Five years ago, Grillin on the Bay formed primarily as a way to raise money for the St. Mark School in Sheepshead Bay. Since, it’s become one of the premier spots for grillers in the city, from top restaurant chefs to Brooklyn backyard grillers.
“Last year’s went very well. It was an interesting contest compared to previous years; it had a lot of food bloggers and New York restaurant people there as opposed to previous years,” said Robert Fernandez, a Sheepshead Bay resident who created the cook-off fundraiser.
This year’s shouldn’t be any different, as on March 27, big names in BBQ will converge on Sheepshead Bay for the cook-off, which typically draws teams from all over the country as they compete in four grilling categories: chicken breast, fish, pork and chef’s choice.
From the beginning has been Robert Richter, former pitmaster of Hill Country and current pitmaster for the forthcoming Fatty ‘Cue in Williamsburg. Five years ago, the griller was looking for a venue to host a barbecue contest; Fernandez was looking for a new fundraiser idea for St. Mark School. They combined the two, and Grillin on the Bay was born.
“It was me, him and Matt Fischer, one of the chefs over at The Rub now,” remembered Fernandez. “The three of us got together and laid it out. Bobby said he wanted to cook at the event, so we kicked him off the organizing board. Bobby was the first guy from New York to win the American Royal Barbecue title at the time. We said, well Bobby, you’re kind of a shoe-in here.”
Since the first event, Richter has competed in every Grillin on the Bay, cooking with the people from Wildwood BBQ, and doing pretty well; last year, the team came in second.
Other big names in barbecue at this year’s competition include Clint Cantwell, who’s been featured on the Food Network; Andy O.C. Husbands of the award-winning Tremont647, who’s also been featured on TV in “Hell’s Kitchen”; and the American Royal champions behind the team I Smell Smoke. Some surprises are in store as well, as one big time barbecuer couldn’t advertise his name due to contract requirements.
Among those from the borough competing are Mike Rosen and Mike Danza, who fittingly make up the team Smokey Mikes. “We just consider ourselves a couple of bums from Brooklyn that like to barbecue,” said Rosen.
Before Fernandez and friends started flaring up the grill in Sheepshead Bay, most competitions involved getting on a plane. But today, BBQ competitions can be found in Long Island, New Paltz, and New Jersey.
Part of that is due to hype machines like the Food Network. “People want to see what’s going on at these things now,” said Fernandez, who himself was featured on the channel during a competition a few years ago in New Jersey.
Since grilling is often a 24-hour ordeal, with meat on the grill for up to a day before it’s perfect, Fernandez would like to see a two-day grillin’ festival in Brooklyn. Securing a space and other logistics poses its difficulties, though.
“It will happen one of these days,” said Fernandez. “Just not this year.”
For Brooklynites wondering how much fun it might be to watch others stand behind a grill, obsessively checking temperatures and watching over their meat, the treat is in the barbecue. As well asbeing judged based on appearance, tenderness, and, of course, taste, by judges certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the meat will also be on sale for the public.
Those deemed the winner in each category get a percentage of the pool prize, with the remains going towards St. Mark School.
Chili connoisseurs can also get in on the fun this year, and the chance at a $100 prize, with the addition of the Brooklyn Chili Smack Down. A takeoff of Matt Timm’s popular Chili Takedown, the best pot will be the people’s choice, so come hungry.
Grillin’ On The Bay and The Brooklyn Chili SmackDown will be March 27 at St. Mark School (East 18th Street and Avenue Z), starting at 11 a.m. with the chili sampling beginning at 1 p.m. Admission is free. BBQ will be available for purchase from The Rub, as will all-you-can-eat chili for $10.