Watching barbecue masters at the top of their game is thrilling, but Bakersfield's Biggest Baddest BBQ will do you one better with a shot at tasting a possible world champion.
That's because the winner of this weekend's event will move on to a global competition held in Las Vegas.
The local contest, now in its fourth year, will be one of 48 Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned events that will send a grand champion to the World Barbecue Championship in November. Such an honor was the spice rub on the ribs for event organizer Mike George.
"We didn't know about it until a few weeks ago. This (world event) is what they call the ultimate barbecue throwdown. It's the best 100 teams in the world to see who is No. 1. A CBBQA (California BBQ Association) board member said they nominated us to be one of the teams. They really like our event."
And what's not to like? In its fourth year, the contest, held over two days at the Kern County Fairgrounds, draws big crowds looking for entertainment, children's activities and, of course, barbecue. Teams compete in four categories -- chicken, pork ribs, pork and brisket -- for the main event Saturday. A side competition on tri-tip will be held again Friday night.
"We judged tri-tip for the first time last year. Three-quarters of the teams are doing it this year. It's not KCBS-sanctioned. It's all about the flavor, all about the tri-tip itself."
Although Friday's contest is closed to the public on Friday, there's plenty to do that day. Mento Buru will perform, and, along with vendors, there will be an expanded kids zone.
"It was a big hit last year. (Now) it's bigger. We try to have a lot for the kids. We'll have a carnival with a Ferris wheel, rock wall climbing, petting zoo, teacup ride, bounce houses, face-painting and cupcake decorating."
The carnival will entertain kids on Saturday as well, with bands The Aviators and The 44s performing to keep things lively.
But back to that barbecue. George said 48 teams will compete this year, a slight uptick from 2011.
About a third of the teams are local, including first-year competitors like The Q Rib Shack.
"We've got some great Qers in our community," George said.
Late-comers are welcome until the opening Friday, for a $250 entry fee. (The tri-tip competition Friday is an additional $50.)
The two-year reigning grand and reserve champions -- David Malone's All Sauced Up from Valencia and Matt Dalton's Left Coast Q from Banning, respectively -- will return and vie for top honors. There just may be an upset, George predicted.
"Matt Dalton and Left Coast Q won reserve champ two years in a row. He wants that grand champion slot."
Along with entry into the world championships, the grand champion is awarded $2,500. Reserve champion earns $1,000, and the top five placers in each category earn from $500 down to $100.
Folks don't leave all the fun to the judges, since two 2-ounce samples come with paid admission (additional samples are $2). As for judging, guests can weigh in on the best team site contest, awarding $500 to the group that offers the best display.
"Some of them go all out. I saw a movie theater theme, one decorated like an old back porch."
Last year's winner, Rusty Barrel BBQ from Napa Valley, won't be competing this year as leader Tim McDonald retired, but he'll be on the other side as a judge.
Barbecue is serious business at the event, but so is the cause, George said.
"It started as, and continues as, a fundraiser. Our first passion was giving back to the organizations of our community. That's what it's all about."
Proceeds benefit the Mendiburu Magic Foundation, Children's Miracle Network and Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House.
Fun, fellowship and fundraising makes this a classic Bakersfield outing.
"It's really a family event. A great destination event."