Guy Fieri will be in attendance at the Wine Country Big Q barbecue competition at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa July 14, but he won't be cooking. He has hired a ringer to lead his Tex Wasabi team to what he hopes will be a second straight Grand Champion title and berth into the KC Royale BBQ Championship.
This is big time barbecue. This is one of just 29 officially sanctioned Kansas City Barbecue Society events in the state, and the only one in the North Bay. There are two dozen teams competing, and each has paid a hefty $300 for the privilege, in addition to bringing their own meat. There are over $7,500 in prizes available in seven categories. The winner gets a chance to compete in the World Series of BBQ, the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo, with over $300,000 in prizes available.
Ever seen the TLC show "BBQ Pitmasters?" This is that same circuit, and some teams from the show might be there, though not Californian Harry Su (he will be in London at the time, says event organizer Judy Walker). This is show-up-the-night-before-and-season-your-grill BBQ. This is rain-or-shine BBQ. This is two-coolers-of-beer BBQ.
But why isn't Guy "Full Throttle" Fieri manning the grill for this prestigious competition? Is he too popular for mere barbecue cookoffs? Too busy to hold a spatula? Will there not be enough television cameras or radio microphones? One might begin to think Guy's lost a step, perhaps he doesn't have the chops anymore? It almost creates demand for a Anthony Bourdain "Into the Fire" style episode of one of Guy's TV shows to see if he can still hack it in a kitchen.
Or, maybe he wants to win so badly that he hired the Joe Montana of barbecue. The guy who, with tongs in his hand, is unbeatable at his game.
The man's name is literally Dr. BBQ. On his birth certificate the name Ray Lampe is crossed out, and written in red pen (or is that sauce?) next to it is "Dr. BBQ."
Here are a few of his qualifications to be cooking under the Fieri name:
-Expert judge on the Food Networks "Tailgate Warriors with Guy Fieri."
-Appeared as a BBQ expert on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives."
-Cooked in over 300 BBQ contests and won over 300 awards.
-Written five cookbooks and is currently working on a sixth.
-Featured on numerous TV shows and in several magazines.
-Won the Wine Country Big Q for Fieri's team last year.
-Spokesman for the Big Green Egg, a formidable (and expensive) charcoal grill.
-Looks like Guy Fieri if Guy Fieri were in ZZ Top.
The competitions include brisket, chicken (any cut, though judges generally prefer thigh), pork ribs (any type is acceptable but spareribs are most common), pork shoulder (butt), leg of lamb and "mystery meat." The judges also determine a Grand Champion, who will be entered into the American Royal Invitational in October. Competitors include rookies, amateurs and seasoned veterans. Not only will they be cooking for qualified KCBS judges brought in from all over the state, they will be cooking for the general public, who have paid $20 to $45 per ticket to slather their faces and coat their stomachs in sauce and delicious animal fat.
Dr. BBQ knows the prescription for a winning brisket, but he will face some tough competition this year. Arizona's IAB (Ineed Another Beer) 30 BBQ, which is ranked No. 18 in the nation, just happens to be in town. And seeking revenge is Casual Smokers, from KC, Mo., who finished second, just behind Tex Wasabi in last year's pork shoulder category.
But no matter who wins, its unlikely anyone will go home feeling empty. The event is a fundraiser for the Children's Museum of Sonoma County, and barbecuing is just fun, even when it's hard work. Eating barbecue is even more fun, especially when you don't have clean up.
The Wine Country Big Q KCBS sanctioned BBQ Competition is July 14, 1 to 5pm at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa. Tickets are $20 for youth, $45 general admission (including bbq, wine tasting, live music from Pete Stringfellow band and others). 707.523.3728. www.winecountrybigq.com