Blog for 1st Annual Harry Soo Groovin BBQ Backyard Cookoff

Outlaw BBQ - Grand Champion
Desperado team – Grand Champion (photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)


Rooster Que - Reserve Champion

Rooster Que – Reserve Champion (photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)


Congrats to Steve Botkin of Desperado for GC and Taylor Jonason of RoosterQue for RC.  Congrats to Noah Rosenstein of IL Prosciuito Violentofor 1st place tri tip, Taylor Jonason of RoosterQue for 1st place chicken with 180 points, and Vincent Soriano of Big Vinny BBQ for 1st place ribs.

In my prior Groovin BBQ Backyarder blog, I invited everyone to attend. I used that blog to highlight common complaints I’ve heard about competition barbecue over the years.  At the 1st Annual Harry Soo Groovin BBQ Backyard Cookoff, my goal was to address the top gripes and here’s how I dealt with them.

  1. It costs too much to enter a barbecue contest <We asked for $75 from each team which is a lot less than the $275-$350 entry free. Caveat . . . we did not have cash prizes but cool trophies hand made by Donna Fong>
    Very cool retro trophies (Photo courtesy of

    Very cool retro trophies (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  2. Why are there no “minor league” contests where I can practice for a nominal fee? <This backyarder is designed as a minor league contest for new teams>
    Photo courtesy of

    Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee

  3. $350 registration fee to pay is too much!  My wife will never allow me to enter contests! <Again, $75, enough said!>
    SYD Alumni Steve & Suzanne Lee drove in from Canada! (Photo courtesy of

    SYD Alumni Steve & Suzanne Lee drove in from Canada! (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  4. Cooking brisket and pork butt takes too long and is too difficult.  <We replaced it with tri-tip>
    Pitmaster fabricator Dan Ronchetti of BC Smokers (Photo courtesy of

    Pitmaster fabricator Dan Ronchetti of BC Smokers (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  5. Why don’t we have tri tip which is the official barbecue for California? <Really?  See #4>
    Searing tri tip just before judging (Photo courtesy of

    Searing tri tip just before judging (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  6. The public and visitors can smell and see barbecue but there is no way they can sample. <We had a lot of public attend and provided free 2 oz samples of pork, smoked chicken salad, ribs, etc., prepared by Ira Pupko of Hog Heaven BBQ>
    We prepared 1,000+ free samples. Any donations benefited Michelle's Place (Photo courtesy of Brenda

    We prepared 1,000+ free samples. Donations benefited Michelle’s Place (Photo courtesy of Brenda  Magee)

  7. When there are barbecue tastings for the public, it’s not the same quality as what the judges taste <I asked Ira to cook competition BBQ which he did so the public got the real taste!>
    Ira and Lili on People's Choice duty (Photo courtesy of

    Ira and Lili on People’s Choice duty (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  8. There is no place for the public to sit and relax <The Maurice Car’rie Winery had grass, trees for shade, and plenty of benches>
    Lots of seating available for public to enjoy BBQ samples (photo courtesy

    Lots of seating available for public to enjoy BBQ samples (photo courtesy Brenda Magee)

  9. Host needs are not taken care of <I heard the winery store had the best Saturday sales in months due to our event being there. I also bought 3 cases to provide thank you bottles of peach/pineapple champagne for the CBJs who graciously showed up> 
    Alumni Ramon Rivera may have limited mobility but his passion and enthusiasm if off the charts (photo courtesy of

    Alumni Ramon Rivera may have limited mobility but his passion and enthusiasm is off the charts (photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  10. Do you help with charity with these contests? <Michelle’s Place was the beneficiaries.  We  raised several hundred from PC sales and I also donated to their worthwhile cause>
    Proceeds benefit Michelle's Place, a cancer non-profit (photo courtesy of

    Proceeds benefit Michelle’s Place, a cancer non-profit (photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  11. No one explains what’s going on and level and frequency of communications with the teams, judges, and volunteers is poor <Our website provided much information about the event and the judges, teams, volunteers found it easy to find information>
  12. There is no one to mentor new teams < We actually had 8 seasoned competitors to mentor the two dozen teams.  Mentors could advise but could not help hands on>
    Mentors Dale Ginos (L) and Neil Strawder (R) (Photo courtesy of

    Mentors Dale Ginos (L) and Neil Strawder (R) (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  13. I don’t know much about BBQ contest rules <Ben gave a great briefing on the rules>
  14. How do I make a box with garnish? <Harry demoed his 20-min Lazyman way of making KCBS boxes>
    Demo on Harry's Lazyman box garnish technique

    Demo on Harry’s Lazyman box garnish technique (photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  15. I like to barbecue and want to ask questions but there is no one to talk to as the teams are too busy <The teams and ambassadors/mentors spent a lot of time talking to the public who showed up>
  16. Will my backyard barbecue be judged by expert judges like CBJ’s? (Certified BBQ judges) <We had 20+ seasoned CBJs who graciously showed up>
    Open judging (Photo courtesy of

    Open judging (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

  17. Can I get feedback for my entries from the judges in addition to scores on my appearance, taste, and tenderness? <We had teams experience live judging American Idol style from the judges as they presented their meat in 10-minute intervals>
American Idol style judging

American-Idol style judging (Photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)

I’d like to personally convey a massive THANK YOU to the teams, judges, helpers, mentors, volunteers, Maurice Winery, Michelle’s Place, and organizing committee of the Goovin Backyarder.

