Kirstin Van Lier had one hungry grandma.
The 28-year-old and her young son used to live with her grandmother, who loved food. More specifically, Grandma loved it when Van Lier would barbecue.
Grandma's favorite meal? Beer-brined steaks, roasted herbed potatoes and pineapple-shrimp skewers, all made by her granddaughter on the grill.
Now Van Lier is one of several finalists in the Great American Tailgate Party, an amateur barbecue contest sponsored by Save Mart Supermarkets and The Modesto Bee. The recipes she entered? You guessed it, the steaks, the potatoes and the shrimp -- Grandma's favorites. "I would cook this for her about once a week," she said.
Van Lier, who works in swimming pool sales, is in interesting company when it comes to the contest, part of this weekend's The Meet: Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival at Modesto Junior College. Among the other home cooks who entered: a father of three who calls himself "Joe Belly"; a would-be culinary student; and someone who claims he can cook a chocolate pie on the barbecue.
The cooking contest is one of a series of happenings surrounding the 67th California Invitational Relays, which take place Saturday and Sunday.
Festivities kick off Friday with a 7 p.m. cooking contest, as well as an all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet, hosted by state competitive barbecue champions Brent and Kim Walton of Clovis. They call themselves QN4U.
Saturday, competitive barbecue teams from across the West Coast will park their rigs on Tully Road and prepare to compete in the fifth annual KCBS Kingsford/Master Cut State Barbecue Championships. Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, this contest is expected to draw about 35 teams.
For $10, food lovers can sample a variety of dishes from these competitive barbecue teams and vote for their favorite.
Sunday afternoon, there will be an informational stage show called "The Secrets of a Great Barbecue." It's affiliated with the Food Network and will be hosted by Ray Lampe, a food writer who goes by the name "Dr. Barbecue." Brent Walton also will help present.
While the main event this weekend is a track-and-field competition, for Van Lier and her cohorts, it's all about the food.
Take Jose Saldana of Turlock, who entered a dish he calls "Joe Belly's" tri-tip. How did Saldana, a 48-year-old who works for an egg processing company, come to be known as Joe Belly?
He often barbecues for his three sons -- all in their early 20s -- and their friends.
"After dinner, I'd tell them, now it's time for the belly rub," he said.
The young men thought it was funny, and the nickname was born.
Another competitor is Rosalie Clark of Modesto. Clark, who at one time wanted to go to culinary school, owns a plumbing company with her husband. She once won a salsa competition at Modesto's John Thurman Field.
She grew up in a family of 12 children and can't remember a time she didn't know how to cook. The recipes she entered: tri-tip with a pineapple juice marinade, chili beans and barbecued shrimp with mango salsa.
Clark created each dish herself.
"I have a lot of recipe books, but I like to experiment," she said. "I don't use teaspoons or anything. I just eyeball it."
While contest organizers received dozens of recipes, perhaps the most interesting comes from Brandon Sweet of Tracy. Sweet proposes cooking a mixture of melted chocolate, eggs, sweetened condensed milk and butter, among other things, in an unbaked pie shell on the barbecue. Yes, the barbecue.
Meanwhile, Van Lier plans to spend some time at the barbecue, cooking her dishes one last time before the competition.
It's her first cooking contest, and she hopes to do her grandmother proud.
"I think she'd be happy," Van Lier said.
Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at email@example.com.