Sunday, March 11, 2012

Santa Anita BBQ Competition 2012

It couldn’t be a better day for a BBQ competition. It is hot but not too hot, it is packed but not over crowded and the smell of BBQ filled the air. When most people in Los Angeles, California hear the words BBQ they think of summer, swim suits by the pool, and hot dogs and hamburgers over an open flame. That is not real BBQ, it is a myth created by television.

The most perfect day to have a BBQ Competition and eat as much BBQ as possible.

Real BBQ is cooking meat, poultry and occasionally fish with heat and the hot smoke of a fire, smoking wood, or hot coals of charcoal. Typically, to grill is to cook in this manner quickly, while barbecue is typically a much slower method utilizing less heat than grilling, attended to over an extended period of several hours.

Meat fans feed each other as Rooftop shows off their trophies and BBQ sauce.

Barbecue competitions are a whole other sport. Professional barbecue competitors will spend tens of thousands of dollars to build the perfect smoker in order to achieve that exemplary barbecue taste. They will spend countless hours smoking to enjoy a piece of meat that may take 5 minutes to eat. Spending that much time, money, and effort has got to be worth it.

People line up for Rooftop's pork ribs.

I have always loved BBQ and came across the blog and was introduced to Aaron Black.  A professional smoker with a passion to educated people on barbecuing for themselves. He invited me out to the Santa Anita BBQ Competition as a fellow meat lover how could I turn him down.

MEAT Inc's smoked skin on pork shoulder.

I headed out to Santa Anita Race track for the time of my life. Only heaven had 37 BBQ teams competing to be the best BBQ. When I arrived I expected to see a billow of smoke coming out of the middle of the track. That was not the case but the sweet smell of smoke hit my nose the second I got off the freeway. 

Pork gets pulled as people dive in to MEAT Inc's pork ribs.

I parked, got my ticked and headed into meat town. I skipped breakfast just for this day. I walked on to the BBQ grass field of meat battle for some of the greatest flavors my mouth had ever experienced. The second I met Aaron Black of Meat Inc. I had so many questions and here is what he had to say.

Aaron Black of MEAT Inc works the BBQ as some smoked bologna.

MEAT ME: Who judges these BBQ’s? What makes someone a certified BBQ judge?

Aaron Black: Typically the judges are certified BBQ judges; by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. They have to take classes. This particular event the judges are 100% CBJ qualified, 3 or 4 of them are first timers, which means they took their class not too long ago and this is their first event being a judge.

Left: Pork Fatty: Hot dogs, home made chili wrapped with sausage and weaved bacon.
Right: Breakfast Fatty: pancakes, apple pie filling, and cream cheese wrapped with sausage and a weaved layer of bacon.

MEAT ME: How many judges are there?

Aaron Black: There is one judge for every team. So 37 teams, 37 judges; no judge will taste more than one of your meat types. So if you turn in chicken to judge one, he won’t try any of your brisket, pulled pork, or ribs. It will then go to another judge. A lot of people moan that if it is not 100 percent CBJ they will get bad scores because your loosing that consistency across the board from competition to competition. A lot of people complain that the judges don’t have more training; may be they get stuck in a rut and all of a sudden they don’t like anything spicy and they only prefer sweet. It is kind of a tricky thing. Some people cook to the judges and do a really good job; and some people cook what they like and they typically don’t win. Some people try to make a happy medium which is kind of where we are at.

Aaron Black carefully cuts the pork fatty to give to carefully selected taste buds.

MEAT ME: So how many different MEAT’s are cooked?

Aaron Black: There are 4 meats in every competition. You start out with chicken; then you go to pork ribs; then you go to pork butt; and then you go to brisket.

Aaron Black explaining how they make their Pork Fatty!
MEAT ME: So is brisket the only beef that they have?

Aaron Black: Yes.

MEAT ME: How many years have you guys been doing this?

Aaron Black: Since 2005. 

All the meat you could ever need from MEAT Inc.

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

Aaron Black: We do between 9 and 11 events a year. We’ll do as many events as my wife will let me do. That is basically the limitation.

MEAT ME: What kid of meats did you guys bring today?

Aaron Black: We brought all kinds of extra meat for people’s choice (the people get to vote for their favorite BBQ as well) we always bring extra chicken, cause people love chicken. We brought bratwurst cause that’s easy to cook and its relatively inexpensive. We also did pulled pork and we made brisket chili. We just came back from Lake Havasu where we won first place in chili and first place in people’s choice chili. So today we did the same chili we made there.

LEFT: Barbecue Chicken RIGHT: MEAT Inc's signature Pork Balls.

