For the 4th year in a row, Harry and I participated in the Dana Point championships in southern California. Without a doubt, Dana Point is known as one of California’s premier contests and for good reason. It’s got something for nearly everyone that participates.
As a judge, you can put your trust in a contest run by some of the best KCBS representatives around; Kelly & Kathleen McIntosh, Steve & Merrialyce Alvarez, Steven Flewallen and Gene Goycochea. With some of the best teams in the state and a few other states too, you will get some great BBQ. And then there is the dessert where teams will wow you with their grandest creations.
As a cook, Dana Point offers team members a complimentary Friday afternoon whale watching trip, a delicious Friday dinner with beer, a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning, an opportunity to serve the public and earn back a few dollars, and a souvenir T-shirt to take home. The free T-shirts, and aprons or hats that you can purchase work well to promote this contest. You will see pitmasters and judges proudly wearing these souvenirs as mementos of a great contest all year long. It’s an easy favorite.
As a visitor, Dana Point is a cool destination on a weekend that was pretty much hotter everywhere else. So why not drive to the coast with the family and enjoy some great BBQ from vendors and BBQ teams? Besides, proceeds from the BBQ sales benefit the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Other than the teams, judges and KCBS reps, the three people who really make Dana Point possible are Kevin Evans, the Director of Community Services and Parks Department at Dana Point, Monique Leon, the Administrative Secretary for the Parks and long time contest organizer, Arlie Bragg. Each one of these people is a true professional and when a contest has almost 100 teams, 100+ judges and thousands of visitors, the combined effort is almost super human.
Sea Terrace Park was recently renovated to provide more space for teams. A hill was newly surfaced with grass and faucets of potable water were available for the first time this year. This opened up the team capacity to 120. To this point, the largest contest to date was a year ago here, at 99 teams.
We arrived in the Fong-Soo-mobile (better known as the Honda Odyssey minivan) with the Lexus for the extra help (our daughters Amy and Miranda) at 10:30am to a beautifully surfaced lawn. We introduced ourselves to our neighbors and then began the task of unpacking and setting up our home for the next 30 hours. There was a nice breeze at the time so it didn’t feel too bad yet.
By 2pm, teams that wanted to go on the whale watching trip were at the harbor boarding the Dana Point Wharf boat for a two-hour trip.
We arrived early at the boat and followed the lead from our resourceful friend, Peter Graves of Big Fire from Tempe, Arizona, and grabbed a slice of pizza, a drink and some ice cream as our lunch.
With our bellies full, we were ready to take in the boat cruise. The cool ocean air was a refreshing reprieve from the hot land we had just left. Though we didn’t encounter any whales, we saw dozens, if not hundreds of common dolphins swimming alongside our boat. These dolphins have patches of white on either side of their bodies and they were feeding in a very large bait ball of sardines not very far off the coast. Included in the bait ball were hundreds of birds and sea lions. We were all mesmerized by the level of activity before us.
We returned to the contest site by way of a large yellow bus. There was enough time to clean up and do a few BBQ chores before our team dinner in the tent. Luxe, a local restaurant catered what turned out to be the best contest dinner to date!
The menu included veal meatloaf, Caprese salad, salmon and pasta with a red sauce, vegetable melody, green leaf salad, bruschetta, chicken kabobs and unlimited beer. Actually, I made it ¾ of the way down the buffet line before I ran out space on my plate. I silently cursed myself for my rookie error. My family owns a number of All You Can Eat buffets and I really should have known better!
I looked across the table to see what I had missed but the complimentary beer kept me from taking a second helping. I was glad our daughters had the energy to bring over the chocolate cake, cream puffs and tiramisu for us later one. It was a really great dinner.
Kevin Evans welcomed the teams and graciously thanked all of the volunteers who made the contest possible. He presented Monique a Phalaenopsis orchid for all of her hard work. Arlie went over the rules and reminded teams that the quiet hours of 11-7am were to be observed. As he was saying this, he kept staring to his right. I guess there were some rowdy folks over there. I wouldn’t have noticed as the contest was as quiet as could be for us.
Afterwards, our daughters stood in line to collect the People’s Choice cups and forks and a grey Dana Point T-shirt for each team. This year’s shirt featured all of the team names in the back. The American Royal also does something similar for a poster each year. For a moment, I thought of the California and Arizona brothers and sisters that were cooking at the Royal this weekend and wished them well. We returned to our tents to a cool evening breeze and went about our work. Then we checked into the hotel for a much-needed shower and returned to the contest, leaving the girls to enjoy the hotel room.
By the time midnight had arrived, we heard more snoring than anything else. I’m usually pretty tense and sleep evades me. I envy those who can sleep with ease. Harry can always sleep no matter what.
No one was partying in our area, which was field A. I got the feeling it was the quiet field. The contest site was divided into three sections, with field A being on the top of the hill and field C being where the vendors were located and where the public entered.
