Just so you know we take the Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest seriously, we ended up with 14 judges for just 12 contestants this year. Of course, there was plenty of regular hedonistic fun to be had on June 26, when our now-usual, multiculti, multi-tasty food extravaganza party popped up at Oak Park. But the annual event, with 2014 being the fifth such incarnation, is really fueled by the passion and pride of our grillers.
Judge Mike Cohen, owner of the Santa Barbara Adventure Company, put it best. “I was impressed with the level of dedication and hard work that the chefs put into their creations,” said Cohen. “To try so hard to make such delicious food shows a passion and commitment to BBQ that is commendable. Cooking up all that love and bringing it to the people would make any local proud. All the dishes I tasted could hold their own in a national competition.”
There’s evidence to support that assessment, too, as some of our contestants have gone on to cook on the Food Network and NBC’s Today show and win Los Angeles Times’ burger contests. And we’re proud to see growth, too, such as how last year’s amateur winner, Gabriel Ibarra Jr., returned this year with restaurant experience under his belt to enter the professional bracket, an evolution that’s also happened in the past. All the judges made it clear their job, while tasty, was far from easy, and that crystallized when we had a tie in one of the two amateur heats and ended up sending three contestants onto the final round, not just two.
When the smoke cleared, these folks and their dishes emerged victorious.
Pro BBQ Plate Winner: Edie Robertson
Roasted-local-organic-coffee-, cumin-, and smoked-paprika-rubbed marinated filet mignon with a flame-roasted red bell pepper harissa plus pork belly medallion
It’s getting to the point we might just name this the Edie Robertson BBQ Contest and be done with it — she’s won the professional meaty plate twice now, judged once, and won the pro-am veggie twice. In fact, we killed that latter category this year due to lack of entrants, and we believe it may be because other would-be veggie grillers didn’t sign up out of sheer fear.
Robertson certainly shows no fear, which isn’t surprising given an almost comically wide-ranging résumé that includes the “jobs” of executive chef/co-owner of the Sojourner Café for 10 years, world champion skateboarder, and lead vocalist of the first American rock band to tour China. “My brain is always ticking, a blessing and a curse!” said Robertson of how she keeps developing exciting winning dishes. “There are always things to learn — new foods to experience, manipulate, and experiment with. You never stop learning and growing in the culinary arena. And sometimes don’t overthink things; keep it simple, and let the great original product sing.”
The song her plate sung this year was cleverly billed “For Richer or Porker.” “It was basically the fact that the cost of the filet was four times that of the pork belly, and together they made a great food marriage, and the ‘richer or poorer’ vow popped into my head,” she explained. “The twist was just to make it foodie friendly. I can definitely get deeper into a social-economic analysis about it … but I won’t!”
She also has advice for those eager to get charcoal smudged at home: “Have fun and don’t be intimidated by the grill. I think anything can taste better licked by the fire. Failures are part of the learning curve so embrace them, as well. Try to re-create things you have had and enjoyed and put your own twist on them. Happy BBQing!”
Pro BBQ Plate Runner-Up: Steven Giles of Sage & Onion
Cider-glazed St. Louis spareribs, with smoked jalapeño cheddar grits and charred romaine with smoked heirloom tomatoes and Point Reyes blue cheese vinaigrette
Those who remember the old Sage & Onion downtown for dreamy soufflés and other classic dishes might be surprised to hear that British-born owner Steven Giles, whose latest restaurant is in Goleta, is “in love with the art of true BBQ,” by which he means the “low and slow style” embraced throughout the American South as compared to the fast and high-heat grilling most common in California. “At the risk of being BBQ snobby, cooking outside over a grill and calling it barbecuing is like getting grapes, crushing them, putting juice into bottles, and calling yourself a winemaker,” said Giles. “It oversimplifies the craft.”
