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It wont be smoke making his eyes water
The Rev. Lou Davis the co-founder of the Lathrop BBQ Competition and Festival poses with some of the cueology essentials. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

LATHROP – The Rev. Lou Davis is a second generation “cueologist.”

That’s the art of grilling for those unfamiliar with the term.

The son of a cowboy drive-up barbecue restaurant owner in Texas, Davis spent his time in high school stuffing homemade hot links and paying close attention to how his father prepared, seasoned and slow-cooked everything from breakfast to fish to ribs.

All of that knowledge comes out when he invites his kids over, heats up his charcoal and commences with the age-old tradition of the backyard barbecue – turning the grill into the proverbial outdoor water cooler.

And come Saturday when hundreds of people descend on Valverde Park for Lathrop’s Fourth Annual BBQ Competition and Festival, the co-founder of the event – who teamed up with Senior Center Director Chris Lawrence to launch what has become one of the premier events in the community – it won’t be the smoke that’s making his eyes water.

It’ll be the witnessing the blood, sweat and tears that he, Lawrence and Debra Wheale poured into making the event happen. He’ll be watching the grillers chat with one another while families work their way through the crowded community park to enjoy a fun day in the sun.

“Just seeing the joy and the happiness on the faces of the people who are walking around and taking it all in will bring tears to my eyes,” Davis said. “The whole purpose of this was to create something where the community could come together, free of charge, and enjoy a day together. It’s wonderful to see.”

But in order to truly practice the art of grilling – cueology – there are, Davis says, some ground rules.

First, it’s sacrilegious to cook anything with gas. Charcoal briquettes – with applewood or hickory added for flavor – are the only way to go.

Secondly there is absolutely no rush. To get the chicken to melt off of the bone and make the ribs mouth-watering, a slow-cooking method is the only way to go.

And while it’s okay to pick-up your preparation supplies from the store, the rub or the marinade that you use should be of your making. It’s the blending and the adding that enhances the flavor and makes it truly unique.

If Davis had his druthers that’s the way that everything that would be cooked at “Sweet Lou’s Holy House of Smoked Ribs” – the ideal restaurant that he’d love to share with the world.

Because for him it’s all about sharing his knowledge and his love for the art with those closest to him – like when he grilled up 11 racks of ribs for his birthday and treated his children to the home-style BBQ that he knows and loves.

“What’s great about that is when you get a phone call two or three days later telling you ‘Dad, that chicken just melted. Those ribs were perfect,’” he said. “Knowing that other people appreciate your cooking is what it’s all about and it’s what these competitors enjoy about being a part of this.”

For the first time he’s throwing down the gauntlet for the winner.

A friendly cook-off, he said, to determine who truly does have the best technique when it comes to cooking ribs. It had been a while since he actually cooked up the coals before inviting his family over for his birthday, and the experience, Davis says, awoken something in him.

“I don’t care if it’s just the two of us out here with nobody else around,” he said. “I think it’s about time that I do that.”

The competition, which kicks off at 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 21, will feature judging in three categories – best ribs, best chicken and best homemade sauce. Both the ribs and chicken will be judged by an independent panel that gets rotated every year, and the sauce will be people’s choice.

Eating competitions, live music and family fun will once again be a part of the event.