Jake Romero is a rising star in Utah’s growing, competitive world of… steak barbequingJul 07, 2023 11:29AM ● By Carl Fauver
Jake Romero and fiancé Sydnee made their way down to Texas last year for the Steak Cookoff World Championship outside Dallas. (Courtesy Jake Romero)
What’s handy about writing a story about your next-door neighbor’s unusual pastime is, you don’t have to go far to get the interview. It starts in the driveway:
“Whatcha up to this weekend, Jake?”
“We’re loading up the camp trailer to drive to my next steak cookoff.”
“Oh – going someplace secluded to barbeque – that’s nice.”
“Well, this is actually a competition. I’m trying to earn my way back into the Steak Cookoff World Championship in Texas.”
“The what?! Never mind – will you come over when you get back, so we can talk about it more? I think I smell a story.”
“Tell you what Carl – I’ll come over, if you mow down that ridiculous sea of dandelions in your front yard!”
Three days later – after the neighbor on the other side tamed the rough waters of my dandelion sea (funny, they both hate them – but those yellow, “mini-flowers” have never bothered me) – Jake Romero dropped over to introduce me to the Steak Cookoff Association (SCA, for those in the know steakcookoffs.com).
“My best friends Luisa Alfonso and Casey Casper introduced me to SCA competitions and my first one was in October 2020 in Las Vegas,” Romero explained. “Eventually, I qualified for the World Championship in Texas and attended it in March 2022. I was qualified for this year’s event; but we couldn’t go because that’s when our baby was born. And I am already qualified for the Texas finals next spring. In total, I have had 45 steaks judged since I started competing.”
Romero’s fiancé Sydnee joins him for nearly all of the competitions; and new son Austin (born March 14) has also been to a few. Not enough teeth yet, though, to sample Dad’s award-winning fare.
“Sydnee loves to help out,” Romero added. “She hands me seasonings. But only the competitors are actually allowed to do anything with the meat.”
Ah yes… like any competition, there are as many rules as my lawn had dandelions.
“I have only ever cooked ribeye steaks; but there are competitions for ribs, chicken or many different ancillaries (jalapeno poppers, wings, desserts, etc.),” Romero added. “Competitors can use any heat source they want. I use charcoal briquettes in my 12” by 16” grill. I normally cook two steaks – a practice cut, along with the one I submit for judging. A panel of five judges review our steaks, scoring on: appearance, doneness, taste, texture and overall impression.”
Romero has competed in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah. The primary organizer of all SCA competitions here in Utah, Steve Johnson, says Romero is among the best grillers in our state.
“Jake finished 4th among all our Utah competitors in 2022 and is now 2nd in the state this year,” Johnson said. “He’s one of our top performers and definitely one of the guys to beat. When I first began competitive barbequing, there were maybe 10 to 15 competitors here in Utah. Now I’d say it’s 40 to 45. And our competitions here in the state draw grillers from all over the west.”
Based in Lehi, Johnson makes his primary living selling medical laboratory equipment. A dozen years ago, he found himself with some “extra space” in his healthcare supply building. So, he decided to open BBQ Pit Stop (bbqpitstop.com). But be forewarned: if you visit Johnson’s store, you will leave just as hungry as when you entered. This is NOT a sandwich shop.
“We sell smokers, grills, rubs, sauces, wood pellets and all kinds of other barbeque supplies,” he explained. “We also sell lots of specialty meats: briskets, brats – even hams and turkeys, seasonally. But we are not a restaurant. Compare BBQ Pit Stop to a golf shop. If you need help with your putting or your slice, you visit a golf shop for tips, and maybe some equipment. In our shop, we offer barbequing tips – along with sauces, spices and other things to help make the meat that much tastier.”
His business plan must be working. In addition to his Lehi store, Johnson has franchised out five more BBQ Pit Stops in: Layton, Logan, Murray, Payson and St. George. You can also view him offering barbequing tips on YouTube.
In just over a month this spring, Romero entered steaks into competitions in American Fork, Las Vegas, Nevada, Show Low (northeast of Phoenix), Arizona and Salt Lake City. Of the eight meat cuts he shared with judging panels at those events, six placed in the top ten. More importantly, one of the steaks finished first – earning Romero his “Golden Ticket.”
Steak Cookoff Association World Championship organizers are clearly fans of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Just like the movie characters – Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee, Violet Beauregarde and Charlie Bucket – the only way for grilling competitors to enter the Texas showdown is by holding a “Golden Ticket.”
Barbequers earn their ticket by placing first at a regional competition. Or they can get a “pass down” Golden Ticket, if they finish 2nd – and the 1st place winner has already claimed their Golden Ticket. Romero has earned his chocolate factory, er, World Championship ticket three years running.
“Winning or placing high is fun; but I do this because the people are nice and there’s a great sense of inclusion at these events,” he concluded. “We are competitive. But we also try to help each other. It’s a great activity for families. I just bought a camp trailer to stay at the events – and to have our friends stay with us.”
Steve Johnson sees it about the same way.
“Competitive grilling is fun for the whole family and we have cooks of all different ages,” he said. “The comradery among our grillers is so much fun. It’s an inviting atmosphere. Sure, they all love to earn money and other prizes at our competitions. But they are also always willing to help each other out – to make it fun for everyone.”
Just a sea of happy, steak-grilling competitors – not unlike the mini-flower dandelion sea that adorned my front yard, one neighbor mowing ago. λ