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BBQ Battle: Aficionados from across state flock to sanctioned competition

Laura Brown
Special to The Union

This weekend, 30 teams boasting some of the state’s top barbecue pit masters will converge in Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley to show off their grilling talents before a panel of certified judges at the Smokin in the Oaks State BBQ Championship.

The competition is part of Blues, Brews and BBQ, an event sponsored by the Penn Valley Community Rodeo Association.

The sanctioned contest features more than $7,000 in prize money and is one of 380 events held around the U.S. by the Kansas City BBQ Society.

“They come from all over the West Coast,” said event coordinator Scott Gomes of Pit Pros BBQ Promotions.

Winners of the Penn Valley event could qualify for a spot with 500 others at the American Royal Championship in Kansas City, Mo., and a possible entry into the Jack Daniels World Championship at the distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn.

The local competition is a mix of newer, up-and-coming teams of backyard cooks looking to take the next step, and serious professional teams that follow the competition circuit. Some competition titles fetch winnings as high as $100,000, Gomes said.

Many top name competitors own a barbecue business or own a restaurant and carry prestigious titles.

Those involved say it takes years of research, practice, burning things and trial and error to get it right.

Local man, Brendon Sullivan, 33, owner of Bam Dazy BBQ in Auburn is looking forward to the championship.

Besides cooking 600 to 800 pounds of pulled pork a week at his foothill restaurant, Sullivan regularly competes and says there is a lot of money and bragging rights on the line.

Other than the challenge, Sullivan finds the most satisfaction from watching others enjoy the food he cooks.

“It’s something to be proud of,” he said.

Another local team from Grass Valley, Brada’s of Da Racks BBQ is affiliated with the local chapter of United Way and the Food Bank of Nevada County, Gomes said.

Competitors are given four challenges – a chicken category, St. Louis-style pork ribs, pork shoulder and a 14-hour beef brisket cooked low and slow.

“They stay up all night cooking these products,” Gomes said, adding that it’s not uncommon for a competitor to cook four racks of ribs to achieve six perfect ribs.

The perfect rib is all about texture, Gomes explained. The meat should pull away from the bone without being mushy. Rubs and sauces shouldn’t mask the natural pork flavor in the meat.

Judges consider tenderness, taste and appearance and rate items using a scoring system from zero to nine.

“It takes years to get it down,” said Gomes, who learned to barbecue from his father and has competed for a decade.

He switched from a career as a building contractor to a barbecue promoter several years ago when the economy soured.

Besides offering a cooking school and catering business, Gomes promotes five barbecue contests a year, including the Wagon Train Cook-off in Placerville and the Classic Rib Cook-off held at the Nevada County Fairgrounds during the Draft Horse Classic.

This weekend, the public will have an opportunity to sample food such as pulled pork, jalapeno poppers and ribs with candied bacon by buying a taster ticket for $2.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Penn Valley Rodeo.

On Thursday, an hour-long cooking presentation featuring four meats will take place for free to the general public from 6 to 7 p.m. in the parking lot of True Value Hardware in Penn Valley.

Friday evening, the public is welcome to come out to the park and enjoy the music of country outlaw band Moonshine Bandits on the Pavilion Stage.

On Saturday, Samurai Blues Band, Grease, Grit and Grime Blues Band and Jamal Walker of Nevada County will perform with headliner band Rio Mojo.

Teams will begin submitting entries for judging at 11 a.m. Saturday followed by public sampling at 1:30 p.m.

The public will have an opportunity to vote for the Peoples’ Choice Champion.

Besides the challenge of cooking meat to perfection, many are drawn by the allure of the barbecue culture.

The circles of people who frequent the events become much like family, traveling by motor home every weekend to participate in the big party atmospheres typically held outdoors in true camp style.

“It’s tradition,” Sullivan said.

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at laurabrown323@gmail.com or (530) 401-4877.


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