So he’s been studying the process of “transforming an otherwise tough piece of meat into buttery, meaty submission, using the slow, gradual breakdown of its own fat, tendon, and bones and retaining moisture which infuses the meat with flavor.” For this contest, he went with St. Louis spareribs due to the great fat marbling, which he said is “perfect for a slow roast over a low, wood-fired flame.”
Now that the Sage & Onion Café has been open in Goleta for a year and a half, Giles and company have been perfecting their ’cue. “We are excited to share one of our favorite family dishes,” he said about the recipe available online, which he cooked on a Traeger wood-pellet-fired smoker BBQ. “It’s like getting to BBQ with the flavor/heat of charcoal but with the convenience of propane. It’s my favorite new chef gadget.”
Ever the purist, Giles is just the latest to take a swipe at our tradition of calling the contest a BBQ contest rather than the more technically correct “grilling” event that it is. “Why not call it ‘Outdoor Eating Contest at Oak Park’ and we’ll bring sous vide lobster with shallots and truffled Irish butter?” he asked. “That might win every time.”
Amateur BBQ Plate Winner: Domenic Ceaser
Home smoked beef brisket with baked beans with bacon, green onion and jalapeno cornbread, and S’more-tillas
That Domenic Ceaser pulled out the victory with an inspired plate that began with smoked brisket and ended with his own invention, the “s’more-tilla” (more on that in a bit), isn’t a surprise when he starts talking about his creativity. “Music is something that I enjoy in most every form,” he explained. “Making an analogy from that standpoint, I say let your plate be the stage and the food your own distinct harmony. Whether that harmony sounds like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade or ‘Sheena Is a Punk Rocker’ by the Ramones doesn’t matter if it comes from the heart and is shared with love.”
While he’s cooked for 38 years for family and friends, he admits that nerves can get the best of him. “When I auditioned for MasterChef last November, I was a basket case,” he said of his first foray into competitive food. “I was literally shaking when I was plating my dish.” That experience prepared Ceaser for our contest. “While I was definitely less nervous, I was still an OCD control freak,” he said of last week. “Even then, I still forgot stuff and had to text my wife to bring it.”
Ceaser’s s’more-tillas were born from a moment of camping insight, and now they even have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can even text “smore” to 38470 to receive a coupon to get five of them for just $5 at his next public event, so Ceaser clearly gets the marketing side of food, as well.
Amateur BBQ Plate Runner-Up: L.J. Washington
Asian Mandarin orange BBQ pork loin ribs; sweet apple-smoked pork chili with sour cream, diced apples, onions, and cilantro; grilled avocados; and Creole pecan pralines
L.J. Washington is no stranger to the heat of culinary battle. She prevailed at the 2012 Santa Barbara Independent Sandwich Showdown, the 2012 KEYT Backyard BBQ, and the 2014 Carpinteria Chili Cookoff. Washington was also a finalist in this contest back in 2012, the Today show’s Father’s Day Burger Battle in June 2013, and the 2013 World Food Championships in Las Vegas.
An ICU nurse at Cottage Hospital, Washington is originally from New Orleans, explaining, “Talking about my hometown, sharing its history and food to others, gets me on a culinary high.” This year, she added Creole pecan pralines to her dish of Asian-inspired ribs as homage to her hometown.
“The Independent’s BBQ contest is one of my favorites to do,” said Washington. “The competition atmosphere is supportive and very positive. You can get great feedback about your dish from competitors, attendees, judges, sponsors, and more. It’s a great time with others who love great BBQ. You never know, someone there may love your dish so much that they offer to make your culinary dreams a reality.”
Amateur BBQ Plate Second Runner-Up: David Moorman
Dry-rubbed savory chicken wings with homemade harissa and grilled green onions tossed in balsamic vinegar and pimentos and habanero-jelly-glazed pork loin; dry-rubbed baby back ribs; fried rice with peas, carrots, onions, celery, and bacon; cornbread with organic honey butter; and grilled peaches and nectarines topped with cardamom-infused crème fraîche and crumbled ginger snaps
David Moorman took things to NASCAR levels, getting his own sponsors (Whole Foods Market and LighterBro) for his elaborate entry. “My inspiration to participate was simple,” he said. “I was a guest judge in the 4th annual BBQ cook-off, I love to grill, and I committed to submitting an entry at the end of last year’s contest!”
