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Smoqued California BBQ's Ryan Chester on the upcoming Queen Mary BBQ Classic

A beautiful day at 2013's Queen Mary West Coast BBQ Classic
A beautiful day at 2013's Queen Mary West Coast BBQ Classic
Edward Simon

Ryan Chester, pitmaster of Smoqued California BBQ, spoke yesterday with the Examiner about the upcoming West Coast BBQ Classic. The Third Annual West Coast BBQ Classic, following on the heels of last year's extremely successful and fun event, will be held at the Queen Mary Waterfront Events Park on Saturday, May 10, from 11am to 6pm. It is a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event.

Thad and Ryan Chester of Smoqued California BBQ
Courtesy of Ryan Chester

Ryan began by saying, “I think it's a phenomenal location. That whole area, even if you took the Queen Mary out of the picture, is excellent. There's going to be a lot of people to come out. There will be a lot of people there for the 'People's Choice', there will be a lot of people walking around, hanging out, eating barbecue. Then you add the Queen Mary into it and it tales it to a whole different level. There is no venue that is more impressive than that. Many of the other venues are nice, but there is no massive ship you are staring at or looking over the harbor. The Queen Mary is unique and impressive and it's a phenomenal location”, Ryan said.

Ryan's team, Smoqued California BBQ, has been creating delicious competition BBQ since 2009, but his background in barbecue goes back several years before that. “My dad and I have been making our own rubs at home for as long as I can remember”, Ryan began. “It seems that the only store-bought products that we used were Lawry's Seasoned Salt and Garlic Salt. Everybody has that in their cabinets! Beyond that, we just made it ourselves. Finally, in 2009, my dad came to me and said, 'why don't we try to make some rubs and bottle some of these things and try to sell them?'. I said OK, so I put in the work, tried to figure out how to do it, got everything in line and we did it”. Ryan added, “From that point forward, it took off, mainly in California and then it branched out from there. It sounded like a good idea and we made it happen”.

It seemed like a natural thing to promote their rubs at BBQ cook offs, so Ryan formed his team with his father, Thad Chester and Greg Clay, his step-dad. After their first competition, they put the rub promotion to the back of the list and went full-bore into becoming a competitive, winning barbecue team. Currently, they are ranked #11 in California and have received over 50 top 10 trophies including first place honors in every category. “We just all know what to do and we've been doing it for many years together. Now it's like a well orchestrated dance, we don't have to say what we need done or bark any orders, we all know and do what we've got to do. We all have a lot of input”, Ryan said.

For the role of the rubs and sauces in the competition, Ryan said “I like to think of it that the rub is the foundation and the sauce is the nice little fixture that you put on to make it look pretty and add that extra little 'wow' factor. You don't always want it to necessarily be the single most important component where all you do is taste the sauce, but just enhance it a little bit”. For the role in his company, “We launched sauces January of this year. We've been doing the rub thing and doing it well, so we took it to the next level to round out our product line”.

“Competition is an interesting thing”, Ryan said. “ You really have to forget about what you like and cook to what you know the judges want. That being said, I've built the rub company's flavor profiles based on flavor profiles that work not only in the competition world, but appeal to the backyard barbecue guy. I use all my products in competition, but I do add a couple other commercial rubs to my applications, some that are more on the fruity side because my rubs are more savory based. My rubs have a little sweetness, but they're not fruit based, like a peach rub or something like that”. He tied it together by saying, “I'm using our Santa Maria Style and our barbecue sauces in competition and they're doing well for us so far”.

Ryan loves to taste other people's barbecue. “I love it, especially when it's not competition barbecue. Competition barbecue is really overly sweet, sweeter than I like to eat at home. The thing about it is, you've got to impress those judges with one single bite. They are not going to sit there and eat the whole rib. They're going to take a bite of yours, then take a bite of the next guy's. You've got to be able to really set yourself apart and really make it smack 'em in the mouth”. Ryan continued, “That's not the barbecue I like to eat at home. If it was my choice, I'd have vinegar all up in it and not much sweet stuff! But yes, I love tasting other people's barbecue, especially when it's that backyard type stuff; it's just doing what they do”.

Smoqued California BBQ has already begun their competition season. “We're two contests in. There's actually been three contests so far this year in California that have been KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) sanctioned but qualify for the overall California points. One of them we didn't do, in Lake Havasu; we really don't drive more than two hours because there's so many local contests. We did participate in the 'Guinea Pig' in Indio and at the Santa Anita Race Track”. They are currently ranked in 11th place in California, however the ultimate position is based on the best five scores so there is a lot of season left to go.

In 2012, Ryan took his love of barbecue to the next level, opening Smoqued California BBQ in Orange.

At the competitions, Ryan is “There for one thing and one thing only; to win the competition. I'm going to focus my entire energy on the four KCBS meats, chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. Some of the contests do have a 'People's Choice' section where you can sell some meat to the public and we do participate in those sometimes. I'll have staff or executive chef or the pitmaster from the restaurant come out and handle all of that so I'm not using my energy and attention on that. I'm just sticking to the contest”. He continued, “That's a really good way for us to interact with the public, let them taste our food and build a customer base that way that maybe would not have tried the restaurant other wise. We have our food there and they say, 'oh, wow, this is great', they talk to us and get to meet us and then they come into the restaurant and tell all their friends. We can add to our clientele that way”.

Ryan feels very good about this year's competitions. “We started off the year well”, he said. “Getting your name called, getting those Top 10 calls a couple times in each contest sure helps out. We're on track, I think we're cooking pretty darned well. We can always cook better! We'll get them good this year!”.

The Third Annual West Coast BBQ Classic will be held on Saturday, May 10, at the Queen Mary Events Park in Long Beach. Tickets and information are available through the Queen Mary's BBQ event website. At stake for the BBQ teams is over $10,000 in cash prizes and the coveted title of “West Coast BBQ Pitmaster Champion”. Live entertainment, a “Kid's Country”, eating contests, a merchant market and more will round out the fun at the Queen Mary Events Park. Sixty teams will be participating in the categories of chicken, ribs, pork and beef. In addition, Many teams will be offering their 'People's Choice' entries for the public. Tasting portions are available from many of the teams for $2 each.

Third Annual West Coast BBQ Classic

May 10, 2014

11am to 6pm

Queen Mary Events Park

1126 Queens Highway

Long Beach, CA 90802

Ph: 800-437-2934

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