MEAT ME: How did you get into this?

Aaron Black: One of my buddies; his dad sold BBQ’s. So we bought up a bunch of BBQ’s and thought this was great. My friend said, “Hey my Dad’s gonna be in this BBQ competition!” and thought, “Hell yeah! We can do that too!”. So we went out cooked meat, played cards, drank a few beers, threw some meat in a box and had a great time. We only did 1-3 contest a year and now we take it a lot more seriously.

The MEAT Inc. team safely guards their precious beef brisket as they take it to the judges.

MEAT ME: How many of you guys are there?

Aaron Black: We have 4 core members but today we have 18 guys.

MEAT ME: How many people do you serve up at these events?

Aaron Black: Today we will server about 1,500, probably more.

MEAT Inc. drops off their Beef Brisket with the KCBS judges.

MEAT ME: So what is your favorite MEAT?

Aaron Black: I really like chicken. A lot of these BBQ guys don’t like chicken because they have to cook it all the time. I love it. I cook chicken almost every weekend.

MEAT ME: And you like it barbecued?

Aaron Black: Yea

People stand around MEAT Inc. as they enjoy their beef brisket.

MEAT ME: So you guys do rub and then smoke?

Aaron Black: Yea our competition chicken we actually do a butter bath. We cook it in butter and brown sugar for about 40 minutes and then we put it on the grate. It is really sweet and really juicy.

We are about to cook smoked spam, do you like smoked spam (spam fries)?

MEAT ME: I don’t know.

Aaron Black: Well you’re about to (laughs).

Aaron Black of MEAT Inc. slices up his Spam Fries.

I was so fascinated by what the judges do that I just so happened that as the judges were leaving I was able to grab KCBS Judge Steve Alvarez and ask him a few question about what a barbecue judge really does.

The judges stop by Meat Inc. to give thanks for participating in the BBQ competition.

MEAT ME: What is involved when judging BBQ?

KCBS Steve Alvarez: Every BBQ society has its own standards and qualifications when judging. In this particular instance it is the Kansas City Barbecue society. There are 4 basic categories Chicken, Pork Ribs, Pork Shoulder, and Brisket. Those 4 are always included in the competition. 

KCBS Judge Steve Alvarez

MEAT ME: What do you look for when judging BBQ?

KCBS Steve Alvarez: What The 3 things that we look for when judging individual meat entries is its appearance, the second thing we look at is tenderness, and finally the most important would be flavor. We score every one of those items individually. We grade every single entry to the same standards. We don’t compare the meats to each other; each entry stands on its’ own.

Evil Pig BBQ prepares their perfect Beef Brisket for the Judges.

KCBS Steve Alvarez: I love being able to taste the best of the best.

Spicy Bull's Eye BBQ Sauce over pork shoulder.

MEAT ME: How many meat’s might you taste in one event?

KCBS Steve Alvarez: 6 meats per entry times 4 is 24 meats. I take a good bite out of each one so I can give a fair judgment. If I am going to grade something really high, I generally give it a second bite to make sure I am right before I give it a top score. 

Pork shoulder from High Gravity with their Spicy BBQ sauce.

MEAT ME: What about low scores?

KCBS Steve Alvarez: I also do the same thing for the lower scores. If I taste something that isn’t getting a very good score I will always give them a second bite to make sure my first conclusion was correct. This is how I operate. Generally its one good bite per meat and you can generally tell what you are getting.

A mother feeds her husband, as he feeds his son. Everybody needs their BBQ.

MEAT ME: What does one have to go through in order to become a judge?

KCBS Steve Alvarez: The Kansas City Barbecue Society hold periodic judging classes. I lived in California at the time; there was a judging class in Lake Havasu; I drove down there to pay the fee and take the class. It is a 4-hour class. 2 hours of classroom and 2 hours of practical application. It was open discussion after you tasted your meat and you got an idea of a system. 

I have never seen a little girl so excited for BBQ, that is until I tasted their Pork Shoulder.

KCBS Steve Alvarez: After that you are considered qualified and you start entering competitions. You are judging along master judges who have been judging as many as 30 to 40 judging years under their belt. You learn from them and no one is ashamed of discussing it afterward. We discuss the meats after they are graded and the scores are turned in. It’s a “What did you think of this? And what did you think of that?” and that is a learning experience as well. It is an education all the way through you’re never gonna stop learning about meat.

Here is Big Mista's pulled pork shoulder just soaking in juice after being smoked for several hours.

MEAT ME: What is your favorite type of MEAT?