Having so many moving parts in his complex plate, he admitted to being most concerned about “the art of timing.” He explained, “I’m self-taught in the kitchen and over the grill, so it’s key to know the cooking times for any given dish.” His boneless pork loin, for instance, weighed twice as much as the baby back ribs, but the loin cooked in half the time. Good ingredients are key, too. “I used organic local ingredients where possible,” he explained, “and the highest quality meats from the butcher case at Whole Foods Market.”
Moorman also has some specific advice for home grillers that makes his own obsession clear: “Unless you are grilling a steak or burgers, most meat with bones in them benefit from being cooked over indirect heat.” He brought two grills to the contest, one for direct heat, one for indirect, and also used a water dish in the indirect grill to “infuse moisture.”
More Participants and Dishes
In addition to the winners listed here, these were the other contestants in our fifth annual Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest.
Matt Jameson-Chrestenson of Tri-Tip Company: Slow-smoked tri-tip sandwich with Santa Maria salsa and roasted garlic mayo; chopped pork shoulder sandwich with double-smoked bacon, Carolina mustard BBQ sauce, Texas sweet onions, and bread-and-butter pickles; and BBQ tri-tip ranch beans with bacon and onions
Gabe Clark of Killer B’s: “Pork and Brisket sampler,” with money muscle pork medallions with saffron fennel salad, tawny port cream sauce and roasted garlic and herb oil; hickory-smoked brisket with smoked Yukon potato slices, roasted carrot puree, and cabernet reduction; and warm drunken collard green and leek salad on a fried tomato, topped with caramelized carrots, roasted sesame seeds, and au jus reduction
Gabriel Ibarra Jr. of The Blue Owl: Tangy five-spice baby back ribs rubbed with a blend of Asian herbs, spices, and some citrus; Chinese scallion flatbread (similar to naan); and peanut butter cucumber satay noodles
Ken Estrada: Slow-cooked pork spare ribs and tri-tip with grilled asparagus spears, bell peppers, and corn on the cob
Tim Goebel: Smoked pork shoulder with coleslaw, sweet fresh corn on the cob, and smoked sweet buns
George Levinthal: Outrageous slow-smoked baby back ribs slathered in a Carolina-inspired mop sauce, served with a red, white, and blue Potato Salad
Ricardo Robles: Pork ribs with spicy sweet cayenne rub with an accompanying tangy BBQ sauce; smoked tri-tip and bacon onion rings with a Sriracha glaze; beer bread with maple butter; and chili corn cheese chowder
Steven Giles Recipes
Cider-Glazed St. Louis Spareribs, with Smoked Jalapeño Cheddar Grits and Charred Romaine with Smoked Heirloom Tomatoes and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
5 lbs. St. Louis Spareribs (approx. 2 full racks)
In lukewarm water, combine ⅓ cup kosher salt to 1 cup brown sugar for every ½ gallon water. Dissolve. Brine should taste as salty as it is sweet. Adjust accordingly. Put ribs in non-reactive container and pour brine over to cover meat. If necessary, put a plate upside down on the ribs to help hold the meat under the brine and avoid air contact. Refrigerate overnight or ideally 24 hours.
5 hours before serving, remove ribs from brine.
Combine wet ingredients:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
⅔ cup Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
In separate bowl:
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. paprika
Pour cider vinegar mixture over ribs, and then rub with spice mix. Smoke for 3 hours at 100ºF.
