Barbecue, Boots, and Bikinis: Stagecoach Festival and BBQ Competition 2012 / by MEAT ME

No joke. Hundreds of thousands of people flowing in non-stop. I arrived at Stagecoach around 9 am to pick up my event tickets from the pick up window. Which was a few miles from the entrance of the event. I couldn’t understand why, but once I saw that the event was 5 city blocks long it totally made sense. I would have never have gotten my tickets if I were any closer.

I got my wristband and my parking sticker, both of which had sensors that needed to be scanned in order for me to get in.Very high tech. This place was serious, cops on every corner. I have never been at an event with more than 35,000 people. So I was in for a real treat.   

After the 12th person scanned my parking pass, I was in. Right there next to the barbecuing people. I couldn’t have been more grateful for not having to walk an hour with all my camera gear, in this crazy heat. The area I was in looked to be about 6 football fields wide with who knows how many people barbecuing. Everyone had all kinds of smokers and grillers. You had your regulars like Meat Inc., When Pigs Fly, and Big Papa Smokers; and then you had your rookies. 

It was packed tight, these motor homers were layered up like a labyrinth. Some were here just to compete and some were also here to make some money but everyone was here to have an awesome time and that's exactly what happened.

The judges swear in. That's right they must swear to judge each team's meat equally.
I had no idea when the festival started but at noon people started trickling in. Thom Emery the event coordinator walked up to me and said, “The gates are open you may want to catch the heard as they are coming in!” I had no idea what he was talking about. He pointed to the east and all I see is this heard of people pouring into the staging area. I mean people that I don’t think have ran in a few years were booking it. These people were mad crazy for their seats. I started running too just to get my photos. I didn't want to miss this. It kept going and going and going. Turns out people spend all day pouring into this event. They were still coming in when I left at 7 pm.

Checking out the regulars prepare for competition.
As hot as it was you could see people were doing anything to win the grand champion. Not to mention all the half naked people dying to eat it. Everyone no matter how shit faced, wasn’t going to pass up a chance to get some of the best BBQ the west had to offer. 

When I cover these events people get uncomfortable when someone like me sticks a camera in their face to take a picture of them chowing down on some food. I knew it was time to shake this up a bit and break out my awesome hot dog suit. 

El Fuego Fiasco's vertical barrel smokers.
The response was overwhelming. Who would have thought that a guy with an NHL playoff beard and a camera was creepier than that same guy in a hot dog suite. No one was passing up a chance to get a picture with a wiener.  Everyone kept yelling “Ask me about my wiener?” I had no idea why until someone mentioned a movie where apparently someone does the same thing. So as hot as I was, I wasn’t holding back I whipped out my MEAT ME cards as much as I could and people couldn’t get enough. From men to the ladies, everyone, and I mean everyone, was as nice as could possibly be and for that I thank the people of Stagecoach for de-virginizing this wiener at such a special event. 

Now it was time to get up close and personal with the competitors and find out what made Stagecoach the most awesome event I have ever been too!

Kyle & Jose Barbecue

Kyle Emery shows off his barbecue gear.
MEAT ME: So who are you guys?

Kyle Emery: We are Kyle & Jose Barbecue.

MEAT ME: You guys are from?

Kyle Emery: Here. I am Thom Emery’s son.

MEAT ME: Ohhhhh. Nice! No wonder he’s like hey get those guys over there… So did you make that grill?

Kyle Emery: No it is my first time cooking on it. It’s a Grilla. This one we have had for about 4 – 5 years now. It’s a Fast Eddie. It’s a good unit.

A booth is decorated with past Stagecoach posters.
MEAT ME: Are you guys competing in all the events today?

Kyle Emery: Yes everything but the potato salad. Selling to the public, doing it all. It is exhausting. 

MEAT ME: So how long have you been doing Stagecoach?

Kyle Emery: 6 years. Since the very first one. This is definitely one of the better layouts we’ve had. It works out. 

Meat Inc. preps chicken to be judged. 
MEAT ME: Do you do other competitions during the year?

Kyle Emery: I haven’t cooked too much this year. He (Thom Emery) does 1 event a month. 

MEAT ME: So how are you guys expecting to do today?

