Barbecue for 250 people is no mean feat, it is a meat feat. And the only way that it happened at the 2019 All Clubs BBQ and South Bay Cycling Awards is through the application of the genius of some seriously professional pitmasters.
Between Harry McQueen, Patrick Barrett, Reggie Walter and his buddy Mike, and Geoff Loui, this crew cranked out 13 briskets, 224 sausage links, 120 chicken breasts, 30 slabs of ribs and about 176 boneless thighs. In other words, if you showed up for this event you were going home full as a tick, and that’s not counting the sides for each plate (six of ’em) prepared by the Flawless Diamonds catering crew.
Sam Selfridge, Chris Miller, and Patrick showed up at 6:00 AM and quickly began to cook the day’s ribs. In order to pay his volunteers and skate the state’s labor laws, Patrick cooked Texas breakfast tacos on site, with a pot of scalding hot coffee that left everyone’s mouth and tongue in ruins, as camp coffee should.
It would be a long day, and since the pitmasters were also pitted against each other in a contest that would be judged by three highly qualified barbecue experts or whoever could be culled from the crowd vaguely sober, the tension was so thick you could cut it with beer and whiskey, which is exactly how it got cut, reducing the tension to the point that it was nonexistent.
Pitmasters always compete and eye each other over every detail, and nothing is more keenly eyed than the way the fire gets started. While Reggie pulled out a gallon of lighter fluid to start his fire, Harry unleashed his full-fledged propane flame thrower and lit his charcoal with Tim Allen gusto. Several small trees were incinerated in the process, and a large granite stone was reduced to magma.
Pitmaster Geoff was nowhere to be seen unless you happened to be lying next to him in bed.
Things went very smooth for everyone, at least as far as any of them could remember, and mostly, they couldn’t. Some pitmasters started with chicken, others with ribs. Geoff started with toast and jam as he fumbled for his trousers somewhere at home. At this point the picnic grounds were pretty empty except for Ken, Kristie, and their one-man helper team Seth, who basically did all the work, at least that’s what he said.
The cooks enjoyed each other’s company, carefully making sure that no one sabotaged the other guy’s meat with a gasoline rub. As more folks came to help Ken and Kristie set up, lessons from last year were applied such as threatening people with beheading if they tried to sneak food off the grill. Later in the day a few irate guests returned with charred bits that looked like fingers and thumbs of people who’d tried their hand at grill larceny and failed.
Geoff showed up at 11:00, fresh, rested, and almost ready for his noontime nap. He had cooked everything ahead of time, gotten a full night’s sleep, and was ready to boogie or nap, whichever came first. The pitmasters met and prepared the process for getting the food to the people and also to the judges. After the initial 12:00 PM feeding frenzy, with problems including Patrick’s uncooked/unchoked chicken, confusion with the food runners, and general startup disorganization, the pitmasters all sat back and waited for the next batch of food to come off the grills. Once the kinks were unkinked it was a well oiled and a well smoked machine.
People lined up, brisket on the line first, then sides, and then ribs and chicken. The Flawless Diamonds would call out when food needed replenishing, and you’d either hop to it or face the wrath of Toni. Every once in a while a guest would come over and thank one of the pitmasters with a plate of happy food. Together they shared a cold beverage and took a bit of time to relax while the assembly line did its thing.
Once cleanup was done, the pitmasters began to hang out in the front area facing the stage. Except for Harry … because he gathered his band of merry musicians, looking like he’d exerted no energy despite cooking for two straight days, and tore the place down with his music. Harry made everything look easy, kind of like the food cooked itself, the harmonica played itself, and he was simply along for the ride.
Someone (not from Texas) once asked, “What is the significance of BBQ to the universe?” It’s a good question if you’re not from Texas, but basically, sonny, it goes like this:
Everyone eats food, which falls into two categories, fast food and family dinner food. But barbecue, you see, is so far from either of those because it takes forever to make. What it means to the universe, and especially what it can do to help Los Angeles, is SLOW THE FUCK DOWN.
Yeah. SLOW THE FUCK DOWN.
Have patience. Get together with people you know, people you don’t know yet, people you like, and people you’re going to like, and SLOW THE FUCK DOWN. Serve yourself a big plateful of patience. Bring other humans together for hours and hours, resulting in a big payoff, a payoff of food and a payoff of camaraderie, and hopefully not a payoff of a nasty hangover the next day.
But it’s not easy, because after twelve hours of cooking you have no guarantee of success. The connective tissues in the meat may not give up after all that time and be tougher than granny’s bra strap, the flavor may taste like boiled ass, or it may be so over cooked that you can use it to patch potholes. So to get it right, you have to SLOW THE FUCK DOWN, pay attention, care, and don’t overreact when things aren’t going just right. With barbecue, like life, you’re not really in control, you’re just tending the garden while the sunshine and water do all the real work.
Hopefully Los Angeles is on the heels of a BBQ revolution and can learn from this slow, delicious meat candy, can learn to STFD.
Barbecue can also educate you. Mike, Reggie’s assistant, shared his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz when the DJ powered up his system. Some musical phrase triggered Mike into a passionate discourse about modern jazz artists. It came out of nowhere and the passion that he had was incredible. That’s part of the barbecue magic, too.
The contest came and went, with judges Sherri Foxworthy, Alfie Sanchez, and Jon Regnery making the hard decisions about who would win top honors. Thanks to Patrick’s rigged system he won again, but no one really got too upset because even though Geoff showed up late and perfectly groomed, he also showed up with several cases of ice cold beer, which studies show alleviates aggravation almost instantaneously.
Jon donated one of his beautiful True Au Jus barbecue cutting boards as the grand prize winner, a work of art that is almost too pretty to deface with raw meat.