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:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Leftcoast-Q/125103440847709

You can see their events page at:
http://www.leftcoastq.com/Home.html

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
aka MEAT ME