Barbecuing competitors from as far away as Bakersfield gathered at The Meat Market on Fowler and Shepherd Avenues on Saturday, September 14 to vie for the Meat Market Mania title belt and Grill Master bragging rights.
Along with the title belt, the prizes up for grabs were a $300 gift card from The Meat Market and a trip to Cancun, Mexico.
Chris Caillier, Marketing Director for The Meat Market, conceived this idea while watching a barbecuing competition on TV. These competitions are common in small towns and county fairs, he says, but he never sees them in Fresno.
“I always hear barbecuers talk about how they would beat anybody out there in barbecue competition, so I said, ‘hey, let’s have a barbecue competition’.”
Knowing how much people like UFC, boxing and professional wrestling, he decided to make that the theme of the competition and have a title belt crafted as the prize.
The competition on the 14th was the first of two qualifying rounds, the second to be held Saturday, Sept. 28 at their Fresno location. After that, the finals will be held on Saturday, Oct. 5. The blind competition is free to the general public and they will be voting for their favorite barbecue by submitting ballots.
A total of 16 people compete in each of the qualifying rounds and then they will be whittled down to four. In the finals, the two winners of those final four will go head to head for the grand prize; the coveted Meat Market Mania belt.
Justin Andrews of Clovis entered his reverse-seared tri tips, marinated in butter, garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme. Along with his co-captain, John Eanni, they were there for “funsies.”
“This isn’t about promoting our business,” Eanni said. “This is about what we do and what we love to do on the weekends.”
Barbecuing for approximately 20 years, Andrews, who calls his team Born 2 Q, says they’re just there to have fun.
Eanni says he’ll let Andrews take home the belt, but they’ll probably have to arm wrestle over the Cancun trip.
Ryan Rainbolt, of Team Higher Grilling, has been manning the grill since he was tall enough to reach it. He came up from Bakersfield with his wife and two young sons for Meat Market Mania. His secret is “slow and low.”
“We try to cook it for about two hours and then sear it at the end,” says Rainbolt. “We put the seasonings on about an hour before we grill so it has a chance to absorb it. And then, once we slice it, we have a little dusting that we put on top of it so it gets a full flavor in every bite.”
Another “slow and low” competitor, Phillip Soriano of Up In Smoke Barbecue, likes to use a rub of various spices which he guards as a secret. A professional caterer who has been grilling for eight or nine years, this is Soriano’s second barbecue competition.
“There’s a lot of good competition here,” he says. “But, you know, on the fifth, hopefully I’ll be taking home that belt.”
Caillier believes Meat Market Mania will take off and become a huge hit in Clovis, so every year he will have a new title belt produced.
“We’re calling this our first annual, because I really think that it’s going to grow and become quite a big event . . . it’s really exciting how well it was received by the community, how well it was received by the contestants.”