The Six Questions
Donna Fong - Barbecue Pitmaster
•Who: Donna Fong, 45, barbecue pitmaster and molecular biologist
•What: Fong, a single mother and Alamedan, is the one-woman team behind Butcher’s Daughter BBQ in the Kansas City Barbecue Society and is competing in the Bay Area BBQ Championship on July 7 at the Oakland Coliseum.
•When: Fong began her relationship with the barbecue circuit in 2004, when she attended a Fairfield competition with her then-husband. Somehow, the two convinced a cook on a barbecue team to let them try one of his ribs. It was so delectable, they asked how on earth they could have more. “He said you had to be a judge to try them,” says Fong. Within months, Fong completed the prerequisites and became a KCBS judge. A few years and one daughter later, Fong found herself divorced from her husband, who also happened to be the cook in the family. “I thought if I’m going to continue eating barbecue, I better learn how to cook it,” says Fong. So, she did. Last year was Fong’s rookie season on the KCBS circuit, and she finished third in the California rookie race. She enters the 2012 season ranked first in California.
•Where: Fong began a lasting relationship with meat in Oakland. The daughter of a butcher — Fong’s dad ran Don’s Meat Market on Bancroft — she says she’s always been comfortable with the preparation of meat and has always had a curiosity about food’s circle of life. Born in Oakland, Fong moved to Alameda in 1977.
•Why: Fong figured her background as a molecular biologist — she received her bachelor’s in biochemistry at UC Davis — might serve her well when she decided to make the move from judging barbecue to cooking it. Between estimating salt concentrations when brining meat and figuring out cooking times based on the weight of a particular chicken thigh (and she does weigh each one), she just may have an edge. “In barbecue, there’s a
lot of science. It makes me the most anal pitmaster,” says Fong.
•How: The four different meats she’ll prepare at the Oakland competition — chicken, ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket — will hew to the unwritten standard at California barbecue competitions. Chicken will probably be a thigh with a sauce, ribs will be a pork spare rib with a little sauce, pork shoulder might be a medallion with a little shredded pork that’s not too wet and the brisket will be dry. “I’m going to play it safe,” she says.