As you walked down the entrance to Main St. in Historic Downtown Vista, you could smell the event blocks away. The 7th Annual Vista BBQ Classic could just as easily been called Carnivores Delight. If you are a meat eater, this was the place to be last Saturday. The BBQ contest actually began that Friday as the cook-off contestants began to pull in and set up their tents, trailers, grills and other items they would need to begin the process of preparing the various meats they would be entering in the BBQ Classic.
This K.C.B.S. sanctioned contest is headed up locally by Dale and Tammy Ginos of When Pigs Fly BBQ and Catering, located at 1211 E. Vista Way. K.C.B.S. stands for Kansas City Barbeque Society. This group was the brainchild of Carolyn and Gary Wells and Rick Welch beginning in 1985. Starting out small, they would have contests, monthly meetings and a newsletter that would grow to some 1,500 members by 1993 and today their membership is more than 19,000. The group sanctions barbeque contests all over the United States, numbering some 450 events a year.
Photos by Philippe Carre
Photos available for sale at www.bountyphotographie.com
Downtown Historic Vista is becoming the place to hold community events and on any given weekend Main Street and many of the side streets are blocked off and become the scene of booths selling a variety of items and the sound of music drawing visitors down the streets. The Vista BBQ Classic offered a great variety of booths selling anything from the World’s Best Peeler to Military Salsa to Deaf Man’s BBQ Sauce to hats, jewelry and everything in between. The Military Salsa booth sold salsa and a portion of the proceeds went to the Welcome Home Soldier Foundation. I spoke with the owner of Old West Soda from Riverside who specialized in a variety of soda flavors with root beer being the main seller. He said he remembered when this event started it was a small contest that occurred the Saturday before the Sunday Vista Rod Run. There was even the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs of Coney Island, New York, trailer complete with inflatable slide for the kids. But the highlight of this event were the booths, tents and trailers that housed the contestants who had paid $300 per team ($325 if you were also entering the dessert contest) to try and win different categories of barbeque cooking. There were 54 teams for the Vista Classic. When the Classic first started there were 23 teams. Some of the teams were new to the event and some had been attending since the start of this contest, 7 years ago. As I walked around and spoke with many of the teams I began to get a feel for the passion each team had for this cooking art of preparing barbeque dishes.
Some of the teams were very small, two cooks, and some had a primary cook and numerous helpers. Derrick Judge, of 2LiveQ from San Diego, said he wanted to create “a Wow with 1 bite”. The Amerique Competitive BBQ Team, headed by Warren Wilson and Rudy Hilo from San Gabriel Valley, had many family members around them for support and to enjoy the experience. There was even a BBQ Food truck called Devil Dog BBQ, which sets up for sales on Camp Pendleton. They said their job was to “Try and please their customers, not the judges”. Everyone had a story, everyone had a special set-up and way of preparation. I found when I asked them what their secret was, most did not want to divulge what they did to make their barbeque special other than to say they used “rubs and spices”. One two man brother team, Toot & Stinky’s Cali-Q from Riverside, participating in just their second years in Vista, was the first tent on Main Street, farthest out from the Judges Tent where the judged food was to be brought. Their name comes from childhood nicknames. “Toot” said this was a very expensive, but fun, hobby. They enter what contests they can, when it doesn’t interfere with other family obligations. They actually placed 6th overall for the Vista event. Twisted Brisket, out of Costa Mesa, had the largest set-up and they had long lines all day purchasing their food. They also had a side tent set-up that was for their competition team. Clever team names are also a part of the event such as Hoggin Gone Wild BBQ, Money, Smoke & Beer, Swimming in Smoke, Thank the Lard BBQ and What Wood Jesus Que?.
Other that tasting the incredible barbeque, there was an even more exciting part of the Vista BBQ Classic. As for the tasting, there was a charge for the booths that did allow tastes, tokens could be purchased – 1 for $3, 4 for $10 and 10 for $20. Only booths with pink signs took part in this and only at certain times. Many of the smaller booths were not taking part as they were concentrating on preparing meats for the contest. The tastings did not start until noon. Many of the larger trailers, that not only were taking part in the contest but also served as food trailers, offered a variety of items for sale ranging from rib plates to brisket or pulled pork sandwiches.
