MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Ten grills stood neatly in a row; the fire and smoke at their centers transforming the wood into smoldering embers. The sizzle of two cuts of beef landing on a searing hot grate and the enticing smells of steak being cooked to perfection meandered through the area at the Hashmarks Staff Noncommissioned Officers Club Nov. 16 during the Weber Command of the Grill competition semi-finals.
Of the 10 competitors in the event, who were chosen out of 19 total entries, each had to submit their original recipe and a short essay for a chance to participate and grill for a panel of judges with more than 60 spectators in attendance.
The rules were simple – the grill masters used the supplied charcoal grills and accessories to grill two New York strip steaks within one hour. All of the flavorings and ingredients had to be provided by contestants and steaks were to be presented to the judges for sampling.
The Command of the Grill event, which exclusively targets Marines, is fully sponsored by Weber grills and all proceeds from cookbook sales of submitted recipes will go to Marine Corps charities.
The first-place winner of the event was Capt. Phillip J. Woodward of the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School.
His “Spud's Grilled Steak” featured a brown sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce and teriyaki marinade, and won him a trip to New York City during Fleet Week to compete in the championship cook-off next year. The winner of that national event will receive a massive Weber gas grill and claim the title “Commander of the Grill,” said Sherry L. Bale, Weber’s national director of public relations.
“I was honestly surprised to win,” said Woodward, a triathlete and Burns, Ore., native who grills multiple times a week. “I usually win more physical events and would not have expected to win something like this.”
Although the competition, which is held throughout the country at various Marine Corps installations, was designed for fun and good times for Marines, it has a much deeper purpose, said coordinators.
“Weber is a family owned company and is very supportive of our military,” said Bale. “We know that the Marines are the first ones in and last ones out, so we decided that we’d like to do something for them.”
“We came up with this competition that directly benefits killed or wounded Marines and their families through four charities,” said Bale. “Those are Wounded Warrior Project, Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Fisher House and Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.”
The panel of three judges that was selected to grade the entries were Marsha Capen, the editor of Weber’s last three cookbooks; local radio DJ Gary “DeMO” De Maroney; and Sgt. Maj. James M. Ricker, Combat Center sergeant major.
The panel also chose two runners-up for the night, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeffery D. Carmenia and Sgt. Jennie Haskamp for their original entries.
Each of the 10 pairs of steaks were meticulously evaluated for flavor when cooked to medium-rare. Points were also given for each of the essays and the presentation of the steaks to the judges.
“Judging this event was really hard,” said De Maroney. “It was all very close and everyone was within a few points of each other at the end. What made a difference in some of them was presentation and essay points helped swing their votes, but it was very, very close. I mean, how do you not like a steak?”
“It literally came down to a couple of points,” said De Maroney, “but Captain Woodward’s got the highest overall.”
All of the competitors were able to keep the grills and accessories used for the event, a package worth more than $250, said Bale.
“It’s been a really good showing here tonight,” said Bale. “What really sets the event here apart is the support for the competitors we’ve seen here. Camp Pendleton’s was a fairly big, but for a small base, this was a phenomenal turnout.”
“I have been so impressed by the Marines that I have met along the way doing this,” continued Bale. “They are good people with good hearts. A lot of them really enjoy grilling and that’s great because some people are intimidated by grilling. It’s really a lot of fun and most importantly it is all going for a good cause. Our goal is also to raise awareness about the charities and that the book sales will go towards them.”
Woodward said he expects to use his new grill and accessories at home from now on and looks forward to his upcoming trip.
“I’m very excited to go to New York,” said Woodward, who also received a large Weber grill for his unit for winning the top spot in the semi-finals. “I felt fairly confident going into the event tonight. I used a conglomeration of different sauces and spices, but I think my secret was that I only turned the steaks once.”
Woodward’s recipe, along with all submissions from events around the country, will be published next summer in the “Command of the Grill” recipe book with 100 percent of those proceeds going to the charities.