams, just two teams shy of breaking the state record, BUT we are currently the State’s Biggest Contest!

MEAT ME: Were you surprised Big Country won the Mr. BBQ Pageant for the 3rd year in a row?

Kelleigh Strobel: Not at all… Big Country has always been a huge supporter of Kristie’s Foundation and is the first to sign up for all things ridiculous!  When we started the pageant three years ago, we knew he would be entertaining, though we never had a clue he would get this into it.  He is also an Orange County local with big support from family and friends! You can always spot his dad, front and center in the crowd, cheering his son on with the rest of Country’s fans.  His costumes are a hit as well, earning him scores of admirers flocking to his team booth to take pictures with him.  We always look forward to see who steps up to challenge the reigning king, but really, who can trump a 6 foot 4, 300 lb BBQ man in a French maid costume?  He’s is truly a thing of beauty!

MEAT ME: What type of sponsors and/or contributions did you guys receive for this event? (I.e. Farmer John supplied this many ribs, pork butts, and bacon)

Kelleigh Strobel: AMAZING support and a tremendous amount comes in from so many companies to make the event a success!  From Farmer John who supplies the ribs, sausages, pulled pork, and more, King Meat’s, National Beef, (the teams cook/serve nearly 20,000 pounds of meat products) to Reser’s Fine Foods for the deli salads, Union Bank, Toyota, Puritan Bakery, Sterno, Q Pellets, the Woodshed, Sam Adams beer, Wyndham Resorts, Pacific Monarch Resorts, Message Envy, King Kong Productions, and more!!

MEAT ME: Is there anyone you would like to thank for their contributions?

Kelleigh Strobel: EVERYONE!  From the sponsors and donors who provided us with the supplies, to the teams who tirelessly cooked and served the crowd, to the volunteers who make all the magic happen behind the scenes, and everyone who bought a ticket to support the event!!!  It always falls back to the event being a fundraiser where all the proceeds go to support southern California families dealing with the most difficult challenge imaginable, caring for a critically ill child.  At the end of the day, the funds we have raised allow us to help ease the burdens these families are facing in the darkest moments of their lives….that’s who and what it’s all for!

MEAT ME: What is your favorite part about the event?

Kelleigh Strobel: Off the cuff, I’d say the Mr. BBQ Pageant!  Where else can you see a male beauty pageant of BBQ proportions! Or the Butterfly release that serves to remind us of the beautiful and amazing kids we have lost in our years at the foundation, But, in actuality, it’s the stuff the public doesn’t get to see.  The coming together of a dedicated team of volunteers who work night and day, hour after hour, in unity with one another, making sure all the work gets done; and somehow, when all the work is done, and exhaustion sets in, they are still smiling and even still, happy to keep working; and you get to go home at the end of the event knowing there is something incredibly special in all that work and effort!

MEAT ME: What is your favorite type of meat to eat?

Kelleigh Strobel: I love the chicken!  No restaurant on the planet can make BBQ chicken the way these teams can!

Please make donations for this amazing cause, you can do so by going to:

Photos & Writing by Sean Rice, Edited by Aaron Black
Think of Others,
Sean Rice


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