As to the exciting part of the Vista Classic, this was watching the team members bringing their meat items at the specified time to the judge’s tent. The process worked like this. The teams had to follow a specific set of rules concerning the food preparation. The competition meats were inspected by the KCBS approved meat inspector during the times established by the contest organizer. For the chicken category it could include Cornish Game Hen and Kosher chicken. For Pork Ribs the bone must be included and country style ribs were prohibited. For Pork it had to weigh a minimum of four pounds and must be turned in chopped, pulled, sliced or chunked. For Beef Brisket – corned beef was not allowed. Jason Miranda, owner of ZZYZX BBQ and winner of the Newport Beach BBQ contest, said for the Pork category most of the contestants were submitting pork shoulder, specifically a portion he referred to as the “money muscle”. I tasted some of his pork and it was excellent. Garnish on the presentations is optional as is sauce, but the sauce must be applied directly to the meat.
The judging begins with the chicken category. Contestants must turn in 6 pieces of chicken at noon. A count-down begins at one minute to noon, with an organizer yelling out 1 minute, 30 seconds, 15 seconds, 10 seconds down to time. Absolutely no food is accepted when time is up. Next comes Ribs at 12:30, then Pulled Pork at 1:00, then Brisket at 1:30, then Dessert at 2:15. Not all of the teams enter the Dessert category. Teams were literally sprinting to the tent with their containers to make the deadline. All participants put their meats in similar containers that are numbered. These numbers are then changed once they are turned in by a team member. The containers are then divided and go to tables with anywhere from 5-6 sanctioned KCBS judges. The meats are first judged by Appearance, then Taste then Tenderness. For the Vista contest there were 60 judges. They are kept hidden from the public and from the teams. Only after the judging is over can they go out and visit with the teams. I spoke with a couple from El Cajon, Tom and Char Spring, who came to the Vista Classic not to eat anything, but to wander the streets checking out the grills and other cooking processes and to watch the competing teams as they made their way to the judges tent. As Michael Bustamate, of Dia de Los Puercos from La Quinta, was leaving the judges tent I asked him how he thought they did. He said it all depends on the judges table your meat container goes to. He said they took first in ribs at Newport Beach and 8th overall so they had high hopes for this event.
The scoring is a complicated, but fair system. The scoring system is from 9 to 2. ( is excellent, 8 very good, 7 above average, 6 average, 5 below average, 4 poor, 3 bad and 2 inedible. A score of one is a disqualification. The lowest score received is thrown out and results tallied. A perfect score would be 180 points. There is a system for breaking any ties they may have to ensure that only one true winner is reached for each category. Cumulative points for the four meat categories determines the Grand Champion and the Reserve Grand Champion. The first week in October is the Grand-daddy of the barbeque events, the American Royal in Kansas City where over 500 teams will compete.
I spoke at some length with Marcel Fortin, one of the KCBS judges, from Riverside, who had already judged 9 contest this year and will finish the year by judging an additional 6 events. He became a judge because of his love of BBQ beef sandwiches. Someone told him if he loved barbeque so much, become a judge and get your fill of BBQ meat. He joined the SoCal BBQ Association, became a judge then this led to the KCBS organization. If you go to www.kcbs.us you can click on how to join, how to become a judge and the site also includes recipes if you are a member.
Dale Ginos, event organizer and owner of “When Pigs Fly”, said, “The event was a great success. All participants had a great time and consider this their favorite contest. Six years ago we brought 23 teams to town. Now we have nearly 60. Feedback from the teams is very positive, they love our downtown vibe. The food, the drink, the music and of course, the weather. I took a quick poll of the crowd and everyone I spoke to loved the event. We have already begun plans for next year”. The Vista BBQ Classic is certainly one of the stars for downtown Vista. If you haven’t attended, add this to your list of things to do in Vista for next year.
Results of the Vista BBQ Classic:
- Grand Champion – ZZYZX Bar B.Q. – Jason Miranda – Rancho Cucamonga
- Reserve Champion – My Smokin’ Grillfriend
- 3rd place – Smokin’ Mo’s BBQ
- My Smokin’ Grillfriend – Bakersfield
- Smokin’ Mo’s BBQ
- Simply Marvelous BBQ
- ZZYZX Bar B.Q.
- Bad Dog BQ
- Toot & Stinky Cali-Q – Riverside
- Simply Marvelour BBQ
- Bowling Over Pigs
- DG Firehouse BBQ
- JW Hayes BBQ
- ZZYZX Bar B.Q.
- Twisted Brisket BBQ – Candace Rice – White Chocolate Cheesecake with Oreo crust and strawberry glaze
- Toot & Stinky Cali-Q – Deconstructed S’more
- The Pit Crew BBQ of So Cal