People rush to get the best spot in front of the stage.
Kyle Emery: I am hoping to do alright, I just had a newborn so I have been out of the picture for a little while, so I am hoping I can hang my head high on this one. 

MEAT ME: You didn’t marinate anything in the baby food did you?

Kyle Emery: Well I can’t let my secrets out man, Gerber’s good stuff.

Then I took a turn around the corner and found some first timers and wanted to find out what they had to say about their first competition.


Smoketackular prepares their ribs.
MEAT ME: So who are you guys?

Smoketacular: Smoketacular... We are first timers. Rookies. Never done it before. 

MEAT ME: Where are you guys from?

Smoketacular: Temecula, California.

MEAT ME: So what is your history with barbecue?

Smoketacular: Backyard and backyard only. We have had Traeger’s for 5 years doing everything on those things. We got a lot of friends over there with Meat Inc., they got us into this. They're like, just do it! If your gonna go to Stagecoach you might as well do this too.

Competition Chicken
Here try a rib. What do you think? Do we stand a chance? We haven’t even tried it yet.

MEAT ME: I like it. It is a little on the dry side but I think it’s good.

Smoketacular: I take criticism well. I should have given you one of these. That one looks a little juicer, what do you think?

I was too afraid to ask what he was doing, but I did admire is chicken!
MEAT ME: Yea you could say that.

Smoketacular: How is the flavor in the sauce? We have been playing with that one for a while.

MEAT ME: It’s good and it is not super spicy.

2 sisters create new MEAT memories.
Smoketacular: Good we didn’t want to be over powering with the spicy. Some people told us the judges don’t like spicy. They like a little kick but not spicy. So when I come in second place…

MEAT ME: You never know man I see people that have come out here their first time and have placed 2nd in 2 categories at Santa Anita.

Smoketacular: Well that is our goal. Yea even the sun shines on a dogs ass every once in a while. I am thinking a little smoke ring, a little juicy, the sauce is good, I think we are good. All barbecue is good barbecue; you know what I mean? You can keep your trophy. 

MEAT ME: Yeah I am here to eat! Anything you want to tell me about how you cooked them?

Smoketacular: 2 hour smoke, 2 hour steam in the foil, now one hour on the grill to dry them up a little bit.

Meat Inc. Ladies dishing it out to the Beef Cake?
MEAT ME: Do you sauce them up before you take them out?

Smoketacular: Smoke without sauce of course and then wrap’em 2 hours without sauce and then the last hour we base them.

MEAT ME: Nice well good luck!

Master of Disaster

Master of Disaster prepares his chicken for judging.
MEAT ME: And you are?

Master of Disaster: Master of Disaster

MEAT ME: Are you with Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ?

Master of Disaster: No I just took his class. Yea, it is a great class.

MEAT ME: So is this your first year at Stagecoach? 

Master of Disaster: No this is our 2nd year. This is my 3rd year competing. I have been doing it 6 years but professionally competing 3 years. 

Master of Disaster may just have what it takes.
MEAT ME: So how do you guys think you are going to do today?

Master of Disaster: Hopefully well. Everything’s on track the briskets are good, the butts are good the chicken is coming along. Ribs are looking good. Who knows it is up to the judges now. 

MEAT ME: Is there something that you guys are known for?

Master of Disaster: No. We are just known as the completely unprofessional BBQ team. (He points to their team banner, and that’s exactly what it says.) I tend to screw things up. I am master of disaster. I do everything by myself pretty much; my kinds come out and help. But as far as cooking it is pretty much a one-man show. Selecting the meat, packing, trimming, seasoning, cooking, preparing boxes, all that pretty much by myself. They come out to help with the boxes and the garnishes and stuff.

At this point everyone needed lemonade!
MEAT ME: So what’s your background in BBQ?

Master of Disaster: A buddy of mine was cooking professionally. He asked me to come out. I watched him for a while and then he quit barbecuing and I decided to go out on my own. I started as a rookie and then just went from there. I learned a little by little and then last year I won my first Grand Champion.

MEAT ME: Wow really! That was after how many years?

A random act of patriotism between to barbecue lovers.
Master of Disaster: Just 2 years. Yea we went to the Jack last year and that qualifies me for the American Royal this year. So we’ll be going back to Kansas for the Royal. Yea it’s fun and a lot of mileage out of that one win. I am hoping to win this one though, it’s a good one to win.

