Under a shady canopy of aged tall oaks, an estimated 1,500 enjoyed live music, barbecued meats, beer and conversation at Saturday's second annual "Smoke on the River" event at the Tuolumne River Lodge, 2429 River Road.
The eight-hour event included a barbecue competition that drew 19 competitors from all over the Valley and a few from as far away as San Jose and Los Angeles. They sweated it out in the hot sun on the river bank as they prepared beef or pork and grilled it for a possible win.
Guy Mitchell with the Off the Hook team of Clovis towed his barbecue trailer to Ceres in his quest to capture the grand champion title he won last year. He also brought gallons of homemade barbecue sauce to lather on the meats they cooked to perfection.
"It's about bragging rights," said Mitchell, who mentioned a prize of $500 for the top finisher. "It's just fun. I love to cook."
Mitchell, however, came away with the third place in ribs for a $25 prize. The overall winner of the BBQ challenge with their tasty barbecued meats was the Paul Swanson and his Beer Belly BBQ Crew team. The team from Modesto took the grand champion title and $500 in cash.
Smokin' the Bandit BBQ was the first-place winners in both ribs. Second-place winner of ribs was Rob's Smokin' Rub and third place was Full Barrel Barbecue.
First-place tri-tip went to Beer Belly BBQ and second-place was captured by Meat Liquidators. Third place Off the Hook.
Reserve Grand Champion barbecue status went to Smokin' the Bandit BBQ. They took $300 back home to Plumas Lake.
The People's Choice Award went to Hero's BBQ of Modesto. That was worth $15.
"I was extremely pleased with the outcome of the event," said Renee Ledbetter, president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce. "I don't have actual numbers in but what I heard from people who attended last year it looks like we doubled in size. We doubled in the number of contestants. I would estimate 1,500 persons attended. The weather cooperated greatly."
Last year the event drew an estimated 700 to 800.
Those attended came out with lawn chairs or blankets to take position on the grassy area in front of the stage. Musicians for the event included Highway 99 Band, Black Rose Band, Patty Castillo Davis and Greg Scudder and the Beer:30.
At 2 p.m., the barbecue teams gave out samples to those who purchased $1 sample tickets. The delicacies were washed down with beer supplied by microbreweries on hand that included Dust Bowl of Turlock and Blaker Brewing which operates on a dairy on the outskirts of Ceres. Also present were DBI Beverage, Sequoia and Sandude Brewing.
Arts and crafts vendors were present with wares as were groups like the Soroptimist International of Ceres selling sodas and water, and sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs sold by Central Valley and Ceres High schools band boosters. Chris Vierra, the mayor of Ceres, was present with his shaved ice wagon.
Other barbecue teams included the Ceres based teams of JnJ's Smokin' BBQ, the Smokey River Boys, Copper Kitchen BBQ and O's BBQ; the Turlock team of Full Barrel BBQ and Smokin' Guns BBQ; as well as Smokey Boys BBQ of Madera, Smokin' Ts BBQ of Waterford, Rob's Smokin' Rub BBQ Crew of Manteca, 5W BBQ of Clovis, David & Robin Jones of Escalon, Hello BBQ of San Jose, Biggety Q's Brothers BBQ, and Howlin' BBQ of Los Angeles.
The event was cosponsored by Ceres Chamber of Commerce and the Tuolumne River Lodge, which supplied plenty of volunteer manpower.
"It was our second year so we are learning as we go," said Ledbetter, who will be attending other barbecue events to get ideas for next year. Next year we aim to make it even bigger and better."