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'Most people, especially in California, think barbeque is going in your back yard and throwing on a couple of steaks," says Gary Notley. "But that is not barbeque, that is grilling. Barbeque is when you take a pretty large chunk of meat, a brisket, pork shoulder or pork butt -- a brisket can run between 10 and 20 pounds -- and you cook those low and slow, between 200 and 250 degrees. With a brisket, you can cook that between 18 and 20 hours." On Sunday, September 2, the Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Unified Port of San Diego will host the Beachfront BBQ Championship. Because it is a Kansas City Barbeque Society--sanctioned event, contestants follow the society's official rules of competition and may earn points toward the Jack Daniel's Barbeque Championship. "Jack Daniel's is the biggest event in the United States, and you can win hundreds of thousands of dollars," says David Seeberger, chairperson for the Imperial Beach competition. "Mine is small, $2500. The only way I can rope them in is the beautiful Labor Day weekend, beachfront parking, and all the bikinis they can look at."

"If you're anything in barbeque, you follow the [Kansas City Barbeque Society] rules," says Notley, who will compete with a small team under the name Notley Q. "When you turn your meat in, there has to be six slices presented, one for each judge, and you can't pool sauce on them. There can't be a foreign object or hair on something in your presentation, and when a judge picks up your piece of brisket, and you have two pieces of brisket stuck together, he can't go and pull it apart and hand it to the next guy. If one judge is shorted, you don't get a score from that judge."

Contestants set up at noon the day before judging, at which point the raw meat is inspected. "Everything has to be prepared on site," says Notley. "You cook overnight. Some people have big teams and switch off, but the majority are there watching their temperatures. They don't want to take off and go to bed down the street and the barbeque spikes up to 400 degrees or runs out of fuel. I stay up all night, maybe sleep a few hours once the temperatures are all set in. Some people come with their motor homes, some have tents; I'm a sleep-in-the-back-of-my-car type of guy."

Barbeque styles are characteristic of the region from which they originated. "I like to take the low and slow of Texas, the dry rub of Memphis, and the barbeque sauce smothering of Kansas City," says Dominique Bibbs, who will compete with the team Smokey Bibbs. "When I grew up, my momma always said, 'Son, you need to boil those ribs, get that fat off of there,' but she was wrong. Boiling ribs is one of the old-school ways. People figured it would make the meat more tender and juicy, but when you take those ribs out of the boiling water, there's all your flavor, right in the pot."

Wood chips are burned to achieve the low, indirect heat required for authentic barbequing. "Pretty much any type of wood that's hard, either from a fruit tree or nut tree, works best," says Notley. "You don't want to use fir or pine -- that'll give your meat a sort of turpentine taste." Bibbs will be using a combination of hickory and mesquite and will be experimenting with sugar maple. "Sugar maple comes from maple trees, which make syrup. The wood will probably make [the meat] sweeter," he says.

Notley hopes his high-quality meat will give him an edge. "All the beef and pork comes out of my pocket. With the entry fee I'm looking at about 500 bucks. Some teams go to Costco or Restaurant Depot. I go to Tip Top Meats, a good butcher shop in Carlsbad." Notley keeps a detailed log every time he barbeques. "My wife is my best critic. She'll let me know, 'Hey, you oversmoked this.' I write down everything I'm doing on the hour. I'm talking: what's my outside temperature, is it windy, what are my vents at."

Notley uses a Weber Smokey Mountain, a bullet-shaped smoker grill, which cost $200. "The first time I walked in [to a competition], I was like, 'I'm going to get my ass kicked,'" says Notley of a barbeque challenge in which he competed in Victorville. "It was like I walked in to play touch football but then found out I was playing against the Chargers. One fellow had a computer-controlled digital stoker system that you plug into your barbeque, and it controls your temperature beautifully. There are some barbeques out there that are probably $25,000. I'm jealous of these guys, but you've got to cook and sell an awful lot of meat to afford one of those. Maybe with my little bullet smoker I'm not getting the quality they have, but I can't believe that. To me, it's the cook and not the cooker." -- Barbarella

Beachfront BBQ Championship Event Sunday, September 2 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 700 Block of Seacoast Drive Imperial Beach (near Dunes Park) Cost: Free Info: 619-424-3151 or www.cbbqa.org

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