A history of the California BBQ Associations
By Donna Fong
By Donna Fong
The beginnings of the California BBQ Association began as a spunky idea
in one woman’s head in 1994.
But before I explain how that started, let’s go back a few years and
talk about BBQ contests in California because our origins relate back to
In 1989, Eva and Hayward Harris were judging at sanctioned KCBS contests
outside of the state. There were no sanctioned contests in California.
KCBS was formed in 1985, which explains Hayward’s low judge number of
183. Eva’s number is judge #988. In 1992, Hayward and Eva attended the
first NBBQA conference in the Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas where they met
Carolyn and Gary Wells, founders of KCBS. As the story goes, people
didn’t pay much attention to Hayward until they ate one of his ribs.
After that, Carolyn invited him to become a barbecue judge.
Hayward took a Paul Kirk class in southern California and then took it
again in the Pacific Northwest with the famous Judy Anderson of Mad
Momma & the Kid. When he took it the second time, Paul Kirk, the Baron
of BBQ challenged Hayward to start cooking instead of judging. Within a
few years, the Harris’ were competing as Rare Breed but had to do so
outside of the state. Any contests they did compete in the state were
The Holtville Athletic Club has the longest continuously running
barbecue contest beginning in 1991. The Holtville Rib Cook-Off is a
backyard event and still running today. But sanctioned contests didn’t
arrive until 1993. Two years before this date, Frank Boyer was
advertising in the KCBS Bullsheet yearning to connect with other
California folks interested in BBQ.
On June 19-20, 1993, California held its first KCBS sanctioned contest
in downtown San Jose. The 35 team contest was called “The Best of the
Bay BBQ Cookoff” and was associated with the San Jose Symphony. Ads for
the contest were published in the KCBS Bullsheet. Carolyn Wells and
Ralph Blevins were the KCBS representatives. Back then, they tallied
score cards by hand.
Frank Boyer, who had been cooking whole hogs and lambs since 1979,
entered the contest as Sweet Time BBQ along with a restaurant owner
known as Mr. D’s. The restaurant had an emergency and Frank basically
had to cook on his own. And it was there where for the first time, Frank
met Ric Gilbert, who was a local spectator. Ric was an accomplished
chili and clam chowder cook who was looking to get into barbecue. Frank
took GC that day, winning 1st in ribs, 1st in brisket, 1st in pork and
2nd in chicken and made a life-long friend.
In 1994, Hayward and Eva had purchased “Big Bertha” smoker from Charlie
Peavey of Ocala, Florida and started competing on the circuit in
California. They went to the American Royal that year, as Rare Breed,
the first African-American team to compete at the contest. They were
That same year during a BBQ tri-tip cook-off at the Irwindale Speedway,
Eva and Hayward Harris met Kathy Murphy. Kathy had been a caterer since
1981 in the Los Angeles area. By 1988, Kathy had trained in Santa Maria
and received permission from the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce to cook
“Santa Maria” style tri-tip. Kathy’s 13 year old company was Ranch Hands
BBQ and she had a crew of three serving up BBQ at Irwindale. Kathy, Eva
and Hayward hit it off and the Haywards invited Kathy to attend the
NBBQA National Conference in Grapevine, Texas that year. She accepted.
It was at the NBBQA conference that she was met with “raised eyebrows
and loud laughter” when she said she was from California and without a
male counterpart. Her quotes from the conversations were, “Yeah, we know
what you smoke in California.” And “I didn’t know you could barbecue
tofu.” And then someone accused her of making up a cut of meat called
tri-tip, saying there was no such thing.
All of that got her pretty mad. Kathy wanted to improve California’s BBQ
reputation and she thought starting a barbecue association would do just
that. If you started an association, people would learn how to barbecue
and would compete in contests. And then they would eventually start
beating teams from other parts of the county. Booyah! Our reputation
would improve nationally.
In 1995, Kathy returned to the NBBQA conference, now held in Memphis.
She requested the contact information of all California members and
asked them to meet in the hotel lobby. About twelve members showed up
and agreed to form an association in California.
Besides Eva and Hayward Harris, other founding members included Bob
Yeats of Windy City Pizza in San Mateo, Donna and George Baroody of Pork
Belly Bandits, Melanie Jones and Joe Davidson of Follows Camp and two of
Bob’s employees, Roland Cook who worked for Kantor and Yeats and
They planned to meet again. Most of the members were barbecue restaurant
owners in Northern California. The first meeting was at Jeff Erb’s
restaurant, Back Forty BBQ in Pleasant Hill, which is still there today.
Bob Kantor, of San Francisco’s Memphis Minnie’s agreed to become
president and host future meetings. Bob’s friend, Bob Yeats of Windy
City Pizza and BBQ in nearby San Mateo also hosted meetings at his
restaurant, giving half price discounts for dinner during meetings. Bob
and Bob had become friends when they met each other at the American
Royal. There were also a few meetings held at the Shoreline Amphitheater
in Mountain View.