MEAT ME: Well good luck. By the way what is your favorite MEAT?

Master of Disaster: Brisket.

Mr. Jim Wallace
John & Jim Wallace

MEAT ME: So what’s your guys' names?

Jim Wallace: John Wallace and Jim Wallace.

MEAT ME: Are you guys in the competition today? How long have you been doing this?

Jim Wallace: Yes. We have been doing this for about 3 years.

MEAT ME: Where are you guys from?

Jim Wallace: John is from Riverside and I am from Irvine so this is just a family thing to do to spend sometime together.

Jim Wallace prepping ribs.
MEAT ME: So is there history behind the barbecue?

Jim Wallace: Just something to do. The kids have gotten older and it’s a nice way to reconnect as a family.

MEAT ME: So how do you guys feel you are going to do this year, competition wise?

Jim Wallace: This year this is our first one. We did ok the prior 2 years.

MEAT ME: How many of these do you guys usually do a year?

Jim Wallace: We started off doing about 5 a year. Last year was a little slow for us so we did like 3 and this is the first one we have done this year.

Meat Inc.'s Jalapeno Poppers
MEAT ME: Is there something that you guys do that is your specialty?

Jim Wallace: I think we do well with our ribs and our chicken. We cook on a Lang and a Smokey Mountain.

MEAT ME: What’s your favorite MEAT?

Jim Wallace: Mine is the RIBS. 

Big Poppa Smokers

The men of Big Poppa Smokers!
MEAT ME: So how long have you guys been doing this?

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) About 3 years.

MEAT ME: You guys were on Pit Masters?

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) Yea we were on season 2 of Pit Masters.

MEAT ME: So where do you guys rank in the grand scheme of things?

Big Poppa Smokers: (Jody Clarke) Well at the beginning of this year I believe we were ranked 9th right now in the Nation. (Sterling Ball) You gotta realize a lot of those people in the hot beds haven’t started their season yet. So we will always look better than them at the beginning of the year. Then they school us throughout the year.

MEAT ME: So do you guys compete all over? 

And so it begins, "Ask me about my wiener?"

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) We go as far as Kansas City.

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

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) We’ll do about 21 this year. There are some that cook 40 or more. So for us 21 is a lot cause we all work. I have kids, they all have kids that are grown.

MEAT ME: So what is the history with your BBQ experience?

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) Well I have always cooked and I sorta got in to smokin’. So I started buying different smokers and bringing them into my house. Then guys were like we wanna compete and I am like you guys are out of your minds. Without knowing what they were doing they came in 5th in ribs in one of the biggest contests ever so we figured they had it made. I didn’t do so well the 2nd and 3rd contest. (Jody Clarke) We’d drink a lot. So then I started coming along and now we don’t even bring beer. Yea! Our coolers got nothing but cranberry juice and mineral water. Seriously. It gets so competitive, it’s a great level of competition, and it’s subjective and you're judged, you're blind judged. The judges, sometimes they just really screw you and sometimes they just give you better than you deserve, but at the end of the year you end up where you should have been.

The camaraderie is what’s awesome too.  When you're competing at this level, national competition level, most of the time you don’t get the friendliness that exists here. Like, for example, their electricity went out twice, we rewired them. I don’t think that happens in auto racing.

That’s what I like it’s very competitive, it’s very creative and it’s friendly. 

MEAT ME: So what separates you from the rest of the competition? What’s your thing?

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) I am not sure that we do. See what you do is… You find your flavor profile and you kind of cooking for the judges and it has got to be something that you kind of like and is your signature so we have to work through the different recipes. We have a certain type of style that we keep working.

Meat Inc. doing what it does best... Not disappointing!
MEAT ME: So do you have a particular type of meat that is your favorite or your best?

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) Well the thing about MEAT is… We are probably best known as chicken cookers. Like last year brisket was challenge for us, so for the year we are working on it and so far we are off to a pretty good start this year. (FYI they will later come in first for brisket.)

MEAT ME: What is your favorite MEAT?

Big Poppa Smokers: (Sterling Ball) Well I get kind of burned out. Like I don’t eat pulled pork anymore. I still think a really good rib is hard to beat. When you hit the rib like we think we did today. See that is the funny thing about the judges; I think we cooked the best ribs we have ever cooked today. So we’ll see. But I don’t go to awards presentations, these guys do. I go home after this. I don’t like the awards, they text me.

