MARTINEZ -- By 4 o'clock Saturday and Sunday afternoon, the fires were out and the smoke had cleared from Waterfront Park. It was time to announce the winners of the cooking portion of the seventh annual King of the County BBQ Challenge & Music Festival.
Nearly 50 contestants signed up to test their barbecue prowess. For some, preparing the rubs and sauces is serious business, while for others, the competition is an excuse to get together with buddies, share a few brewskies, stoke the coals and tell stories.
Team 3GDB (Three Guys Drinking Beer) show up every year in the early morning, light the coals in their grills and with a laid-back attitude, the three Martinez native sons begin their annual ritual with the cooking of chorizo and eggs for breakfast.
"We've been doing it for five years," said Howard White, better known as JB. "We do it to socialize."
The three friends had never won, but pulled out a box of entry plaques to prove they've competed. Last year 3GDB's entry was hot dogs on toothpicks.
But this year, they pulled out all the stops and entered their specialty, "Grangers' Wharf Wings" named for the historical wharf located on the waters of the Carquinez Strait where these friends first cooked the delicacy.
Grangers' Wharf Wings are not wings. They are a turkey leg with a special sauce consisting of, "a little of this, a little of that, some hot stuff, a whole lot of garlic and lots of olive oil."
The judges liked it best and for the first time 3GDB took home a prize -- first place!
The team was surprised and happy with their win. They promised to be back next year, but only on Saturday, noting that one day is enough fun.
Teams may sign up to compete for one or both days. Twenty-six teams competed Saturday, and the remaining entries competed Sunday. Of the nearly 50 teams, 15 were newcomers.
Kurt Lusetti, pitmaster for team Shell V-Power BBQ, signed up for both days as he has done since the competition began.
"It's a family affair," said Lusetti, who had the numerous awards won over the years proudly displayed on the table in front of his booth. He added to his collection, taking third place for his chicken on Saturday, and second place for chicken on Sunday.
On Sunday, Lusetti's daughter, Nicole Lusetti of Shell's Lulu BBQ, showed her daddy she had some skills of her own and won third place in the chef's choice category.
But it was challenge newcomer Andrew Krakoff of team My Kids Favorite Q that surprised the judges and set the barbecue competition on its head with his first-place win for chef's choice.
Krakoff, of Orinda, turned in a dessert Saturday and judges couldn't get enough.
"They wanted to meet him," said Martinez chamber board member and event organizer Laura Philpot. "A couple of them wanted the recipe."
"I gave it to them," said Krakoff. "There was no reason not to."
The tasty dish was a yellow cake with apples and blueberries cooked in a Dutch oven on the barbecue and topped with cream.
"I wouldn't call it a cake," said Krakoff. "It's more like a crisp. I call it a dump cake."
He said the name comes from how he makes it, which is dumping all the ingredients into a Dutch oven and putting the pot on the fire. He found the recipe and began using it when river rafting and having to cook out.
Although the team name was just something he says he came up with, he says his kids -- Michael, 26, and Emily, 23 -- "do" like his cooking.
The chef's choice category is just that. Anything goes as long as it's from the barbecue. Most entries are usually meat or in some cases fish, but this year, there were three dessert entries, including variations on a pineapple upside down cake and a bananas Foster.
This year's trophy was a new design by Dave Tendick, owner of Smokehouse 10. Each winner received the small black smokehouse replica with the winning category engraved on it.
On Sunday Discovery Bay resident Jack Simmons of team Big Shot BBQ, who is a regular at the King of the County BBQ Challenge, took first place for his chef's choice -- filet mignon beef kebabs with garlic bread.
This year's attendance was overwhelming.
"This is the biggest one we have ever had," said Philpot, who attributed the good weather for the great turnout.
"The lines were huge and vendors ran out," she said.
Smokehouse 10, a recent competitor on Destination America's popular program "BBQ Pitmasters," ran out of ribs three times. One customer, not wanting to miss out (no reserve orders were possible), waited more than 30 minutes for a new batch to arrive.
Although Sunday's crowd topped Saturday's, vendors seemed to have a better handle on their product.
The day was not all about barbecue. For children, there was a gigantic inflatable bounce house that got plenty of use, and craft vendors were plentiful, offering something for everyone.
There was music throughout the weekend, featuring The RevTones, ZenKali, Garageland Rodeo, Caroompas Room, The Big Jangle, Aces Up, Chris Gardner Band, Rockinghorse, Maxx Cabello Jr. and BigCaat Tolefree.
The Martinez Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event, is calling it a success, and are already preparing for next year.
SATURDAY, JUNE 15
SUNDAY, JUNE 16