Unlike Bob Yeats who was born in Oklahoma and went to school at the
University of Texas, Bob Kantor was a Yankee but wanted to be a southern
boy. Bob Kantor was born in New York. In 1970, Bob moved to San
Francisco where he attended the California Culinary Academy. He spent
the next ten years as a chef in the high-end fine dining sector before
becoming enamored with barbecue. Influenced by Mason Steinberg of Old
Mill Bar-B-Que of Omaha, he was considered by all accounts as one of the
country’s best known Jews who barbecued. He passed away in 2013 but his
restaurant continues in San Francisco’s Haight and Ashbury district. It
was always one of Bob Kantor’s dream to have a barbecue cook-off in the
Presidio, looking down on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Bob Yeats recalls in the early CBBQA meetings how energetic Frank Boyer
would be about his competitions. Frank would take tons of meat entry
photos and show them in meetings. No surprise there. As restaurant
owners, Yeats and Kantor would look at each other and wonder how long
they could take look at one box of barbecue after another. They all
looked the same to them but apparently not to Frank.
In less than a year, Bob Kantor resigned as president, and Frank Boyer
took over from 1995 to 2002. Meetings were still held in northern
California on the first Tuesday of the month. Kathy Murphy flew north to
attend the meetings as she had a daughter who worked for the airlines.
Frank printed CBBQA newsletters and mailed them to a California mailing
list from Jerry Roach of J-R Enterprise Smokers. It was during these
early years when BBQ instructors became instrumental in teaching our
cooks how to barbecue.
Jerry Roach, a Memphis in May cook, taught his “School of Southern
Barbecue” class in Burlingame and also in San Diego for many years. BBQ
author, C. Clark “Smoky” Hale and David Klose taught in California.
But more than anyone, Paul Kirk was instrumental, teaching up to three
classes a year in California. His “bring your own smoker” classes were
held in conjunction with the CBBQA. Paul’s classes would help finance
the CBBQA, earning $1-1.5K per class. Paul also supported the PNWBA
which got started in 1991. Since the PNWBA is American’s second oldest
BBQ organization, Bob Lyons would share sponsorship information with the
CBBQA to help us grow.
With the help of many, our members learned how to cook. Some folks like
the Haywards learned how to cook from Lynn and Jeff Shivers from Texas
or Judy Anderson from Washington. Others, like Gene Goycochea, learned
what good barbecue tasted like on business trips to Memphis and on his
way back through Texas. Disappointed at his own efforts, he discovered
that he was cooking on the wrong pit. So he talked to David Klose and
bought a 10,000lb smoker. Folks found a way to buy good equipment and
cook good barbecue.
By 1996, Joe Davidson, Melanie Jones and Carolyn Wells worked on
designing a series of contests at Follows Camp which Carolyn calls
“innovative”. Joe owned Follows Camp (after being a Rolls Royce salesman
in Beverly Hills) and Melanie was his son’s wife. The “Go For the Gold”
contests were held at Follows camp multiple times a year. Melanie
organized the contests. Joe, who was remember very fondly by the members
of the CBBQA, passed away in 2002 in a car accident.
By the end of 1996, big contests like the Tropicana National Finals in
Las Vegas made it out to the west coast. Folks from all over attended
this contest, including Yeats and Kantor who were certified as judges
there. Competition barbecue was gaining momentum in the west. During
those years, contests were few and far between. Jim Mehl and Frank Boyer
were KCBS representatives for a contest in Lake Tahoe called Fire and
Ice. Carolyn Wells would frequently travel here to rep our contests.
It was at Follows camp and Pasa Tiempo that Gene Goycochea learned about
the CBBQA. Gary Tackett had been competing in contests since 1995 as
Tackett’s Portable Cajun Oven. They met at a judging class in 1997. So
in 1999, Gene, Gary & Renae Tackett combined together as a team, Out of
This World BBQ.
Gene showed up at contests with a semi-truck pulling a 55 foot long
trailer with an Ole Hickory restaurant type smoker inside. It must have
been quite the site. In 2000, Gene started his own series of contests.
These were the Surf and Turf in Imperial Beach, BBQ4Kids in El Cajon,
Smart & Final in Pasadena, and the West Coast BBQ Cook-off in the Pasa
Tiempo Hotel in Santa Cruz. In September of 1999, Melanie also organized
a contest up north in Niles.
In July 1999, twelve members of the CBBQA, formed their own association
to focus on the needs of southern California members. Founding members
were Eva and Hayward Harris, George Baroody, Mike Moore, Mike Guinagh,
Steve Clark, Garry Maines, Gary Tackett, Melanie Jones, Gene Goycochea,
Kathy Murphy, and Dan Cannon.
Even though the name of the organization was SCBBQA, there were members
and officers representing the entire state. Kathy Murphy was VP South
and Jim Mehl, a retired computer programmer from IBM who worked in
Silicon Valley, was VP North. Jim helped start the SCBBQA website and
eventually became president in 2004.
