It's hard to be a food taster when you're faced with an abundance of carefully smoked ribs at a Fairgrounds cook-out. It was the second annual "Taste of Summer" barbecue event hosted by Hacienda Business Park and the Tri-Valley Community Foundation to benefit Hacienda's "Helping Hands" program, a charitable campaign supported by contributions from Hacienda companies and affiliates. Proceeds of the annual campaign are used to make grants to health and human service organizations, educational programs, and cultural projects in our Tri-Valley communities, where Hacienda employees live and work.
After tasting a few of the ribs, I had to agree with food taster Steve Brozosky that picking the best in any of the six categories was a tough call. Whether you prefer moist, savory sauce-covered ribs or more dry (and less messy) ones where the meat falls off the bones, the cook-off competitors offered a variety to please every palate. It was also an opportunity to gain tips for the smoked barbecue wedding rehearsal dinner I'm hosting tonight for some 40-50 guests. Fortunately, Jenny's fiancÚ Jerry Brewer and his brother Neil from Broken Arrow, Okla., are experienced "smokers" have set up special cookers at my house. So the ribs I tasted at the Helping Hands event and will taste tonight should give me all the smoked ribs I'll need for some time to come.
At last Friday's event, Chef Jose at Hyatt Summerfield Suites served ribs that he marinated overnight with apple cider, fresh garlic and more, and then slowly smoked the three slabs he prepared for five-and-a-half hours before serving. He used "baby" smokers which could only accommodate three-to-four slabs at a time but also provide more thorough smoking. Since each of the eight Helping Hands benefit contestants were also judged on the salads and pies they served - as well as how artfully they presented their fare - Jose included a tasty salad of avocadoes and tomatoes and a sumptuous blackberry crisp. These came on colorful blue plates, small enough for the judges to hold while marking their lists.
At the next booth, a team from Clorox offered ribs that judges deemed better because they were smoked in the old-fashioned country-cooking way using real charcoal, not propane-fire smokers. In the interest of full disclosure, team members pointed out that Clorox manufactures the popular Kingsford brand of charcoal they were using, with the product's research done right here in Pleasanton. Clorox employees enhanced the marinating process with Kentucky bourbon, bacon, corn and red bell peppers placed in the pan at the base of the smoker as the ribs cooked overhead.
The team from 1st United Services Credit Union showed its backyard skills using store-bought smokers and employee recipes tested over the last several months outside their offices at 5901 Gibraltar Dr., with 120 joining in. Their offerings at the Fairgrounds included sliders from pork shoulders smoked for 15 hours. These were clearly crowd-pleasers and went fast while judges tasted ribs that had been smoked all day above a grate of wood soaked in water and vinegar.
It turns out that even career accountants have cooking expertise as Kathy Alameda, a partner at Sallmann Young & Alameda proved. Her teammates wowed judges with their short-cooked ribs prepared in half the time others took. The ribs were marinated with pineapple, Hawaiian tea, fresh fruit and "a bit of sake." The meat was boiled for about an hour first, tenderizing it and making the smoking process faster and easier. Tasty results were achieved after three hours of actual smoking, clearly a technique I'll pass along to my Oklahoma friends tonight if time runs short.
Friday's winners, by the way, were: Clorox/Kingsford, best overall, best pie; 1st United, best team/community spirit, best team appearance; Pleasanton Garbage, best ribs; Faz Restaurant, best grilled vegetables.