Horse racing and competition barbecue make for strange bedfellows once again at Santa Anita Park tomorrow. The Win, Place and BBQ Showdown brings back over thirty top BBQ teams to the grassy infield, where you can lose your shirt on the ponies, then lament your gambling losses with samples of smoky, comforting, world-class barbecue.
The teams are competing for a $10,000 prize purse and bragging rights, so the eating public rightfully should ask what's in it for them. Besides the four competition meat categories of chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket, many teams prepare alternative smoked favorites strictly for the crowd. Pitmaster favorites like atomic buffalo turds, that is, bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, will surely show with smoked chicken wings and pig candy: brown sugar and spicy bbq rub-coated bacon smoked until crisp and caramelized.
In the past five years, the sport of competition barbecue grew from its Midwestern and Southern roots to an international phenomenon thanks to exposure on TV shows like BBQ Pitmasters. The local California contest circuit has boomed into the country's fastest-growing region for the Kansas City Barbecue Society. California teams made a big statement several weeks ago by sending almost 5 % of the 545 teams at the American Royal in Kansas City, the biggest contest of all.
For the first time in the American Royal Invitational's history, the Grand Champion came from California: Big Poppa Smokers, hailing from Indio. You can meet Big Poppa this weekend and other veterans of TV's BBQ Pitmasters show. Bigmista's BBQ, Lady of Q, and Canada's DivaQ BBQ are among the top teams competing at Santa Anita.
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This weekend's event is the final sanctioned barbecue contest in L.A. County for 2012. It will be your last chance to attend one before December contests in Vista and Lake Elsinore.
The Win, Place, and BBQ Showdown is free with $5 admission to the racetrack. Parking costs $4. Tasting tickets cost $1 each, sold in packs of ten. Gates open at 11:00 a.m., and racing begins at 1:00 p.m.
Shuji Sakai is a BBQ competitor, judge and instructor and has appeared on TLC's BBQ Pitmaters 2. He writes about the contest circuit in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter and professorsalt.com. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.