MARTINEZ -- The high drama of intense amateur barbecue competition combined with family fun has made the eighth annual King of the County BBQ Challenge, Music Festival and Arts & Crafts Fair a Father's Day tradition for visitors, competitors and judges.
Mayor Rob Schroder prepared for his annual judging duties by not eating breakfast.
"I'm anticipating the ribs," Schroder said as the first entries began to arrive. "They are my favorite."
Apparently he was not disappointed by Jack Simmons' Big Shot Discovery Bay team, which took first place in Ribs and in the Chef's Choice category in the Sunday competition.
Although they were up against teams with expensive, esoteric equipment, Simmons and teammate Gina Darcangelo captured both prizes with backyard Webber grills (Smokey Mountain Webber for ribs) in their fifth year of competition.
"Every waking moment I think about barbecue," Simmons said. "This is our hobby. We try out recipes."
For their winning Chef's Choice entry, they prepared bacon-infused sliders -- after first experimenting with different percentages of ground bacon and beef -- and seasoned it with garlic and mushroom flavors. The meat was served on a bun with red onion, tomato and two kinds of cheese.
Another Webber devotee, Gary Lion's Smokin Lion BBQ from Walnut Creek took first place for Chicken on Saturday.
"We are ecstatic! We won on a little Weber," Lion said. His wife Linnea does the decorating and has won Best Booth decoration in the past.
For five years, Lion has freely shared his secrets for chicken, but continued to beat the competition.
"I use a Cajun dry rub and Kingsford charcoal, get the coals hot and add cherrywood smoke chips in foil, heat up the smoke pack and put chicken down," Lion explained.
Lion adds three replacement packs of chips as smoke diminishes to finish cooking.
"There is a lot of the seat-of-the-pants going on because the amount of charcoal varies with the ambient temperature, the wind, and how the vents are adjusted," Lion? noted.
Some contestants take a more academic approach. Coye Cheshire's Twin Pillars team from Concord and Pleasant Hill has been winning, but first place has eluded them for five years.
"We have been tweaking the original recipe," teammate Betty Cantrell said. "But we are amateurs. We took the KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) training, so we could know what the judges are looking for."
They learned that four pillars support barbecue culture, the four kinds of meats and four geographical locations: Memphis Tenn., Kansas City, North Carolina and Texas.
The King of the County BBQ Challenge has two meat categories -- ribs and chicken.
"That's how we chose our name," Cantrell explained.
It was exciting to learn that Twin Pillars fell just one point short of first place this year, and Cantrell said they would return to compete again.
In addition to the barbecue, there was music entertainment and craft booths.
John Stevens, CEO for the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event, scouted events from Bodega Bay, to Morgan Hill and Galt to find new vendors such as the homemade apron booth and different handmade jewelers.
The pony rides and the Water Ballz were new this year and a big hit with kids.
"We are focused on the fact that this is a family oriented event," Stevens said.
Martinez residents Jack and Annie Gant love to come for the barbecue dishes and music, but found that their dog was not welcome this year. After taking their canine home, they noticed three Labradors and a few others that had escaped eviction.
"We think there should be a doggy day care where visitors could check in their dogs," Annie suggested.
Laura Philpot agreed.
"That is a great idea."
As a chamber member, Philpot organizes the BBQ Challenge and recruits the judges.
On the 2014 judging panel were Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Walnut Creek Mayor Christina Lawson; Antioch Mayor Wade Harper; El Cerrito Vice Mayor Rebecca Benesini; Pleasant Hill Councilman Michael Harris; Concord Mayor Tim Grayson; Supervisor Federal Glover; Marty Ochoa, Concord City Council candidate Brent Trueblood; Martinez Ace Hardware general manger Wilma Hawkins; Scott Bland; Brian Philpot; New Mountain Grounds Coffee owner John Cassidy; Martinez Harbormaster Craig Paulsen; bocce champion Donna Allen-Doethe; Butch Robertson; Barrel Aged owner Arash Pakzad; Suzanne Schroder; Creek Monkey Tap House owner Jim Blair, with his father Steven and brother Mike; Rich and Mike Brown; and Mike Lopez, of the city of Santa Clara
Kansas City Certified Barbeque Judges were John Mosch, Marsha Moy, Milo Dodd, Paul and Peggy Brown, and Lori Leineki.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.
Winners of the King of the County BBQ Challenge and Music Festival
Saturday (39 competitors)
Sunday (21 competitors)