There’s something about the smell of oak smoke that draws us in, holds us to dreams of summers past and delicious repasts of the future. It’s intimate by nature, a good BBQ, since somebody spent the better part of his or her day making special somethings just for you.
So while our 6th Annual Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest, held at Oak Park on June 18, featured a shorter-than-usual list of competitors vying for the charcoal, beef-focused crown, it wasn’t any less wonderful or impassioned. And that’s what makes BBQ best.
2015 Champion: Nicholas Priedite
A UCSB alum, Nicholas Priedite, 24, developed a keen sense of food at home the way so many do. “Dinnertime meant much more than ringing the dinner bell,” he recalled. “The process of preparing a meal from start to finish, beginning with planning the dishes, gathering ingredients, prepping, cooking, plating, and, don’t forget, dishwashing — all of these tasks were done socially and, more importantly, with creativity in mind.”
Discovering Texas BBQ, especially Franklin Barbecue in Austin, was a revelation for Priedite, who works as a server at Boathouse. “Could one possibly join the ranks of Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller, and Anthony Bourdain doing BBQ?” he wondered. “It may sound simple, but the complexities found in slow-smoking any select cut of meat is quite impressive, from the wood you smoke with to the exact temperature you’re smoking at, seasonings, brines, and even carving the finished product — all work in infinite combinations to create a variety of BBQ. And I became hooked.”
Priedite served up a Texas-inspired smoked brisket plate with slices of the flat, the point, and chopped burnt ends. He claims brisket is the “most difficult but rewarding cut of meat.” He plated the beef along with his smoked blood-orange marmalade, house-made dill pickles, sliced white onion, and house-made whole-grain-mustard potato salad.
His special Texas rub contained black pepper, salt, red pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder. He smoked the 10-pound packer cut with post oak in a Weber smoker. “The challenge with a packer brisket is the possibility of overcooking the flat, which has less fat running through the muscle tissue,” he explained, “making it leaner and requiring less cooking to render down while possibly undercooking the point, a very marbled and fatty end requiring more time to render down.”
His method was to go for nine hours of smoke and then wrap the brisket in butcher paper and finish to a desired temperature, around 195 degrees Fahrenheit in the flat. He even built in enough time to let it rest for 90 minutes before carving.
Priedite also offered a hint of dessert: honeydew and vanilla syrup, which he said was a twist on an “old frontiersman dish” he read about on the back of a rye bottle. “Originally the melon was served with a peated syrup, similar to caramel,” he said, “but I decided that the vanilla would be nice with the pepper and smoke in the other dishes.”
Priedite’s Prime Pointers
Know your fuel: “Be sure to use natural charcoal, never match-light, and avoid lighter fluid,” he insisted. “If you can, use hardwoods, but be knowledgeable about what smoke works best with which meat. For example, hickory and mesquite are very bold hardwoods and should be used for heartier meats such as beef.”
Brine your meat: “It’s very easy to prepare and really adds to the finished product, even when grilling,” Priedite advised. “It is similar to marinating but in a much saltier water solution that hydrates the cells of the muscle tissue and creates really tender meat. We can save the full science lecture for another day.”
Know your source: The end product can only build on what you start with, no matter your skill or technique. “Build a rapport with your butcher,” he said. “He’s a good guy!”
Second Place: Tony Figueroa
It turns out Tony Figueroa, our runner-up, is making a habit of coming oh-so-close to victory: He lost the KEYT Backyard BBQ Contest by one point. “I feel each was a win just to be chosen to compete,” said the Washington State–born, Santa Barbara–raised salesman-by-day for SecurePRO, “although next year I will have a winning dish.” He credits his old Santa Barbara family for his love of food, explaining that he got his start “at age 12 when I was asked to fill in for my mom on the fishing boat,” where she ran the galley. “BBQ just became more of a passion in the last 10 years,” he said. “Cooking is a high for me; it is calming to me.”
Tri-Tip Burger Dip
Figueroa served a tri-tip and burger dip — you read correctly, both meats, one roll — with horseradish aioli, Santa Maria–style beans, and Brussels sprouts with bacon. “It’s definitely a meat lover’s sandwich,” he said. “The burger reminds me of the 805, and the fresh-cut onion rings wrapped with bacon seemed to work very well also.” The aioli was certainly a hit with the judges, as one opined, “The sandwich is just an excuse to get the horseradish into your mouth.”
“My rub is the key to my seasoning,” explained Figueroa. “I hope to package it this year. It’s different than the usual Santa Maria style, and then I use Figueroa Mountain beer to brine my tri-tip.” Indeed, at one point he told the judges, “I cook with beer more than drink it.”
Cook with love: “The number-one trick is to BBQ with love and for the love of it,” said Figueroa, who competed in part to honor a childhood friend, Oscar Castellanos, who recently passed away.
