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Maldonado facing heat to repeat as BBQ champ
Shea Pitts and Mike Maldonado of Slap Ya Mama BBQ show the trophies they won at last years Lathrop Parks and Recreation BBQ Competition and Festival. Theyll defend their twin titles on Saturday, July 21 when the best amateur grillers in the region descend on Valverde Park to try and capture their own glory. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

• WHAT: The fourth annual Lathrop Senior Advisory Commission BBQ Competition & Festival
• WHERE: Valverde Park, 15557 Fifth St., Lathrop
• WHEN: Saturday, July 21, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• DETAILS: In addition to the barbecue competition, the festival will include eating contests, art show, car show, vendors, music, food, prizes, exhibitions, raffles, dunk tank and more.
• MORE DETAILS: Chris Lawrence at the Lathrop Senior Center at (209) 941-7380.

LATHROP – Mike Maldonado knew he had something special with his ribs.

His unique strawberry jalapeno preparation easily made his cookouts the envy of neighbors, family and friends and he kept hearing the same thing when people would come and sample his latest flavor manipulation.

“You should really enter a competition with these.”

So when he was standing on the podium with wife Shea Pitts at the Lathrop Parks and Recreation BBQ Competition and Festival last year clutching the trophy for the best ribs, it wasn’t something that came completely out of left field.

The second award, however, caught both of them off guard.

“I didn’t have a recipe for chicken so I came up with something the night before,” he said. “I thought I’d come up with something that was Hawaiian. That was the first day that I had tried it and I was kind of shocked when they called our name for the second award.”

And while he’s had a whole year to perfect that recipe, so have his opponents.

The Fourth Annual Lathrop Senior Advisory BBQ Competition and Festival takes place at Valverde Park this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It might just be friendly banter around the barbecues when Maldonado and Pitts – who named their grilling outfit “Slap Ya Mama BBQ” – heat up their charcoal on Saturday morning, but bragging rights and the chance repeat as champions for the first time since Dixie Chaney did so the first two years of the competition are on the line.

But with this being their third consecutive competition, Maldonado says that he’s confident that he has the routine down – especially since Pitts won’t let him toy with something that is already proven to be a winner.

“It took me a while at first to get it just right. I had to get the right rub and the right sauce and the right cooking technique – it took a few years,” he said of his rib technique. “But now that I have it she told me to leave it alone. There’s always this urge to want to make it better.”

Pitts, however, played a role in making sure that her husband fully understood what goes into preparing and slow cooking something like ribs.

“At first he just wanted to put salt and pepper on them and focus on the sauce,” she said with a laugh. “I had to show him how to season them. They have to be done the right way – just a little bit of salt and pepper isn’t going to cut it.”

While the couples’ official reign as 2011 champions will end Saturday, they still plan on keeping the trophies that they won last year in their bedroom where they can see them. The trophies remind them of the teamwork and the fun that went into the entire process.

Because at the end of the day, said Pitts, it’s all about having a good time.

“I really like this is a family-friendly event where people can come down and have a good time and enjoy themselves,” she said. “I like the atmosphere and the fact that it’s a gathering place, and even though it’s a competition it’s friendly.

“It’s something to look forward to.”