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.
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,
aka MEAT ME