What was once simply the process of cooking a dinner entrée for family and friends on the backyard grill has gradually turned into highly competitive, globally-televised contests.
Lovers of smoked and grilled meats and fowl who think they have 'the right stuff' enter local, regional, and then national competitions - where the winners take home thousands of dollars, in addition to trophies.
People driving down S.E. Woodstock Boulevard on Sunday, April 15th, probably wondered why the parking lot of one shop was filled with canopy-covered outdoor kitchens, and perhaps also why the luscious scent of smoked meats was wafting in the air.
'Today we're hosting a Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association sanctioned one-day event,' smiled Gregg Fujino, owner of Woodstock Wine and Deli, and himself an award-winning barbecue chef.
'Most competitive barbecue events run over two days,' Fujino said. 'This is a 'light' - or one-day - event, where teams come at 6 am, and start turning in food later that morning.'
When we arrived there, the ten participating teams - including one that had traveled from Bothell, Washington - turned in their sausage dishes at 11 am, their beef tri-tip at noon, and their chicken at 1 pm.
'These one-day events are more popular for beginning teams,' Fujino pointed out. 'There's a lower entry fee, the investment in meat is less - and, they don't have to spend the night tending their barbecues while their brisket cooks.'
Fujino himself wasn't cooking, he said, but was instead learning how to be a 'head judge', and serving the judges on hand who examined, sniffed, and tasted the barbecue, before assigning a grade.
Four minutes after the appointed hour, servers Jill Arthur and Fujino presented one prepared box of barbeque after another - each identified only with a bar-code label - to the twelve judges, seated in rows of six.
Then, each judge selected a sample, and savored the smell and the tangy goodness. After recording their scores, judges cleared their palates before sampling the next offering in the category.
Even though this was a relatively small regional event, the winners got more than just bragging rights. Entry fees went into a prize pool shared by the day's top chefs.
'Many of our 'Certified Barbecue Judges' aren't cooks,' Fujino said. 'If you love slow-smoked traditional barbecue, you might want to become a judge!'
If you want to get in on the fun and excitement of competitive barbecuing, Fujino added, there will be both cooking and judging classes on May 6 at Woodstock Wine and Deli. For more information on their organization - or about the classes - go online to: www.pnwba.com