Legit barbecue contests like the ones you see on TV don't happen much in Los Angeles. Did you make it to the contest at Santa Anita Park we told you about? No? Well, the inaugural West Coast BBQ Classic drops anchor this weekend at the Queen Mary Events Park in Long Beach, and it is the last sanctioned contest scheduled this year in L.A. County. You will have to travel to Orange County if you want to attend any others remotely nearby for the rest of 2012.
At Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned contests like this one, teams start cooking the night before and smoke four required meats: chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket. Their challenge is to cook each meat perfectly for judging at set times on Saturday afternoon. Each meat has a small window of perfection, neither undercooked and tough nor overcooked and mushy. Your awareness of what time the meat is optimally cooked is one big difference between the meat served in BBQ restaurants and the food you can sample at contests. The other difference: Contest cooks are used to the pressure of head-to-head judging, so they make far better barbecue as a rule than BBQ restaurants. Being a contest cook, I am biased, but the rule holds.
In Long Beach, 37 cook teams will compete, and many of them will sample to the public. Non-competing food vendors also will be on hand. The event opens to the public at 11 a.m., and judging starts at noon. Teams submit their very best pieces for judging in 30-minute intervals, then the public can sample what's left. The turn-in schedule is chicken at noon; pork ribs 12:30; pork shoulder 1; beef brisket 1:30.
Your strategy is to be on line at every half-hour, especially for the popular pork rib category. Many teams (even top champions) cook on small backyard smokers with very little cooking capacity, so if you show up late, you are S.O.L.
Some bigger teams used to cooking for large crowds also will compete. Look for contest stars like Brazen BBQ of San Diego, All Hogs Go to Heaven hailing from Lancaster, Ventura's Simply Marvelous BBQ and hometown hero Big Mista's BBQ from Long Beach.
General admission to the West Coast Classic is $10 and includes one 2 oz. sample. Purchase one additional sample ticket for $2; six samples for $10; or 13 for $20. Children 12 and under are free; admission to the kids zone is $5. Parking is $12.
West Coast BBQ Classic: Saturday, May 12. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.. BBQ sampling starts approximately at noon through 1:30 p.m. or when supplies run out. Queen Mary Event Park; 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach.
Shuji Sakai competes with the Four Q BBQ Team. You will find him in the judge's tent at this contest. Follow him on Twitter and professorsalt.com.