We had the advantage of a nice view and the ability to hear the crashing of the ocean waves which bounced off of the hills that surrounded us. Above us was the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort where for $635/night, you could get an ocean view with two queen beds. Even though we were paying about $1000/night for this grassy spot, we appreciated the view of the hillside with two old sleeping bags and a small air mattress inside the minivan. The waves and the moonlight made for a very enjoyable evening.
The sun was kind and didn’t rise ’til 6:47am, giving us a short reprieve. Most teams are wide awake by 5am, slowly working and waiting for pancake time to begin. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW Post #9934) worked diligently to serve us pancakes, strawberries, sausage, orange juice and coffee. It was a treat to not have to fend for ourselves, keeping us focused on cooking. Our daughters also brought a #2 breakfast from McDonalds to keep us going. They returned early to help us out.
Also helping us this weekend were Chris Allingham and his wife, Julie, from the Virtual Weber Bullet website. It was truly a delight having Chris and Julie on our teams. I felt a little embarrassed to ask Chris to foil my heat deflector when he was the person who taught me how to foil on the virtual weber bullet.
Even so, Chris was interested in the details of our work and was happy to help out in any capacity. Julie was a good sport and tagged along. When Julie asked me a question about pork shoulder anatomy, Chris winced in embarrassment that she didn’t know the answer. We all laughed and tried to think of more embarrassing questions for Julie to ask in the morning. They are very cute loving couple.
Dana Point has only one area for Porta Potties and these are located just beyond the judge’s tent. Luckily for us, it was not a far walk. After the 3rd or 4th time to the potties, I usually figure out which is the cleanest one and go with that one for the rest of the contest. This time, it was the second one beyond the first hand sanitizer. I was careful to avoid the first few toilets as it is my belief that the closest toilets get the most use.
By 10am, we could hear Kelly McIntosh’s voice over the loud speaker, instructing judges to line up and find up a table. For a moment, I missed my friends inside the tent and wondered how it was going on in there. I paused a bit here and there to chat with a rep when my box broke, enjoying the shade.
Up and down the California coast was a high surf and heat advisory. The temperature high for Dana Point was a scorching 96ºF by 3pm on Saturday. That’s 20ºF higher than what is normal for the area. Luckily, Harry had just bought a commercial size fan which we lugged to the contest and it proved invaluable. The fan pushed air from Harry’s tent into mine and out towards Peter’s site. We easily fit all three teams into two sites since we are all minimalist at heart.
Visitors came by for samples and our daughters handed out 2oz samples for a ticket in exchange until all of Harry’s meat ran out. After turn-ins were done for the four meats, there was a 45min break before the dessert entries. My cousin arrived to assist my daughter and I for the dessert entry. Chris and Harry worked on his entry. The tempo turned into high gear suddenly. As our team has beaten Harry’s team in dessert for many years, Harry was determined to turn in a better entry than us, for the first time. We took a taste and thought he never stood a chance against our lemon cheesecake.
After it was all over, we roasted in the 96ºF heat for a bit before starting the arduous clean-up process. Julie brought back some lemonades to rehydrate what was lost in effort to craft perfect looking boxes. My daughter wandered into the vending area to get a henna tattoo and Amy Soo went to the beach and watched the paddle boat race. They both came back tanned from the sun and happy.
Though there were almost a hundred teams, Dana Point was so well organized that you never felt its size until dinner time or the awards ceremony. So when turn-ins were done and we found ourselves in the tent again, it surprised me how many teams I had not seen in the prior 24 hours.
The rookies vying for the Rookie of the Year title were all in attendance. The two top rookies are SYD alumni: Alan Seamans of Pork Daddy’s BBQ from Sacramento and Mike Brady of Smoke Hound BBQ from Ontario. In third place was Scott Rodriguez of Toot and Stinky from Fountain Valley who were our neighbors. Then there was and Chris Cave of M.A.C. BBQ Shack from San Jose down the hill from us and then our friend, Steve Botkin of Desperado from Anaheim further down in another field. We wished them all luck as the year long contest comes to a close.
To my surprise, the judges ended up liking Harry’s entry slightly better than ours and he beat us out by a mere point. Miranda took it hard but it was a good lesson in sportsmanship. Harry was ecstatic. He finally beat the now 10-year phenomenon but Butcher’s Daughter has the better placing overall.
We will meet again two weeks later in Lancaster! The plan is to go head-to-head, Butcher’s Daughter against Slap Yo’ Daddy using only Donna’s 14.5-inch WSM vs. Harry’s tamale pot. We will start off with the same meats and go head-to-head using Harry’s new rubs. Let’s see who can do better this time!
Many thanks go out to the event organizers for a very memorable contest and we congratulate all of the winners, especially our friends Stephen Franklin who took Grand Champion and Jason Miranda who went home as the Reserve Grand Champion. We enjoy this contest every year and it is always a special time with our daughters who make this a true family event.