The 5th Annual Dana Point State BBQ Championships returned to Sea Terrace Park in Dana Point this past Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Over a hundred teams of Grill Masters from across the country gathered here to serve up their finest BBQ to win yet another coveted award for bragging rights as well as cash, prizes, titles, and fame. Free to attend for all ages, visitors could purchase sample tickets for $2, with all proceeds going towards the VFW charity, and use those tickets to exchange for samples from any of the participants. Visitors found all sorts of BBQ meats here, from pulled pork to ribs to brisket to bacon and more. A true test to the home Grill Master, this competition does not allow anything corporate to set foot in this area – only amateur or local groups could enter, and all foods come from non-corporate sources, such as locally-raised meat or homemade BBQ sauces.
I have attended this BBQ event ever since they got started, and I plus many others believe that it disappointed us all this year. The past two years saw the expansion of the event area to an additional area of the park to the east section, which also added a craft beer tasting component. Just like the barbecue tasting, visitors would purchase beer tickets at $2 each, and each ticket would redeem four ounce’s worth of beer. So what happened this year? First off, the organizers completely got rid of the additional craft beer tasting section, opting for a Budweiser beer truck near the entrance. That entire eastern section belonged only to barbecue teams who entered the competition, and not a single team in this section offered any food to visitors. Speaking of offering food, though the event website advertised over a hundred barbecue teams, less than 20 of them had public tastings. For an event that draws over a thousand visitors annually, not even 20 teams can accommodate all of them. Also take into consideration that more than half of the teams offering food did not have any food ready until 1pm at the earliest. The high-demand meats like ribs and brisket did not come out until 1:45pm due to judging, and that caused abnormally long lines at almost all the teams. Not surprisingly, these teams ran out of food within minutes because of everyone waiting at all those booths. Despite the event running until 5pm, nobody had any food left by 3pm. As a minor complaint, many people did not like that such small food samples cost them $2 each.
I love barbecue, and I have loved this event for the past few years. Sadly, this year’s competition left a sour taste in many people’s mouths. I hope the organizers realize that things went wrong during this year’s event, and that they fix it for next year’s event. Fortunately, they have good reviews of the previous years to ride on. For next year, I hope to see a lot more barbecue teams serving food to the public and not just like 20 out of 100. I also hope to see the return of the craft beer garden, and not just a truck driven there by Straub.