What it takes to be Grand Champion: Pechanga BBQ Competition 2013 / by MEAT ME

That seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. How to be the best in BBQ on a consistent basis? How to create the perfect BBQ that judges are going to love at every competition? Well it seems Left Coast Q has it figured out, 5 Grand Champions in the last 11 competitions. Which means 2 more and they get an automatic entree into the Jack Daniels. 

There is really only one way to find this out and that’s to head out to a competition and see what everyone has been up to. I arrived at Pechanga just south east of Temecula. It’s hot, crazy, and chaotic with 70 barbecue teams competing, which is huge, since the largest comp ever held in California maxed out at a total of 77 teams.

As you can imagine with more teams competing the competition gets much harder. Along side the traditional categories of chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket they added the Iron Chef category; as if cooking for 18 to 20 hours, serving a couple thousand people and trying to bring your A game isn’t enough they add an open category. Don’t worry they can handle it, their professionals, well… Most of them. 

Meat Inc. gets their team together around 9:30 am to go over the game plan. They need People’s Choice tickets, and have the upper hand being by the entrance. Sell, sell, sell. Do whatever it takes to get the food out. 

This is a great place for people with families to bring their kids, plus it’s pretty hard to find a kid that doesn’t like bacon.

A lot of the teams find themselves in the position of hurry up and wait. You sit around waiting for that one widow to open when the meat is ready and then you go right back to waiting. At these events half of the fight is not getting distracted by what other people are doing, you have to stay in the right mind set to keep up with your game plan. Some times I feel like people go and chat with other teams as if it’s part of their game plan.

Then there is the drudgery of putting together the turn in boxes and preparing them with parsley. Any one who usually gets stuck with this job is the BBQ Bitch. Make It Squeal BBQ Team couldn’t have said it better on the back of their shirts.  Some have it down and only spend 10 minutes on a box, others spend hours on end making it resemble the perfect putting green. I give these people credit it takes a crazy person to want to do this job.

You also have to keep the little ones preoccupied and no one does this better than When Pigs Fly taking with the job of trophy protection signage. It’s a tough task but only the highly skilled typesetters can pull it off. “Do Not Touch Trophies” it might be bad luck but who wants to find out.

These events are complete chaos and this photo says it all. You have to deal with fire and safety, the health department, the needs of 70 BBQ teams, tending to the KCBS judges, and making sure everything goes smoothly for the people attending the event. This is all done by one Henry Sylvestre. As you can imagine it’s pretty hard to keep all these people happy but he does, and some how manages to put on a pretty successful event at the same time.

Food prep can be a long extensive process that only ends once everyone has gone or there is no food left. Meat Inc.’s ABT’s are no simple task to build. Jalapenos are hallowed out and then filled with cream cheese and salami finally wrapped with bacon. They will make and sell over 1,000 of these along side, moink balls, smoked bologna, ribs, chicken, candied bacon, pulled pork and some brisket. They have some how figured out an assembly line style of a system that produces food non stop.

Aaron Black of Meat Inc. is always trying to top his people choice numbers from the year before. He is finding that his lavish good looks and fire cracker personality fueled with a cocktail and a microphone aren’t bringing in the numbers like they used to. So he has enlisted the help of a beautiful dame to drawn in more people and it seems as though for now it is actually working.

Beautiful women and barbecue have always been a popular item at competitions. If your team is composed of a stunning array of vivacious beauties accompanied with some tasty barbecue chances of success are pretty eminent. If you just happen to have some irresistible bacon you may just steal the show.

Hawaiian shaved ice is to be taken very seriously. In these sizzling temperatures it tends to serve more as a need than a want. You can tell by the intimidation in the little girls eyes, she is more worried about the fate of her slushy than her photograph being taken.

Chicken. Everyone has a secret way of doing chicken. Scrap the skin, remove the bone, don’t remove the bone, soak in butter, and of course season and sauce multiple times but don’t get any on the inside of your turn-in-box or you’re screwed. I have seen it all. Everyone thinks that their way is best and it is cause it works for them. If you’re Left Coast Q you have tons of trophies to back you.

At the end of the day you are going to do what makes you happy and what you believe the judges want. That is what gives you the confidence to take 1st place chicken. If you believe in your process 100%, and combine that with perfect chicken size, appearance, taste and texture I’d say your chances are pretty good.

If you don’t win, you know why. You didn’t believe in what you turned in. There are so many variables involved if one fails it throws off the rest of the entire process leaving you with a box of shit to show the judges.

