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Lake Havasu Music Brews and BBQ Championship

This is the place to be in Arizona during Late January. Located right along side the Colorado River @ Lake Havasu State Park #4 where the daytime temps are in the mid 60’s - 80’s with the nights in the low 50’s. Lake Havasu Music Brews and BBQ Championship is Arizona's Largest KCBS State BBQ Championship hosting 86 Pro Comp Teams, 50 Craft & Wholesale vendors and an additional 20 food vendors including some of the best barbecue !

KCBS Music Brews and BBQ Championship
Lake Havasu, Arizona
January 25 & 26, 2013
By Donna Fong

Most new contests start off small and grow over time, learning lessons along the way. This has never been the case for the BBQ contest in Lake Havasu. In 2010, I was a judge at 1st Annual Hava BBQ and there were already 71 teams competing. The following year there were 78 teams and then 74. Now this year, the contest has grown to 84 teams. Not only does Havasu have a ton of teams, but it also has had the heavy hitters like Pellet Envy, Iowa's Smokey D's, 4 Legs Up, Lotta Bull, Smokin' Triggers, Big Poppa Smokers, Swine Assassins, Slap Yo’ Daddy and Left Coast Q. If you are a competitive team, it is a great way to measure yourself against some of the best and not just in the west but all over.

On any given Saturday, it can be anyone’s game, which is one of the great things about BBQ contests. You don’t have to know a thing about cooking to compete against Johnny Trigg. You just need an entry fee, some meat and a smoker. It really is that simple. Havasu is a big boys contest for certain but you don’t have to be one to compete.

Cheryl and Skip Ramsden, the Havasu organizers who conceived of this contest back in 2008, by 2009 had an officially sanctioned KCBS contest in their hometown. The advantage of Havasu is that it is located in a warm climate and is a great kickoff to the BBQ season. There are plenty of good hotels and restaurants to keep your team happy.

Each year the contest has offered a little bit more than it did the previous year. Pitmaster, Kelly Wertz of 4 Legs Up, the Grand Champion from 2010, offers a competition level BBQ class. Students walk away from the class with a solid set of practical skills needed for cooking competition level BBQ. There is also a KCBS Judges class for those who want to become certified in judging BBQ. For motorcyclists, there is a Desert Lighting Sweet Heart Motorcycle Run. There is live music throughout the contest and this year, CAPTAIN CARDIAC and the CORONARIES, was the highlight on Saturday evening. A full size carnival complete with Ferris wheel and other rides lit up the night sky each night. There was a crossroad car and bike show and public BBQ sampling from competitive teams. And if you didn’t want to do a full BBQ competition, there was also a backyard category on Sunday if you wanted to try it out for the first time.

For BBQ judges, it is a great way to get trained on how to judge and then immediately dive into your first experience. Because of the size of the Havasu contest, there are usually five reps on site. In the past few years, it has been Carol and Merl Whitebrook, Kathleen and Kelly McIntosh and Gene Goycochea. The contest is always well run for the judges, cooks and visitors alike. If the contest lacks anything it is often luck in good weather. This year there was a slow drizzle of rain from Friday night until the middle of turn-ins. What are the chances of it raining in the Arizona dessert? Skip complained about getting sunburn on Monday from setting up the judges’ tent. And of course, on the Sunday afterward, it was picture perfect. But you take your chances in life and in every other way; Havasu was a great contest still.

The representatives took care to warn the cooks to not go by their cell phone clocks since this part of Arizona is very close to the border of the MST and PST zones. Cell phones tend to drift between the two time zones without warning. The moist air made for great smoke rings and the mild weather leveled cooking temperatures throughout the night. The contest had a sober feeling to it. Nobody was in the mood to party in the rain.

There were some sentimental team favorites this year. Bekke and Scott Holmes from Little Miss BBQ from Phoenix who took RGC last year finally gave birth to their daughter. This was their first major cook since the arrival of Vivian. Thos of us who remembered Bekke being pregnant last time smiled when the three of them accepted 5th in ribs as a new family. Two separate and experienced teams were cooking Havasu for the very first time without their spouses, Kim Walton of QN4U and Jim Ballog of Sweet Peppers. For both teams, they had to find a new way to approach cooking in the absence of their lifetime partners. One had to admire their courage to come out, cook and win something more important than an award. For those of us who have known them for a while, we all gained a little more courage in our lives by their example.