KCBS Steve Alvarez: Well my initial favorite was always pork ribs. That is how I got into this. As time has gone on I have tasted such wonderful, wonderful meats that now I am thinking that a very well cooked brisket will compete with a very good rib. A brisket is very difficult to cook, and get top scores – than when you find it, it is very, very good. 

Pork It Up's beef brisket put on yesterday around 8pm. They let it marinate with a little garlic, worcestershire sauce, and smoked it with some mosquito and red oak. They are from Sacramento, CA.

The BBQ at this event was amazing it didn't take a judge to see that. I arrived at the event at 1pm and by 3pm most of the stands were out of BBQ. When I arrived at the event I payed $4 to get in (which also gave me access to the horse races, and then $10 for my vote ticked and $10 in food tickets. For a taste it cost me $2 per stand which wasn't bad at all. I was almost full by the 5 stand.

Last horse race of the day before the awards ceremony.

I didn't bet on any horse races but you could tell from the screaming that a lot of the people around me did. This really was the setting for a perfect day. A belly filled with just about every spice ever made, the weather was perfect, and I was at a sporting event. It is the perfect place to bring the family and an ideal event for a pregnant women to over indulge (I saw like 20 pregnant women there, they must love this stuff). As Aaron's wife explained it to me, "It is the perfect place for woman where all she can do is eat!"

Rooftop BBQ runs up to collect their trophy for Best Pork Ribs.

After the last race of the day it was time to give out the awards. Everyone gathers around as they announce the best of the best. It really wasn't a competitive as I was expecting a lot of these people were friends and where very happy for all the winners. My next quest is to try the food of all the winners to see what it takes to be the best.

The TOP winners of the 2012 Santa Anita BBQ Competition.

Starting Top Left to Right, Top then Bottom :
Winner Best Chicken - The Pitt Crew BBQ
Winner Best Pork Ribs - Roof Top BBQ
Winner Best Pork Shoulder - Brazen BBQ
Winner Best Brisket - Bad Ass BBQ
Winner Peoples Choice - Big Mista's BBQ
Runner Up Best Overall - Leftcoast Q
Winner Overall - Slap Yo Daddy  BBQ

All amazing things must come to an end.
They may not be in the top 10 but their passion for MEAT creativity is enough to leave you wanting more.

Scoring results…

BBQ Chicken
1 The Pit Crew BBQ
2 Fun Time BBQ
3 Butchers Daughter
4 Slap Yo Daddy
5 Leukemia Sucks Too
6 Leftcoast Q
7 Big Papa Smokers
8 Smokin’ Yankee’s
9 All kinds of BBQ
10 All Hogs Go To Heaven

BBQ Pork Ribs
1 Rooftop BBQ
2 Big Daddy Q’n Crew
3 Patlans Applewood BBQ
4 Smokin Yankees
5 Leftcoast Q
6 All Kinds of BBQ
7 Lady of Q
8 Butchers Daughter
9 The Rub Company
10 Hog Wild BBQ

BBQ Pork Shoulder
1 Brazen BBQ
2 Simply Marvlous BBQ
3 Burnin & Lootin
4 Chillin and Grillin
5 Who’s Smoking Now
6 Mad Dogs BBQ
7 Big Papa Smokers
8 Lady of Q
9 Hog Wild
10 The Rub Company

1 Bad Ass BBQ
2 When Pigs Fly
3 Slap Yo Daddy BBQ
4 Butchers Daughters BBQ
5 Mad Dogs
6 All Sauced Up
7 the Rub Co.
8 Leftcoast Q
10 Big Daddy’s Q’n and Crew

Over All BBQ
1 Slap Yo Daddy BBQ
2 Leftcoast Q
3 Butchers Daughter
4 Burnin’ and Lootin’
5 Who’s Smoking Now
6 Big Daddys Q’n Crew
7 Smokin’ Yankees 
8 All Sauced Up
9 Fun Time BBQ
10 Brazen BBQ

Peoples Choice Award
BigMista’s Barbecue

The end of a long day at an empty Santa Anita Race Track.

I would like to thank Aaron Black at MEAT Inc. for inviting me out and making me their special guest. I would also like to thank Steve Alvarez for his time and inside into being a KCBS Judge. If you ever have the chance to go to a BBQ competition, go for it. I would do it all over again.

I encourage you to check out for all your BBQ needs and how where and when MEAT Inc. will be next.

BBQ is Life,
Sean Rice 


  1. Nicely done! A bbq comp is an addicting thing to get pulled into!

    1. tell me about it summer is almost here and I can't wait to be out side smoking pork shoulder... Ugg so good!

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