Remove from smoke. Turn BBQ up to 225º. Remove ribs. In a separate bowl, add the following:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
⅔ cup Dijon Mustard
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
⅔ cup warm honey
Wrap ribs in aluminum foil. Fold up edges so that liquid does not spill. Pour mixture evenly over ribs. Sprinkle ribs with brown sugar. Crimp foil closed. Cook for 1 hour or until bones pull away easily from meat.
Pour liquid from foil into a sauce pan. Reduce on low heat until thick. Brush onto ribs and return to grill at 225ºF for another 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Butter 8″x11″ casserole dish. Set oven at 350ºF.
2 cups quick cooking grits
1 stick butter
3 eggs, scrambled
4 smoked jalapeños, 2 seeded, 2 whole (smoked for 2 hours at 100ºF); substitute 1 fresh jalapeño with 1 small can diced green chiles if necessary
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
4 pieces bacon, cooked
Salt and pepper to taste
Make the grits according to box instructions, leaving runny more than thick. Combine ingredients. Top with more sharp cheddar and crushed Frosted Flakes. Bake at 350º for 1 hour or until firm.
4¼ Romaine hearts
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Turn up heat to 350º-400ºF.
Combine olive oil and vinegar. Pour over romaine heart quarters; put leaf down to let leaves crisp up on 350º-400ºF. Salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes or until tips turn crispy.
Point Reyes Vinaigrette
½ cup olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup honey or agave syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk in separate bowl. Chop heirloom tomatoes on the side. Top with blue cheese crumbles.
Domenic Caeser Recipes
Smoked Beef Brisket with Baked Beans with Bacon, Green Onion and Jalapeño Cornbread
2 qts. low sodium beef broth
2 qts. water
1 cup kosher salt
1½ tbsp. pink curing salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 sticks cinnamon, broken in pieces
2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
16 whole cloves
16 whole allspice berries
24 juniper berries
4 bay leaves, crushed
½ tbsp. ground ginger
1 large onion, diced
2 large jalapeños, diced with seeds and veins
1 large head garlic, sliced in half and crushed
3 pounds ice
Combine all ingredients except ice and heat until salts and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat and add ice cubes to cool. Score fat on brisket and cover with marinade in large non-reactive, covered container. Cover and refrigerate, turning occasionally for 6 days.
2-4 ancho chiles
2 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
2 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. smoked sweet paprika
2 tsp. dried sage, finely ground
3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. salt
De-stem ancho chiles, remove seeds, and grind in spice grinder. Toast fennel and coriander in small skillet until fragrant and grind in spice grinder. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Take brisket from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Rub brisket with spice mixture, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and return to refrigerator for another 24 hours.
2 cups apple juice
1 cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup honey
¼ cup rub mixture
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer until honey dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
10-12 lb. beef brisket, excess fat trimmed but not too much
Remove brisket from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking is to start. Prepare smoker so temperature hovers between 250° and 270°. Place brisket, fat side up on upper portion of smoker with a drip pan underneath to catch grease and prevent flare-ups. Keep water in the drip pan to avoid acrid grease smoke from ruining your beefy love child. Baste the brisket with the mop throughout the cooking time to keep the meat moist. Smoke over your choice of wood until internal temperature reaches 200°. Remove meat from smoker. Wrap brisket tightly in foil, then swaddle your baby in a warm blanket and set it down for a 2-hour nap in an empty cooler. Remove brisket from foil, slice, and serve.
Smoked Baked Beans
1 16 oz. bag great northern beans
12 strips thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon
2 shallots, finely diced
2 Fresno chiles, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 cup ketchup
1½ tbsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup + 1 tbsp. birch syrup
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground fennel seed
1 tbsp. sweet smoked paprika
3 cups water
Hook’s 10-year sharp cheddar
Rinse beans and cover with 10 cups water and allow to soak overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Cover with fresh water and a generous amount of salt. Cook beans 1½-2 hours until tender (remember beans will cook more when baked).