I’m humbled by all the positive feedback from everyone. The overwhelming word I hear is “When can we do this again?”   Once we dig out from this event and enjoy the Holidays, our organizing committee will discuss what’s next.

I think my alumni said it best as to what they thought about what this event meant to them in their life journey of finding happiness through barbecue last Saturday.

Photographers Bob and Brenda Magee have taken some amazing pictures of the event and you can view the 300+ photos.  A extra thank you goes to Brenda and Bob for allowing me to use their pictures for this blog.  Full results are on the contest page.

Thanks again and Happy Holidays on behalf of the organizing committee and myself.

Warm regards,


It takes a small village to put on a backyarder for 23 teams!

Organizing Committee – it takes a small village to put on a backyarder for 23 teams! (photo courtesy of Brenda Magee)


Harry, what the Groovin Backyarder did for me as a new judge was to help me gain confidence in my taste buds by being able to hear the other judges at my table giving their feedback to the contestants, comparing them to my thoughts/tastes, and then listening to the cooks as they would take those comments and explain what they did or did not do that might have brought about those comments.

As a completely new low ‘n slow cook, I followed two of the mentors (Dale & Neil) as they did their rounds and tried to absorb as much wisdom and tips as I could.

I also learned valuable lessons from Donna on being an ATD type of person and Ben for seeing how smoothly such an event could be run.


Hello Harry, in thinking about what this event meant to my family team in our journey of finding happiness through barbecue last Saturday, here are my thoughts: We enjoyed all of the mentoring and open judging that allowed us to grow and learn. It was nice to see how helpful and friendly the barbecue community is. Thank you to all of the organizers and helpers that made this event possible and we look forward to competing again next year. Thanks Again,

Mike, Gayle & Amanda Brady
Smoke Hound BBQ


What a fun time at the 1st Annual Groovin BBQ Backyard Cookoff! Harry, Donna and Ben you all put on a fantastic event! As a judge I really liked interacting directly with the teams – more fun than a standard KCBS event. YES – do another when you can and if you need help let me know!


Hi Harry and Donna:

Gary Tackett here from West’s Best BBQ Team. It was great serving as a roving mentor and judge at table “C”. You and your committee did a great job of organizing and executing this event. The feedback we gave back to each team was thorough and in-depth. I wish such feedback was available when I first started cooking in contests in 1995. It took me literally years to  gain similar feedback that these teams got in one day !!  I hope they will benefit from this valuable experience as they progress in the art of “Q”.

You can count me in on future events !!


Harry, it is always a pleasure to help our BBQ family in any way we can. Personally, I received 2 forms of education out of this comp. First, as a CBJ with only 10 comps under my belt it was a great opportunity to to listen to the feedback other more seasoned and/or MCBJ’s. This in itself will make me a better judge by realizing areas I may or may not concentrate enough/too much on.

As you know, Bev and I begin our Rookie year as cooks in 2104. As a cook, hearing that same feedback from the other judges gave me an insight to what THEY are looking for. Yes, I am a judge, but cannot judge my own product, as it is all 9’s in my eyes 🙂 Not only was this competition an invaluable experience for cook’s and judges alike, it was an opportunity to see old friends, make new ones, and give back to the community. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to EVERYONE who was involved with this. We were ALL winners.

Todd Carpenter, Pitmaster @ All About The Q


Harry, my family and I think The First Annual Groovin Backyarder was a HUGE success.  The chilly predawn hours greeted our arrival, but quickly transformed into a warm, friendly, and fun day as the pits were fired, and friendships were formed.  The backyarder was a competition for sure, but for those of who participated, it was learning experience more than anything else.  It was a chance to explore this passion of ours in a challenging but safe and supportive environment.  It provide the teams with an opportunity to learn from the comments made by the judges, from friendly suggestions made by the mentors, and to learn mostly from each other.   I was fortunate to be near a couple really good, friendly teams who helped us a great deal.  Had I spent the day doing nothing more than watching those teams cook, I would be better today because of it.

Putting into practice what I learned by participating in the The First Annual Groovin Backyarder will help me be a better backyard cook, and will help guide the direction my passion for BBQ will follow.

Many thanks and much love to you, Donna and your family!