Frank Boyer remained president of the CBBQA and Dan Cannon of Coyote
Road Kill, became president of the SCBBQA for the next two years.
Melanie was the secretary/treasurer. Tom Brohamer was the newsletter
editor and eventually became president. Joe O’Connell, an international
tax attorney wrote the association policies, kept records, and wrote the
by-laws of the SCBBQA. Carolyn remember how Joe insisted that KCBS’s
definition of chicken as Gallus gallus, which includes Cornish game hen.
The IBCA does not recognize Cornish game hen as a valid chicken entry.
The SCBBQA met once a month on the 3rd Saturday at restaurants like the
Old Country Buffet in Montclair and the Black Angus in Burbank.
Elections for both organizations were printed on the back of the paper
newsletters. For the SCBBQA, the ballots were handed out during the
Gene worked on the CBBQA website and had a server in his home. By 2000,
several members took a KCBS representative training class from John Ross
in Filmore, CA. Students included Frank Boyer, Gene Goycochea, Melanie
Jones, Eva Harris, Hayward Harris, Roland Rook, Jim Mehl, and Joe
It was at one of Gene’s contests that he first met Brent Walton and
introduced Brent to competition barbecue. Brent was a sheet metal
fabricator but became really interested in contests. The way Gene tells
it, Brent and Kim started cooking and immediately did well. About the
same time, two losses in the family meant the end of Gene’s competition
life. Gene’s team, Out of This World BBQ, was broken up and team member,
Gary Tackett started a new team with Elvin Jiles, West’s Best BBQ team.
In November 2001, Joe O’Connell and Gene Goycochea approached Frank
Boyer about merging the two organizations back into the CBBQA. Members
agreed it was the right thing to do. SBBQA members were offered one year
of free membership to the CBBQA as part of the restructuring deal.
Around 2001 to 2002, the number of association officers expanded. Not
only could members become president, treasurer, secretary, they could
also be VP of membership, VP of sponsorships, VP of promotions,
newsletter editor, ex officio, or ToY chair.
Paper newsletters continued to circulate from April 1999 until May 2002
for the CBBQA. The SCBBQ newsletters were printed from January 1999 to
The Team of the Year program was proposed by Don Grissom in 2000, within
the SCBBQA organization. Tom Brohamer of BBQ’n Fool won in 2000. Don
Grissom of Dueling Bubbas won in 2001 and Dan Cannon of BBQDan won in
Brent and Kim Walton’s success on the barbecue circuit eventually led to
them opening up QN4U restaurant in Clovis, CA. For a very long, QN4U was
a standard for good barbecue in California. Teams and judges would
commonly drive out to Clovis to taste their barbecue.
Brent became CBBQA president for two years and spent 6 months pushing to
get the CBBQA its 501.3 status. He changed the website and stated where
the money would be spent. Brent and Grant Ford ensured that enough money
was raised at contests to benefits the supported charities. Brent would
personally work the PC tent. It was this type of generosity for
charities, care for teams and mentorship of new cooks that inspired the
Brent Walton award.
Today, many of the original CBBQA and SCBBQA members are still around
serving in different capacities. Frank Boyer is known nationally for his
BBQ photos at the American Royal since 1993, the Jack Daniels since
1996, Memphis in May since 1996, and the Houston Livestock since 1998.
Kathy Murphy no longer owns Ranch Hands but occasionally judges contests
in southern California and teaches CBBQI students how to cook tri-tip
the right way. She also was the first receive the NBBQA BBQ Heroine
Eva and Hayward Harris cook as the Rib Doctor and sell their award
winning Rib Doctor barbecue sauce. Ric Gilbert created the CBBQI,
continues to cook as Ric’s Righteous Ribs and hosts a backyard event in
his home in San Jose. Gene Goycochea has served as a member of the KCBS
Board, a KCBS rep and event organizer. Dan Cannon still competes once in
a while at contests and organizes a member barbecue get-together at Lake
Puddingstone in the winter. Gary Tackett stopped competing as West’s
Best BBQ in 2012 but continues judging contests as a master judge along
with Elvin Jiles.
The CBBQA owes its beginnings to the challenge that was put before us in
1994, to become respected cooks. Today, that dream has been realized
with victories at the American Royal, Sam’s club and KCBS Team of the
Year series and throughout the nation on a regular basis. Californians
win big contests, sauce competitions, rub competitions, and humanitarian
awards. Crowns are placed on our heads and we drive away in a white
convertible as a prize for a great cook. We hold checks bigger than our
bodies all of the time.
We come in all shapes and sizes, in both sexes and many cultures. We
receive perfect scores on a frequent basis. We appear on television
regularly. We sell BBQ to America in commercials and excite them with
our talent and will power at contests. We organize some of the best
contests in the nation. We push the boundaries of barbecue in our
contests, our restaurants and our kitchen tables. Thank you to all of
the folks who contributed to the success we enjoy today.