Fresh from their 25th overall place for the 2012 KCBS season, Arizona teammates, Tom Glenn and Paul Drews of I.A.B 30 were flashing their brand new Jambo J-3 and a huge pimped out RV to start off their season. It’s a good thing it was cloudy the whole time because the gleaming hardware was almost blinding. Woodhouse BBQ from St. Helena, CA was still passing out their famous #1 in the country chocolates to fellow contestants. Ryan and Kim Moore from Knock UR Sox had lots of relatives locally and had about the biggest party on Friday night. And all the way from the Pacific Northwest were the combined teams of Jerry Keane of Duelin J’s BBQ from Brier, Washington and Lynnae Oxley of Sugar’s BBQ from Portland, Oregon.

The rain didn’t discourage visitors from sampling BBQ and talking with teams. When the skies finally stopped dripping with water, the contest was over and teams began packing away their tents and smokers. With the pressure of the contest gone, cooks could ease up a bit and catch up on the small talk they might have missed earlier.

The awards ceremony was dry and mild. Skip welcomed teams, judges and visitors. As he mentioned the long list of sponsors, one got a very clear idea about how hard Cheryl and Skip worked to make this a big success. Having been to several large awards ceremonies, one rarely goes in expecting to take a walk. If you can walk even once, you are grateful. The longer you have to wait, the harder it gets to listen for your name. And the larger the contest, the harder it is get your name called. With a few exceptions, it is also difficult to determine who are the GC and RGC teams until they are called. There was no team who was called as a top ten team in all four categories, though Iowa’s Smokey D’s was called in three categories. So when Darren and Sherry Warth were named Reserve Grand Champions, it was a total surprise. Most in the audience thought they had taken first place and that second place was going to Dry 2 the Bone, Harlyn Janssen, also from Iowa. After all, the Iowans just took a large percentage of the trophies handed out two weeks prior in Kansas City.

Kelly McIntosh then told a story that captured the curious audience. As an introduction to this Grand Championship team, he recalled that a mere two years earlier in this same spot, was a team that behaved so poorly and partied so hard that they were sternly lectured by his wife, Kathleen McIntosh, about what is acceptable and not acceptable at a KCBS contest. They were nearly thrown out of the contest. At this moment, I tried to recall who this team was since I wasn’t that far away from the partiers that year. I remembered one team started a grease fire and got so drunk, they just packed up Friday night and went home. But I didn’t remember who else was down the row from me.

Kelly went on to say that this was their first Grand Championship. The GC went to Arizona’s own, Sterling “Smitty” Smith and his wife, Molly Smith. Nobody saw that coming. The crowd just went wild. Jaws dropped, mouths were covered, eyebrows were raised and we all cheered. Local team makes good. Wow, how great was that? It’s times like this that make you forget temporarily how you did and just jump for joy for someone else. I love these shockingly happy surprises and so did everyone else. A few teams walked up to the reps for their scores but more of us went over to the stage to congratulate Smitty and Molly. The moment was all theirs and we were thankful to be sharing it with them.

Congratulations to Loot N Booty from Scottsdale, Arizona for taking GC, 17th in chicken, 1st in ribs, 23rd in pork and 21st in brisket. RGC went to Darren and Sherry Warth of Iowa’s Smokey D’s who were 6th in chicken, 9th in ribs, 22nd in pork and 10th in brisket. A margin of 0.0004 separated the two championship teams. Congratulations should also go out to Dry to the Bone who placed 1st in chicken, to Smoke N Phoenicians who placed 1st in pork shoulder and to 4 Legs Up who placed 1st in brisket.

Thanks to Skip and Cheryl Ramsden and the KCBS Reps and volunteers who made this a truly successful BBQ extravaganza.


By Donna Fong

Kim Walton - Team QN4U
Karen Rosol - Team Toys 4 BBQ'N 
Ric Gilbert & Ben Lobenstein Tom & Jennifer Duncan
Kent Walton (QN4U)
Dan Cannon (BBQbyDan)
Kent Walton, Jodi, Kim Walton
Team QN4U
Kent, Kim, Troy
Team QN4U
Spencer, Justin, Eva Jodi & Justin
Team QN4U
Kent & Jodi
   Team QN4U
Kent & Kim









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