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Vista BBQ Classic brings 63 teams to compete

VISTA — On July 25 the three block area of historic downtown Vista was closed to traffic, and barbecue teams were setting up their spaces and firing up their smokers for the next day’s competition.

A “meat and greet” was held that evening for spectators to chat with teams before the final focused hours of competition the next day.

Sixty-three teams faced off to claim bragging rights to the best-cooked chicken, pork ribs, pork and brisket.

Briana Wagner, event coordinator and president of Artist Eye Events, said the barbecue competition draws teams that range from professional chefs to back-yard smoker novices.

“Mom and pop teams who do well can beat national teams,” Wagner said. “It’s all over the board.”

The competition is anybody’s game, and each team has a strategy to win.

Lilia and Ira Pupko make up the two person Hog Heaven Sauces team. They entered for the first time last year and won best brisket.

“It was actually surreal,” Lilia Pupko said. “We were hoping to hear our name when they were calling the top 10 down.”

Aaron Black of Meat, Inc. pats in the seasoning as onlookers watch. Teams spend up to 24 hours seasoning, smoking, and grilling meats for the competition. Photo by Promise Yee
Aaron Black of Meat, Inc. pats in the seasoning as onlookers watch. Teams spend up to 24 hours seasoning, smoking, and grilling meats for the competition. Photo by Promise Yee

Pupko said when the judges announced the fifth runner up her and her husband started to discuss what they may have done wrong, and what to do next time.

Then the Hog Heaven Sauces team was called as the first place winner.

“The emotions that arose from there are hard to describe,” Pupko said.

This year they hope to win again.

“Hopes are always high,” Pupko said. “The driving force of competition is to win.”

Aaron Black and Cory Brown of the Meat, Inc. team were also getting their meats ready July 25. The Meat, Inc. team usually has between 15 and 20 team members.

Most team members serve tastes to spectators following contest judging.

The team has been competing for 12 years, and has won California state champion in chicken and pork, and the people’s choice award at the Vista BBQ Classic.

“We have a blog we put everything on and have fun with it,” Black said.

During the competition teams are given identical containers to deliver their meats to judges. Meats are scored by certified judges on taste, tenderness and presentation.

Wagner said the Kansas City BBQ Society points that come with a win are just as important to competitors as the $10,000 prize purse. Points qualify teams for invitation only barbecue competitions and more prize money.

“They’re crazy, intense barbecuers,” Wagner said. “It’s a life for them.”

Teams spend over $1,000 for travel, meats and ingredients.

They can make up some of the competition costs with the sale of taste tickets that spectators purchase to try 2-ounce samples of meats and deserts following the judging.

“Most people buy 10 to 20 tickets,” Wagner said. “You don’t get to try competition barbecue very often. A lot of love goes into these meats.”

In addition to tastes there are venders and live entertainment.

“The entertainment is super smokin’ this year,” Wagner said.

This year’s top billed reggae rock band Common Sense, and Police tribute band The Police Experience played into the evening.

There is no entrance fee for spectators. Average daily attendance to the annual Vista BBQ Classic is 20,000 people.


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