Bakersfield's Biggest Baddest BBQ aims to live up to its name this year, with the number of local competitors and a larger crowd expected to head out to the Kern County Fairgrounds this weekend.
"We had about 5,000 attendees last year and we expect many more this year," said Angie Trigueiro who, with husband Curtis, is organizing the event. "We expect 7,500. We've had a lot of people calling us and a lot of interest from the local community."
Trigueiro said that buzz has grown for the Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event, with 25 local teams set to compete, including her husband's team, Ridge Route Boys (which will compete without him this year). Although the overall number of competitors dropped slightly to about 55, the local showing reflects the sixth annual event's draw.
"This is a very popular event on the CBBQA (California Barbecue Association). This is a really popular competition."
Trigueiro said the contest draws many returning KCBS champions, including Left Coast Q (2013 California state winners) and Big Poppa Smokers (2012 Kansas City Royal). Teams are judged by KCBS standards, but hungry attendees need not be as discerning.
In a change this year, $2 tastings must be purchased in addition to the $10 admission, which previously included two samples. Tickets ($1 each) can be used at team booths and to purchase beverages and some additional food.
Among the more than two dozen local teams vying for a prize along with bragging rights is Bakersfield Smoke, headed by Orrie Griswold. Griswold has pursued his passion for barbecue and the culinary arts for more than 30 years, cooking for the 13 children he and his wife (and teammate) Janise brought into their marraige.
"When you have a big family, you learn to cook. Barbecue is just part of it," he said Monday during a backyard call as he watched over more than 60 pounds of meat for an event for employer Dunn-Edwards Paints.
Competing statewide for three years, Bakersfield Smoke consists of Griswold and his wife and a rotating team that includes son Ralph and assistant cooks Matt Tramel and Greg and Gina McClung.
Griswold uses five barbecue pits in his backyard but competes with a custom-made rig that features an offset cooker and barrel measuring 71/2 feet long and 30 inches in diameter.
"I could climb up there and take a nap if I wanted to."
Based on support for local teams, Griswold, like Trigueiro, expects a good turnout, but he warns that people should time visits to team booths. When the gates open at 11:30 a.m., many of the teams are in the thick of prepping plates for the judges, the pitmaster said.
"It's a very stressful and time-sensitive time for us. If we're one second late, we're disqualified."
Guests can occupy themselves with the kids zone or enjoy the bands -- Foster Campbell and Friends and Mystic Red. Snacks and more will be available from vendors like Cafe Med, which will sell tri-tip -- prepared by Halliburton volunteers -- and other sandwiches as well as its macaroni and cheese, which won top honors at the Bakersfield Macaroni and Cheese Festival in April.
After entries have been submitted for judging by about 1:30 p.m., Griswold said many cooks turn on the charm, offering tips and boasting about the best barbecue.
"Most of us are big fat showoffs. We like to talk smack to each other ... We get to strut our stuff to our peeps. We know there will be people out there we know."
Those people should be willing to brave the heat -- forecast in the low 90s Saturday -- which Griswold said is a mixed blessing.
"Warmer weather is better for cooking, less for us," he said, pointing out that wind and temperature fluctuations can affect pit management in cooler climates.
Attendees will be rewarded with a little extra barbecue -- at least from Bakersfield Smoke.
"Normally I take just enough meat for the competition -- (for example) four racks, I need six good ribs. In Bakersfield, I'll be cooking 25 racks of ribs. We do it for the love of barbecue and the love of feeding people."
On the competition side, Griswold said his team has landed in the middle of the field at the local competition in the past, with its best showing in ribs. Judges sanctioned by the KCBS have a high standard for each meat.
"What they (KCBS) are to barbecue, NASCAR is to racing. The judges are looking for a specific target. It's a very tight standard."
Preparing chicken and brisket up to KCBS standards can prove especially difficult.
"Brisket is probably the hardest thing to cook," Griswold said. "It just doesn't like to get tender. It's a seven- to 12-hour cook to get it to the tenderness. Otherwise it's like chewing on rubber bands.
"(How you prepare) chicken is the furthest from what you'd ever do at home. Skin has to perfectly bite through and not pull the skin off."
Stakes are high for competing teams, with an increased grand champion purse of $3,500; $1,500 for reserve champion; $500 for first place in each of the four meat categories -- chicken, brisket, pork and pork ribs -- as well as cash for the rest of the top 10 finishers.
Last year's event raised $17,500, and Trigueiro said organizers hope to hit $25,000 this year, with proceeds benefiting JJ's Legacy, an organ and tissue donation advocacy organization.
Although most cooks don't devote two days to barbecue like those competing this weekend, Griswold said he has some advice that works for everyone.
"If you want to have phenomenal barbecue, you need patience and you'll wait until it's done. ... You may have people waiting to eat -- throw on a couple of weenies for them. It takes as long as it takes."