People will go crazy for your food. They will want it, and if you tell them it’s the best they’ll believe you. Of course a pretty smile and a trophy always help, but there is the case of Peoples Choice winner H&H BBQ.  They had a really long line, but when I asked people no one really knew what they were standing in line for.

Which also proves my theory that people  in general, really don’t know what they want and need to be told. It’s the same reason really popular night clubs have a line out front when there is plenty of room inside. It’s free marketing, why not?

Ribs, Pork, and Brisket and of course there is only one way to cook them in order to win and that is usually known only by the person who wins first place in each category or is there more than one way?

It seems like a lot of the same KCBS judges are seen at a lot of the same events, and if a lot of the same teams compete at these events why isn’t the winner always the same? Who knows, but I can only come to one conclusion.

You’re probably wondering what that is… What is the secret to winning? What is the one thing you need to pull out a GC at almost every other event, Left Coast Q knows, but they aren’t telling me. So I can only guess…

Are you ready? I have followed a lot of the greats that have strung along multiple GC’s together and they all seem to have one thing in common constant consistency across all variables. Barbecue is a chemical science, and when you are able to duplicate results you can adjust the variables just enough so the final product is exactly what you want.

So how do you do this? There are thousands of variables in BBQ how do you duplicate results?  It’s basically the same way a bowler can bowl a perfect game, or how a pitcher is capable of pitching a perfect game; it takes a shit ton of practice and that has to be done at an obsessively perfect level.

The teams that are winning over an over again, Left Coast Q, Simply Marvelous, Big Poppa Smokers, and Slap Yo Dadd barbecue ALL the time. It is their life. They live it, eat it, breathe it, and sleep it. If their not talking about it their doing it and when you are that familiar with a process that you do almost daily, changes in your variables become second nature. You develop a 6th sense for barbecue.

Left Coast Q is extremely focused. BBQ Comps is all they do. They are not selling BBQ products, they are not doing TV shows, and they are not teaching classes. They just BBQ week after week after week. I believe that staying focused, as in any form of competition, gives you that much more of an edge. For Left Coast Q it shows, on top of winning 5 of their last 11 they won Pechanga by 16 points. That’s a lot… People need to get their shit together if they think they even have a chance of competing with these guys.

Don't get me wrong of course your food has to taste good. It needs to have that perfect balance of sweet, salt, and spicy flavor. It needs to have the perfect texture, it needs to snap in your mouth when you bite into it, and it can't fall apart or be to hard, but how do you do that? How do you know when it's perfect?

This I actually have the answer to... It needs to be boring. Yep you heard me right. Harry Soo said it best, it needs to be "Extraordinarily Ordinary BBQ". Each bite must tell a story. It must take you through all the flavors and can't be even slightly dominated by one or the other.

If you take a bite and you say to yourself, "It's too... whatever." You're fuck'd, that's just how it is. If it's too anything you are out of the running. If it's too soft, sweet, spicy then it's too far out of first.

You're shit has to look good. If that is something you struggle with then hire a food stylist for a day and work with them to help you make your shit look good. If something looks good you already have a biased in your head that it is going to taste good.

Now I know people say that the temperature of the food doesn't matter... That is bull shit cause if it comes down to a tie break the hotter food will have the edge. It's the same reason beer companies sell you how cold their beer is, "Ice... cold... refreshing... you could blow me beer." They have no control over how cold it is. It just sounds better.

This right here is a picture of a beautiful Grand Champion sample plate provided by the champions themselves Left Coast Q. See how pretty it is? And yes it is all perfect in taste and nothing was too anything. I had a feeling based on their recent success that they would win so I asked that they prepare this pretty plate for me so I could show you what perfection looks like.

You can think I am wrong, you can think I am full of shit, or that I don't know what the fuck I am talking about but the fact of the matter is you are ones competing, not me. You know what you do, you know what works, you're just making excuses for not being your own Grand Champion or you just don't want it bad enough.

Here is a link to the final results to the 2013 Pechanga BBQ Competition on the KCBS website.

I wish you all the best of luck and I hope if the planets align correctly Left Coast Q will let me document their journey to the Jack Daniels for all of you to see. *clearing throat* Matt now would be a good time to text me and say, "Hey Sean wanna shoot a documentary on our trip to the Jack Daniels?"

To be continued...

Good LUCK!!!
Sean Rice

P.S. More episodes to come on Meat Inc. I have been busy and trying to produce a youtube show by yourself is hard. So hang tight and I promise you more content soon.