Don’t overcook: “Cook to a doneness under what you want in the end,” he advised. “Then wrap tri-tip in foil for about 10 minutes, which lets it continue cooking and allows for the juices to retract back into the meat.”
Mess with things: He’s all for using traditional pinquito beans but subs in chorizo instead of the usual ground beef, for example.
Third Place: Joshua Pomer’s Spicy Brisket
UCSB Film Studies grad Joshua Pomer directed award-winning docs like The Westsiders, about a surf tribe from Santa Cruz, California, and Discovering Mavericks, about the big-wave spot. “I guess filmmaking and BBQ can connect in some ways,” he surmised. “For the BBQ competition, I want to tell a story with my BBQ.” He went with spice as his theme and even served his food “on red plates symbolizing the red roofs of Santa Barbara.”
Pomer served Texas-style beef brisket with an extra-spicy BBQ sauce alongside macaroni and cheese with white cheddar, asiago, and spicy jack.
Skip the charcoal: He’s a big fan of almond wood, explaining, “It gives off an amazing smoke, and when you slow cook at under 200 degrees, you will see a red smoke ring in the meat.”
Don’t let the side dishes be afterthoughts: Pomer showed that by serving cupcake chicken (a thigh deboned, cooked in a cupcake tin, and braised with the spicy BBQ sauce) and cream-cheese-filled jalapeños wrapped in bacon along with that mac ’n’ cheese on the side.
Fourth Place: Sylvia Wood’s Classic Central Coast Tri-Tip
Sylvia Wood isn’t a pro but soon will be, as part of the team reopening The Timbers out in Winchester Canyon. “It’s two blocks from the house I lived in 1972-1993,” said Wood. “In the ’70s, you could still run barefoot across the freeway between Rancho Embarcadero and Haskell’s Beach and not see a car coming in either direction.” An avid home-cuer, Wood has worked in software R&D and managed Chuck’s Waterfront Grill and The Endless Summer Bar-Café.
Wood served Classic Central Coast Tri-Tip BBQ alongside chipotle beans, her grandmother’s potato salad, and grilled garlic San Luis Sourdough.
Set design your grill: “Put all the charcoal on one side, and sear the meat before swinging the grill around to the other side and putting on the lid,” said Wood. “The lid holes should be over the meat to draw the heat from the other side across so the meat cooks without being subjected to the intensity of the charcoal.”
Be gentle: She uses big, heavy-duty tongs to turn meat, explaining, “Puncturing your meat all the time while it cooks is bad, mmkay?”
Pro Demo: Rodrigo Gimenez’s Lechón el Fin del Mundo
Calling the annual Indy event “a particularly poignant moment in my recent career path,” this former architect, now chef/caterer/teacher, won the amateur division a few years back, then won the pro, and kindly agreed to cook for everyone this year. Never leaving his station, Gimenez grilled a whole, 15-pound suckling pig marinated in herbs and passion fruit juice, grilled in a traditional Argentinean parrilla doble (embers below and flames above), and one of his signature dishes: pork ribs with a lemon cream sauce.
The good news is that in addition to his tips listed in this article, he also teaches classes in the culinary department at the SBCC Center for Lifelong Learning, explaining, “Some of my course offerings include Grilling the Argentine Way, Peruvian Ceviche, Spanish Tapas, and Argentine Empanadas from Scratch.” So enroll, or just continue drooling alone.
Rodrigo’s Argentinian Advice
Be patient: Many of the contestants started not much after sunrise, and Gimenez would approve. “Lower the heat, and grill slower,” he claimed. “The meat will be more juicy.”
Hands off! While some grilling experts suggest flipping your meat so the juice keeps headed toward the center, Gimenez argued, “Flip your meat as little as possible. Only once is ideal.” Just let the heat do its work.
Be still and quiet: “Never walk away from your grill,” Gimenez said. “Watch and listen to the meat all the time.” Your goal: to become the BBQ whisperer.
Our Happily Hungry Judges
Barney Brantingham, On the Beat columnist, The Santa Barbara Independent
Joseph Cole, publisher, The Santa Barbara Independent
Ian Cutler, distiller/owner of Cutler’s Artisan Spirits
Edie Robertson, caterer, multiple winner of this contest
D.J. Palladino, longtime Santa Barbara Independent writer
Drake Whitcraft, winemaker, Whitcraft Winery
Thanks to Our Sponsors
• Cutler’s Artisan Spirits (cutlersartisan.com)
• Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center (sbhicace.com)
• Santa Barbara Farmers Market (sbfarmersmarket.org)
• Santa Barbara Passport (santabarbarapassport.com)
• Telegraph Brewing Company (telegraphbrewing.com)