I’m an Oregon girl, but I’m also married to a man from Kansas City, which means BBQ holds a special place in my heart. So when I was invited to be a guest judge at the annual BBQ, Blues & Brews by the Bay in North Bend, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The KCBS-sanctioned three-day event is one of few in Oregon and draws more than 35 competitors from around the country, which means that you have a rare opportunity to taste some of the best BBQ in the state. I spent the weekend judging some of the best chicken, ribs, pork and brisket I’d ever tasted, but here’s a secret: you don’t have to be a judge to try it for yourself. The competitors put out samples of all kinds on Saturday – not just BBQ but also baked beans, meatballs and other goodies. On Sunday, you can sample the same delicious BBQ they submit to the judges, along with samples from the mac ‘n’ cheese challenge (my personal favorite).
And there is no better pairing for BBQ than craft beer. A $15 passport gets you beers from the more than 20 craft breweries from the Northwest that attend the event – and at the end, you get to vote for your favorite.
It all happens over Memorial Day weekend at the Mill Casino, with live music playing outdoors and the backdrop of beautiful Coos Bay. I love spring on the Oregon Coast, so once I’d had my fill of BBQ I took the opportunity to drive the Cape Arago Scenic Loop. The route connects three of the most stunning state parks in Oregon: Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago. There are hiking trails, beautiful Cape Arago Lighthouse, seal and seal lion viewing and amazing cliff-side viewpoints of the Pacific Ocean. And no visit to Coos Bay is complete without at least one visit to Sharkbites Café for their legendary fish tacos and hand-squeezed margaritas (confession: on this trip, I made two visits).
BBQ, Blues & Brews returns May 25-27, 2018 to the Mill Casino in North Bend with the addition of an ice carving demonstration on Sunday. For more information, head to themillcasino.com.