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Where there is smoke, there is barbecue

People flocked to San Rafael for blues music and low and slow barbecue during the fourth annual Great American Blues and Barbecue festival
People flocked to San Rafael for blues music and low and slow barbecue during the fourth annual Great American Blues and Barbecue festival
- by Rem O'Donnelley

People's noses and ears led them to downtown San Rafael Sunday afternoon for the fourth Great American Blues and Barbecue Festival.

In addition to the hundreds of people who paid admission to get into the festival to enjoy food and beverage, hundreds more sat on chairs and on the grass and listened to blues music. While some came for music others came for slow cooked meats.

The fans of barbecue cooking formed long lines in front of the stands of seasoned barbecue veterans providing the tasty, smoky meats.

This was the third year at the festival for Larry Vito of Bar-B-Que Smokehouse Bistro who came down from Sebastopol. While some chefs at the event specialized in ribs or brisket, others specialize in a style of barbecue.

“We do slow smoked southern barbecue with hard wood only,” Vito said. “As far as we know we are one of the only companies in the bay area that cook with only hard wood.”

Vito has run a restaurant and two catering companies for 19 years. While he didn't enter any of the contest categories he did mention he has a 28 foot trailer that holds a barbecue as well as a very large one back in Sebastopol.

"We have the biggest barbecue pit in Northern California. We can cook 1,000 pounds of meat or six whole hogs at one time,” he said.

There was a local San Rafael restaurant was offering barbecue but the cooking at the restaurant offered very different spin. Chef Gator has been chef of the Fenix supper club for two months and he talked about his new style of cooking.

“We just started doing a new food concept,” Gator said. “We're doing a healthy twist to New Orleans cuisine (in the restaurant and supper club) and we call it neo-soul.

“My specialty is the healthy approach that I put a twist on southern food because southern food isn't recognized as being healthy.”

However, at the barbecue event he offered a maple infused Kobe beef brisket that sold out.

“When it comes down to the barbecue side of it, I think my ribs are my specialty and then my brisket and then my pulled pork,” he said.

Some of the barbecue cooks entered their foods for the competition in the brisket, ribs and pulled pork categories. The person who had the most points after the three rounds would be crowned 'King of the Q.'

Winning the crown after a four year break was Jim Modesitt of Big Jim's BBQ.

“Second time winning it was pretty fun,” Modesitt said. “There was some really tough competition today.”

He barbecued on the BBQ Pitmasters television show last year. With his team of competition cooks they also enter Kansas City Barbeque Society contests.

“We did one last weekend and we did very well. We pretty much compete about six Kansas City Barbecue competitions every year (around the country),” he said.

Modesitt says he plans on returning next year and defending his crown with his winning barbecue.