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Lathrop BBQ Competition & Festival Saturday
The Rev. Lou Davis and Lathrop barbecue contest competitor Paul Morris check the grill behind the Lathrop Senior Center in advance of the upcoming grill-off this weekend at Valverde Park. - 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: Contact Chris Lawrence at the Lathrop Senior Center at (209) 941-7380.

LATHROP – Like any true artist, the product that Paul Morris churns out is constantly in flux.

Add a little bit here. Take a little bit away there. File some notes away in the data bank inside of his brain and scribble some other notes down on a pad that he’ll keep for future adjustments.

But rather than using a potter’s wheel or a blank canvas, Morris practices his craft on untouched racks of ribs and fresh packages of chicken. He spends his spare time perfecting the ideal blend of sauce and simmer that turn his backyard into a summer haven for friends and relatives that crave his cooking and his dedication to a practice that’s 30 years in the making.

On Saturday, Morris will put his recipe up against some of the best amateur grillers in the area at the Fourth Annual Lathrop Senior Advisory BBQ Competition and Festival at Valverde Park. It will give him the chance to see if his newest concoction will be enough to knock of reigning champion and friend Mike Maldonado. Maldonado along with wife Shea Pitts took top honors for their “Slap Ya Mama BBQ” outfit in both categories last year.

The push, Morris said, is on.

“I’ve been toying with the flavors for the last few years and I think I hit a good one when the weather finally started to get warm and you could actually get out and grill,” said Morris – who this year has ordered T-shirts and a banner with his “Fork U BBQ” logo on them. “I think I’ve got a good chance. If it’s not me then I hope that Mike (Maldonado) is able to pull it out.

“But the back-and-forth competition is something that makes it fun.”

It’s been the trial-and-error process, however, that has helped Morris establish both a system for the preparation and the execution. It is something that he first got into when he was a teenager and that evolved during his years in the United States Navy.

Over time he picked up bits and pieces of information from various people and incorporated them into his own process. Ever since he has turned what is simply a cooking method for some into a weekend social gathering for those close to him – a chance to trade-off critiques with Maldonado with every batch and enjoy the fruits of a hard day over the grill.

“It’s the place where everybody huddles around and chitchats, and there’s this rotation of people throughout the day,” Morris said. “I like cooking things that take a little bit longer. Hamburgers and hot dogs and links are okay, but ribs and chicken and tri-tip take a little bit more time and care to get done right.

“It brings my family out. It brings my friends out. And everybody is supportive of what it is that I do. Hopefully it’s enough to impress the judges on Saturday.”