The Brentwood couple will load up their two Weber grills and head out to Lakeport to compete in the Smoke on the Water California Barbecue Championship, a cook off competition affiliated with the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS). It’s only the couple’s second cook-off competition, but after placing fifth overall at the West Coast Barbecue Championship in Fairfield three weeks ago, they’ve decided to put their skills to the test again.
Chuck and Cindy have always enjoyed cooking, but they never thought about competing until a month ago when a friend suggested the duo take their barbecue talents to the professional circuit.
“We didn’t know anything about barbecue competitions, but we thought we’d give it a try,” Chuck said. “The next competition was just a week away so I looked it up online and signed us up. It was completely impulsive. I had no idea what we were getting into.”
During KCBS competitions, teams must prepare chicken, ribs, pork roast and brisket. Teams are judged based on presentation, taste and texture, and competitors come from all over the country to participate in these competitions. While Chuck and Cindy are novices, cooking on grills you can find at Home Depot, other teams haul in 20-ft grills that cost thousands of dollars.
“Some people go to the competitions for fun, but other people mean business,” Chuck said. “They come in with these huge grills – just like the ones you see on the Food Network. Everyone is really friendly, but no one is giving up their cooking secrets. No one will let you know what’s in their sauce. They won’t even let you try their sauce because they don’t want you to be able to figure out that secret ingredient.”
Chuck and Cindy came prepared with their own specialty seasonings and sauces, but they didn’t realize how intense the competition would be.
Before official competition begins, competitors get to warm up their grills in the mystery meat competition where teams are given a piece of meat and have to cook it within a specified time limit. Unfortunately, Chuck and Cindy’s team Bowling Over Pigs (a name derived from their love of bowling) didn’t solve the mystery to cooking the meat just right and came in last place out of 37 teams.
“That’s all we didn’t want to do was to finish dead last,” Cindy recalled. “We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves, but luckily it didn’t count toward the official score. It was a bonus competition, so we took it as a learning experience.”
Like any seasoned competitor, the couple shook off their misfortune and regrouped for the main event.
While most people think barbecuing is what they do in their backyards, Chuck said that’s merely grilling. Real barbecue takes hours of slow cooking, smoking the meat to perfection. This means firing up the grill around midnight and cooking through the wee hours of the morning to have the meat ready for presentation at noon.
Cindy and Chuck stayed up all night, monitoring their meat while talking with fellow pitmasters and watching movies on a laptop computer. The long hours paid off, though, when the judges announced Bowling Over Pigs placed third in the pork roast competition, which heavily contributed to the duo finishing fifth overall.
For now, Chuck and Cindy keep their trophies on the dining room table, walking by every now and then to relive the memory of that afternoon just a few weeks ago.
“We were shocked,” Cindy said. “We just wanted to go and have a good time and enjoy the experience. We didn’t want to be last again, but when they called our name, we were floored. I still can’t believe it.”
Chuck said he didn’t even grasp that they’d placed so well until he realized Cindy’s cheering was for their own victory.
“I heard them call our name, but it didn’t sink in,” Chuck recalled. “The guy next to me nudged me and then I looked over at Cindy and she’s just screaming. It was unbelievable. We didn’t win the grand prize, but for this being our first competition, it was just as good as coming in first.”
After getting a taste of the competition, Chuck and Cindy are hooked on cook-off contests, and following this weekend’s competition in Lakeport, the couple will prepare for competition in Clovis later this month.
Chuck said he’s already looking at the competition calendar for next year, and if things at his business, Chuck’s Electric, aren’t too busy, he’d like to travel to competitions in Las Vegas and Talledega, Ala. And as they gain confidence in their cooking abilities, they might even consider catering on the side.
“This is a great hobby,” Chuck said. “I don’t think we’ll go pro – maybe if we win some big competitions, we’ll think about it. But for now, we’re just having fun.”