People’s Choice award added to Chamber of Commerce King of the County Barbecue

MARTINEZ, Calif. – People who have attended the annual Martinez Chamber of Commerce’s King of the County Barbecue Festival have often said they wanted to do more than watch the Backyard Barbecue Competition. And the Martinez Chamber of Commerce has heard them.

For the first time, attendees can participate in selecting a “People’s Choice” winner, President Julie Johnston said. “They’ve always wanted that – to taste the backyard barbecue,” she said.

What has prevented this in the past have been health department’s governing specific food service and hand washing requirements, she said. However, she began speaking with competitors and asked those who could meet those regulations if they also could prepare enough meats to supply the public.

They must have the right setup, she said, with a barbecue smoker that can cook 20 to 30 racks of ribs. Several competitors, particularly those who regularly enter barbecue contests, told her they were ready. Members of the public buying tickets will receive a wooden token they’ll use to vote for the People’s Choice Rib Award.

As in the past, the barbecue contest will give smaller mom and pop chefs a chance to compete against larger operations, and will be judged by an anonymous panel. The Chamber has partnered with the Kansas City Barbecue Society that will make this year’s contest a sanctioned Backyard Barbecue Competition, with prizes for first to fifth place.

Contestants are coming from throughout the state, Johnston said. The barbecue awards will take place at 4 p.m. both days, during breaks in the musical entertainment provided by an eclectic lineup of live bands.

Three professional vendors will be selling a variety of barbecues directly to festival attendees, she said.

Big Joe’s will sell ribs, tri-tips, chicken and pulled pork, shrimp, oysters and alligator sausage. Big Jim’s offers a Southwestern twist on traditional barbecue of ribs, brisket, and pulled pork sandwiches with traditional baked beans and potato salad sides. Liberation Foods will offer the choices of ribs, chicken and pulled pork in the forms of sandwiches, nachos or tacos.

Other snack food vendors will sell corn dogs, Greek food, kettle corn Philly cheese steak sandwiches snow cones, chicken wings, dipping dots and cotton candy. “There’s something for everybody there,” Johnston said.

Children will be able to play in two jumpy houses, get their faces painted, get temporary henna tattoos and visit animals in a petting zoo. Some of the food vendors will be placed near the children’s zone.

Meanwhile visitors can shop for arts, crafts and other merchandise in 50 vendor booths.

Fortunately, this year the weather is cooperating, she said with relief. Last year, temperatures reached the 100s, which discouraged attendance. This year, highs are expected to peak in the low 80s. “That’s fantastic, really exciting,” she said.

Admission is free, as is parking. This year, the event will be in Radke Martinez Regional Shoreline Park, the East Bay Regional Park District portion of the city’s waterfront area, a shift in placement because of renovations being done at the Waterfront Park.

“I look forward to families coming out and having a good time,” Johnston said. “I see moms and dads bringing their kids out, walking around having a good time. Dad’s having barbecue and a beer, the children are playing in the kids’ zone, and mom does some shopping. It’s an event that lets community come together and have a great, fun day.”

The King of the County Barbecue Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 16, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 17, in Radke Martinez Regional Shoreline Park, at the north end of Ferry Street. The event also is seeking volunteers, and those interested may email Gay Gerlack at

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