Rick Rogers, Back Alley BBQ


Hi Harry, this is Paul from BarBQ’s2Go. There’s too much to be said to be able to do it in a couple of sentence’s. My son, and cooking partner, David and myself had an awesome experience this past weekend at our very first competition BBQ and like the other’s “When and how soon can we do it again”? When it comes to barbequing, reading about it, watching others to do it, learning how to properly do it, and actually doing competitive bbq yourself is an entirely different thing. My son and I left the Groovin Backyarder with a gratefulness to all those involved in the making of this event come to life. It was actually the best training event we could have ever imagined. Having someone you don’t know judge your skills and tell you what they actually think about them was the best. The Groovin Backyarder gave us the kick in the pants we needed to go back and hone our skills and move to the next level. You will definitely see us again. Give our best to all that were involved. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all,

BarBQ’s2Go – Paul and Dave Murray


Harry, Donna, Ben and Ira, congratulations on a great event, we need more of them!

I know you will hear from the teams as to what a great event it was for them, so we would like to provide an observation as MCBJs who judged for 4 years before we started competing. First, if this event had been available before we launched our team, Standing Room Only BBQ might have made it into the top 10 by now 🙂

The feedback Chris and I heard from the teams was all very positive, and watching the judges work through this process demonstrated that it was just as beneficial to them. I believe we observed judges not only becoming better judges, but learning what the teams really go through in a contest; why some entries are better than others from a cooks perspective; and, oh yeah, teams are real people too – not just styrofoam boxes containing the world’s best BBQ.

Cooking with a team is certainly an excellent introduction to the teams and process, but your venue provided a much broader experience for judges.  This would be a GREAT KCBS continuing education tool for CBJs. Looking forward to your next one!

Best Regards, Kevin & Christine Davis


Harry, I just want to thank you for inviting my bbq team “Desperado” to compete with all of the other great bbq teams at your 1st annual BBQ contest. You are a great mentor that inspired me in real pitmaster cooking. To receive the 1st place award in my first ever bbq contest is beyond belief. My son Lee and I are greatly humbled on this 1st place win and now plan to compete in more bbq contests. Thank you again, 

Steve Botkin of “Desperado”.


Hey Harry, thanks again for everything you did to make this event happen. The event to me was a great learning experience which I know a lot of people would say. The biggest thing that I liked was being able to cook a competition and get instant feedback which I think helps a lot. I would rather know what I did wrong to make it better next time instead of not knowing and doing something wrong again and again. The judges assessments were spot on. It was really cool having mentors because I learned a bunch of tips that I guess aren’t talked about much. Neil helped me on a couple things and its the little tricks that make a difference I think.

Couple things I would change would be the over night camping situation. It was pretty tricky getting their at 5:30 to set up and have to set up in the dark and prep meat. It may get better with more experience but I felt rushed a little. Not a deal breaker by any means.

I think this event is a great stepping stone to 4 meat comps. I know a lot of these comps are expensive to do and that prohibits teams entrance. This comp gives you an idea what to expect if you are on the fence about competing more.

Thanks again, everyone involved was amazing. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Kevin and I are going to try to do the Santa Anita comp this year which will be a challenge since practicing butts and brisket are very time consuming.

–Taylor  RoosterQue


Harry, your intention to impact the lives of others continues and the impact you have to inspire us all is amazing.  I’m very glad to have taken your class, have you as a mentor, and gratified I was a part of your first competition.  I think you make a fantastic ambassador for this “sport”, and you and the team did a great job Saturday.  I’m sure there were unexpected hiccups and high stress but from our vantage point things went very smoothly and we were all very happy.

Vincent Soriano, Big Vinny BBQ


Harry, the best thing for me was I had several on my old friends from High School whom I have not seen in years come out just to visit and see what a BBQ Comp was all about. We had such a good time. I guess in the end it’s all about the friendship’s we make in life. Old ones and the new one’s that I made that day. Thanks.

Dan, BC Smokers


Harry, the Groovin Backyarder was a great intro to competition BBQ.  Everyone involved: The organizers, mentors, and judges, we’re helpful, and encouraging beyond expectations.  Going forward I can see this type of event serving as a minor league, or farm system to get BBQers ready for the next level.  I’ve cooked a lot of BBQ, but wasn’t sure what it took to compete.  The backyarder helped me understand what goes in to a competition.

Also, I met a lot of the other competitors, and it looks like we’ll be a great support group for each other.  The Groovin Backyarder fostered this camaraderie.  This was my first competition, but because of my experience there, it won’t be the last.

Noah Rosenstein, IL Prosciuito Violento


Harry, Donna, Ira & Ben, thank you very, very much for allowing me to be a part of this inaugural event.  I feel honored to be accepted as a volunteer on Saturday.  It’s a great feeling when you know that you’re assisting a great cause like Michele’s Place and helping these new pitmasters grow as competitors.

I had a great time meeting all the teams and giving them live feedback while judging.   This experience will undoubtedly help me improve as a competitor as well!

The officials from Imperial were blown away by the wealth of information they received.  Their City Planner (Jorge Galvan) is now on a mission to bring a fully sanctioned KCBS contest to Imperial, CA in 2015 or 2016.

Again, thank you very much and I hope to see you all on the competition trail this coming year.

Steve Aguilar, Vicious Smoke Competition BBQ Team, San Diego, CA