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BBQ Throwdown Comes to Fresno Fairgrounds. Pitmaster Secrets Revealed

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Who has the best ribs and tri-tip? A BBQ competition at the Fresno Fairgrounds will answer that question. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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Jesse Marquez wanted to create a barbeque competition for guys like him — everyday grillers who love to feed family and friends.

GV Wire Reporter David Taub

David Taub

Appetite for Fresno

I’m just a barbecue guy. I just like cooking in my backyard, my front yard, you know? I mean, I started off with the kettle grill, just like most people. And I just have a love for cooking,” Marquez, who works as head of security at the fairgrounds said.

This Saturday, Marquez is calling all masters of the flame at the Fresno Fairgrounds. Winners of the First Annual Ribs and Tri Tip BBQ Throwdown could take home a $1,000 cash prize and a BBQ title belt.

At least 15 teams will compete Saturday, with the ribs judged by trained meat masters. There will also be a people’s choice award for the tri-tip. A sampler ticket for the public costs $20.

The event will also include a bar, vendors, and music.

From Competitor to Organizer

This is Marquez’s first attempt at hosting a competition, a personal challenge for him. He said there was a need in Fresno.

“I’m not trying to go too big, because it’s the first one. I want to set attainable goals, but I do want it to be a recurring thing. There’s a community out here,” Marquez said.

Marquez tried his hand as a competitor. He didn’t win anything, but he had fun.

Grilling tri-tip is his favorite.

“Slow and low, man. I can do fast and hot. It just depends on what kind of time frame is. As far as recipes, it’s basic. I don’t use anything commercial. I do everything myself. There’s nothing real secret about it. It’s just timing. And the way you treat it on the grill and or in the smoker,” Marquez said.

He prefers a dry rub of smoked paprika, salt, pepper and other powders.

“That’s how you get that bark. To some people that doesn’t really know the barbecue game, it would look burnt. For the most part, that’s a good thing. You cut it open and you see that pink in there. That’s what you want,” Marquez said.

Marquez expects all kinds of methods and grills on Saturday — kettles, smokers, barrels, Santa Maria-style.

“To each their own,” Marquez said.

Pandemic Almost Sank One Competitor

Barbeque is a hobby Rico Robles. Growing up in south Texas, he dreamed about opening a restaurant in his current hometown of Fowler.

“I’m a diehard barbecue guy. I’ve been barbecuing and smoking pretty much all my life,” Robles said.

He had a location downtown, all the equipment ready to go. He even built a custom smoker. The pandemic ruined things.

“I pulled back and all that happened because I seen that it was going to cost me grief. Plus, I knew that I was going to have a big workflow in my monument business,” Robles said.

He has seen steady business at his regular job, owner of Rico’s Memorial Stones.

Robles will compete for the first time at the Fresno event. He says brisket is his specialty, but he’s good at tri-tip too.

“You get your rub together, you marinate it there, you inject it and you treat it like a baby and you don’t mess with it too much. If you looking, you ain’t cooking. Once you get it in there, know your times, know your weight, put a thermometer on it and keep measurement on the heat,” Robles said.

The key, Robles said? Let it rest for up to two hours.

“That’s a point that a lot of barbecue guys don’t do. That caused some problems,” Robles said.

Rico Robles seasons his meat. The monument maker will compete at the BBQ Throwdown at the Fresno Fairgrounds on Saturday. (Special to GV Wire)

A Special Grill

And about that grill?

“I got a custom made smoker. I designed it, and then I had my fabricators put it together. It was a 250 gallon propane tank. I kept one end off of it and I put a hot box on the bottom. I put a warmer on top of that with five more racks there. And I got four racks. I can actually cook 150 pounds of meat at one time,” Robles said.

The smoker also includes pieces from an authentic Texas oil rig, and a sound system, and shading.

Rico Robles shows off his special smoker. (Special to GV Wire)

BBQ Throwdown Lowdown

When: Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Fresno Fairgrounds (park in the Kings Canyon parking lot for free)

Tickets: $5 (kids 12 and under free with adult ticket)

$20 “Taster ticket” (includes entry fee and food tickets to taste the ribs and tri tp)

Competition fee: $200 entry fee; $30 for a vendor booth

Contact Jesse Marquez at 559-907-0963 for entry.

Prizes:  Ribs: $1,000 for first place; $500 for second; $250 for third. Plus a $500 People’s Choice tri-tip award winner.

David Taub has spent most of his career in journalism behind the scenes working as a TV assignment editor and radio producer. For more than a decade, he has worked in the Fresno market with such stops at KSEE-24, KMJ and Power Talk 96.7. Taub also worked the production and support side of some of TV sports biggest events including the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and NASCAR to name a few. Taub graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email