Take roughly 950 pounds of New York steak, 50 gallons of chili beans and heaping bowls of salad, and you have the basic ingredients for a Superb Barbecue Committee dinner.
The nonprofit team of amateur chefs is in its 30th year of traveling around the central San Joaquin Valley, raising money for college scholarships and other charities from groups that want to put on a big feed.
Nick Buratovich, a retired Tulare County grape grower, “used to barbecue all the time at home” and stole the idea for the committee in 1956 after attending a dinner put on by a Delano farm family.
One of Oldest, Busiest
The group’s first event was run by 13 Dinuba men for fellow grape growers and shippers. Other organizations run charity barbecues in the valley, but the Dinuba group is one of the oldest and busiest with about 50 engagements a year.
Buratovich now has a reliable corps of 30 to 35 members, and test pilot Chuck Yeager and space shuttle commander Joe Engle make occasional appearances on the barbecue crew.
“We have a very select group of people. We just don’t pick up anybody,” Buratovich said. “They have to kind of pass a test. They have to be good workers. We had some who would just put on an apron and be a big shot.”
Serve Up to 1,500
Those volunteers did not last long, not when it comes to serving up to 1,500 people at one sitting.
“When we feed these big groups, we generally feed them within an hour,” Buratovich noted with pride.
His brother, Mike, made the group’s barbecue stands and stainless steel grills large enough to hold 15 filets that can be turned at once.
A member who owns a radiator shop cleans the grills with a high-pressure nozzle so “they’re shiny by the time we get them back,” Buratovich said.
His wife, Evelyn, has made five or six sets of aprons through the years, including a red-white-and-blue bicentennial edition and the current version sporting the Red Wave colors of California State University, Fresno.
“She’s put up with a lot of times when we were invited to go someplace and there was a conflict with a big barbecue,” Buratovich said.
“It’s kind of become a hobby for most of us,” said Selma City Administrator Nick Pavlovich, who has been helping for 12 years. “Nick takes good care of his committee members. We have a good time while we’re cooking. The wives are invited from time to time to be guests of the activity that we’re cooking for, so they don’t feel like they’re completely left out or widowed.”
Art Mariscotti, a former utility worker, has been involved for 20 years.
“I don’t have to do this,” he said. “But you meet so many people out here, and we have so much fun. It’s a terrific fellowship.”
Corky Kevorkian is a retired crop-duster who used to spray the grounds for flies the day before a barbecue.
“Many of the guys who started this committee started cooking with their fathers, and now many of them have passed away,” he said. “But our sons are out here with us. The kids are doing it now, and hopefully that will keep it going.”