Mrs. Aurora and her crew at the Stock Yard
The Stock Yard

MEAT ME: So what are you guys called?

Aurora: The Stock Yard

MEAT ME: So where are you guys located?

I don't see any speakers... Ohh, I get it!
Aurora: Redlands, California.

MEAT ME: So what is your specialty?

Aurora: Steaks and Tri-Tip. We consider ourselves to be a BBQ Steakhouse.

Some MEAT ME with my MEAT please!
MEAT ME: And what is your favorite?

Aurora: I would have to say a big fat juicy rib eye. Marbled just enough.

And last but not least, the man who makes all of this happen!

Event Coordinator: Thom Emery

Thom Emery the Master of BBQ Events!
MEAT ME: So you are?

Thom Emery: I am the organizer of the Stagecoach BBQ Competition. Past President of the California BBQ Association and General Nut Case!

Sometimes all you need is a smile and some neon shorts to go with your BBQ!
MEAT ME: What qualifies you to be General Nut Case?

Thom Emery: Because I am crazy enough to put this event together. I’m teasing I really enjoy doing this. This is my hometown, it is a big event, it’s barbecue, and it’s in my hometown. I am just very happy to be apart of it.

A couple chows down on some BBQ after a long day of partying!
MEAT ME: So what is your affinity with barbecue?

Thom Emery: I cook and I have worked with the California Barbecue Association; It’s my hobby and I enjoy it, we also cook and serve meals to the homeless. I use barbecue as a ministry thing too and we cook for local churches. 

MEAT ME: How long have you been doing Stagecoach?

Thom Emery: This is my 6th year. They said they called KCBS and that they didn’t have time to put it together I said wait a minute. I live in the area and I knew this type of festival would do great because of Coachella. So I got involved and put it together in a matter of 8 weeks.

Apparently being a hot dog makes people super excited! 
MEAT ME: How many people come out to Stagecoach?

Thom Emery: I think it is about 65 to 75,000 a day and it is a 3-day festival. There is a possibility of it becoming a 2-weekend event. It would be fun, we might add some more contests to it.

MEAT ME: What is your favorite thing about doing the Stagecoach BBQ Competition?

Thom Emery: It is kind of a hospitality thing for me because this is my hometown and quite a few of the teams here are people that are very involved in my life.  The Lowbelly team; the wife teaches at the same school my wife does. The Blue Moon Salon they are farmers and the wife is a technical aide at the same school. There are quite a few local people involved. Like When Pigs Fly we go way back; I was actually part of their team at one time. Most of the people here I have very close friendships with. They have to be loony like me to want to do this event because it is just different. I always say, “Stagecoach is not 3 fat guys hiding in an easy up feeding 6 fat people in a pig tent!” That is not what it is about. It sounds really rude but it’s about playing the crowd and having a contest. It is 2 different things. The more traditional teams don’t care for it and that’s ok. We still have fun and we stay within the criteria to be a legal qualifying championship.

Aaron Black of Meat Inc. and Thom Emery hug it out after a long 2 days of being a pain. 
MEAT ME: What is your favorite type of MEAT?

Thom Emery: You know I really like brisket that is not injected and not full of garbage. I really like brisket that is cooked well and not seasoned. You know I could eat me some competition ribs. I used to weight 300 and some pounds and that was why. Now I am down to 238, but my knees aren’t killing me. So…

MEAT ME: That’s awesome! 

For the results to Stagecoach BBQ competition go to:

The Grand Champions of Stagecoach 2012
Congratulations to the Grand Champions El Fuego Fiasco.

MEAT ME with some of the random people who had to have their photo taken with the hot dog!
I would like to thank all the teams for their time with me. I would like to thank Thom Emery for having me out and giving me access to such an awesome event. I truly had the time of my life. The competitors and the people couldn't have been nicer. The atmosphere was electric and I can't wait to go again next year. If you're looking to reward yourself with some entertainment this is definitely something to have at the top of your bucket list. 

BBQ, Boots & Bikinis,
Sean Rice

Edited by Kathryn Emery
Written & Photographed by Sean Rice