Cut 8 strips of bacon into meaty chunks and cook over medium heat to just cook to plump and render fat — DO NOT CRISP. Remove bacon from pan to drain on paper towel. Cut remaining 4 strips of bacon into small dice and cook crisp. Remove bacon from pan to drain on paper towel. Remove excess fat (for the love of god, don’t throw it away, I’ll take it if you don’t want to keep it) so 2 tbsp. remain in pan. Add shallots and chiles to sauce pan and soften over medium heat 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook 1-2 minutes longer.
Combine next 8 ingredients in a pan. Cook sauce for 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Fold in beans and lardons. Pour into enameled cast-iron casserole. Place casserole in smoker and cook at 300° (place a pizza stone or flat brick under the casserole to prevent the beans from burning). Stir beans occasionally so smoky flavor permeates the dish. Cook for 1 hour on the smoker. Allow to rest for 20 minutes, top with shredded cheddar cheese and crispy bacon.
Fresno Chile and Chive Corn Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ cup chives, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
1½ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
4 tbsp. bacon drippings, melted and cooled
Heat oven to 350°. Spread flour and cornmeal on separate baking sheets and toast until golden and nutty (toasted not burned). Turn oven up to 450° or raise heat on covered BBQ or smoker. Place 4 small (3 ½”) cast iron skillets to heat up. Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Stir in chives and Fresno chiles. Whisk buttermilk and eggs in medium bowl to blend, and then whisk in bacon drippings.
Add a dollop of butter to each mini skillet and swirl to coat. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until blended (do not over mix). Transfer batter to prepared pans (batter should almost fill each skillet). Bake cornbread until lightly browned on top and bottom is crisp and golden. Tester inserted into center should come out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer skillets to rack to cool slightly. Serve skillet with Salted Maple Butter.
Salted Maple Butter
1 stick European butter, softened
¼ cup + 2 tbsp. Grade B maple syrup
½ tsp. salt, to taste
Combine ingredients using electric mixer. Shape into a log using plastic wrap or spread into mini cupcake molds. Chill until ready to use.
L.J. Washington Recipes
Asian Mandarin Orange BBQ Pork Loin Ribs
1 slab of ribs of your choice
1 tbsp. Chinese five spice
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp. orange juice
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 tbsp. orange marmalade
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. Chinese chili sauce
Mix all ingredients together to form a thick paste. Rub on ribs on both sides and allow to marinate overnight. Apply more rub if needed before placing on grill. BBQ using indirect heat, approximately 240º for 4 hours or until meat is tender. Can use oven instead of a grill.
½ cup orange juice
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Baste ribs every hour with mop.
Orange BBQ glaze
2 tbsp. orange marmalade
1 cup orange juice
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. lite soy sauce
1½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Chinese five spice
½ tsp. paprika
2 tsp. honey
Red pepper flakes to taste
Mix all ingredients over medium-high heat. Allow to cook until a thick syrup consistency. Add more orange marmalade or powdered sugar per preference. Glaze over cooked BBQ ribs.
Robby Robbins, emcee, The Independent
Cindy Black, chef/owner, The Blue Owl
Barney Brantingham, columnist, The Independent
Mike Cohen, owner, Santa Barbara
Joe Cole, publisher, The Independent
Ian Cutler, owner, Cutler’s Artisan Spirits
John Dickson, food columnist, The Independent/SantaBarbara.com
Kathryn Graham, owner, C’est Cheese
Casey Groves, owner, Taffy’s Pizza
Shannon Kelley, writer, The Independent
Seth Kunin, owner/winemaker, Kunin Wines and AVA Santa Barbara
D.J. Palladino, writer, The Independent
Starshine Roshell, columnist, The Independent
Dan Russo, GM, The Lark
Aaron Walker, winemaker, Pali Wine Co.
Cutler’s Artisan Spirits
The Fresh Market
Santa Barbara Adventure Company
Pure Order Brewing co.
Pali Wine Co.