A hungry crowd filled Festival Square on Thursday to witness and sample some mouth-watering barbecue during the Alameda County Fair's 10th Annual BBQ Rib and Chicken Cook-Off.
It was one of two semi-final rounds where contestants went grill-to-grill on their barbecuing skills to see which six would move onto Saturday's final round.
Thursday's contestants lucked out — all three automatically qualified to move onto the final round since three were selected on Wednesday and two contestants that were supposed to compete on Thursday never showed up.
Despite knowing they would automatically advance to the final round they still worked their rump roasts off.
First time team competitors Erik Darby and Justin Hennessee from Lafayette arrived at the fair as early as 5 a.m. to start prepping for their Asian-inspired sauce.
The two met through their wives, who were part of a moms group with both their 18-month-old sons who happen to be two weeks a part.
"This is a chance for us to hang out without dirty diapers or kindergym," Hennessee said.
Castro Valley resident Bob Moglia is competing for the fifth year and says it's the people that keep bringing him back each year.
"It's kind of like a fraternity," he said.
The father of three is the cook in the family and says it's his attention to detail that he hopes will get him this year's grand prize — a blue ribbon, a trip to the Oakland Raiders' trianing camp, and four tickets to one of their games.
Cook-off veteran Keith Brown of Livermore has competed in the contest for the past nine years. Despite having yet to win the grand prize, he remains hopeful this year after tweaking his recipe over the years.
"It's kind of like the blues, if you play the same song over every night, you play it different every time," he said.
All five judges ranging from Safeway chefs to credentialed tasters picked the sauced-up meat off the bones, chewed, and often spit it out in red solo cups.
"It's so you have a fresh pallet," said Chef Clyde Serda who is a certified master taster, who's been tasting professionally for the past 15 years.
Each competitor received two slabs of baby back ribs and one whole chicken at 8 a.m. from contest officials. After hours on the grill, their barbecue was judged on taste, sauce, meat, smoke and texture.
"This contest is even from the set," said Courtney Townsend-Duboff, Festival Square Director. "That right there is really relying on their technique and expertise."