Meat and beer, not to mention music and magic, should make for a great foursome this/next weekend in Rio Rancho.

The eighth annual Pork & Brew state championship barbecue event - have seven years already passed since the inaugural event? - takes place Friday through Sunday in and around Santa Ana Star Center.

That first event, by the way, was held near the old City Hall on Southern Blvd. in late March, 2004. The Star Center is merely the latest venue; some may recall Loma Colorado Drive being blocked off just north of Rio Rancho High School for a P&B in the last decade.

Called P&B for short, it's one of the city's premier events, when residents can taste the best barbecue around, as 50-plus barbecue competitors from as far away as Minnesota and Kansas will descend upon Rio Rancho to compete.

"The entire weekend is a ‘staycation,'" says Matt Geisel of the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Stay home this Fourth of July and enjoy things to do here in Rio Rancho. Pork & Brew is three days of fun. What not to miss is the event: There's so many things to see and do.

"We'll have a carnival for the first time. Admission is $5; there's no charge for parking," which can be done on the north and east sides of the Star Center and in the City Hall lots.

Opening ceremonies start at noon on Friday, with the presentation of flags, Rick Alarid singing the National Anthem, and the introduction of officials.

The entertainment then begins, with Friday's lineup including a chainsaw-carving show, featuring Mark Chavez; "Magic and More" by Ed Aragoni in the magic tent; both between noon and 8 p.m.

As for the music, the Watermelon Jug Band, plays from 1 until 2:30 p.m.; the Latin Society Band plays from 3 to 4:30 p.m.; Fuerza Chicano Band plays from 5 to 6:30 p.m.; and the Hit Squad entertains from 7 to 9 p.m.

Also Friday, the "lighting of the grills" takes place at 1:30 p.m., followed by salsa judging at 3:30 and sauce judging at 4.

Also Saturday, which begins with a full-buffet is Mark Chavez's chainsaw carving show, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.; "Wrestlin' with Jimmy" (10:30 to noon); Aragoni's magic (10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.); "The Funny Dummy Show" (12:30-1 p.m.), plus music from Al Hurricane and his band (2-3:30 p.m.), Ko-Ko-A-Go-Go band (4-5:30 p.m.), and the Red Wine Band (6-7:30 p.m.).

Also Saturday are judgings: chicken (noon), ribs (12:30 p.m.), pork (1 p.m.), brisket (1:30 p.m.), "anything butt" (2 p.m.), beans (2:30 p.m.), side dishes (5 p.m.) and dessert (3:30 p.m.).

Food sales resume Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Entertainment that day includes Interplay School of Music (noon to 1 p.m.), chainsaw carving (12:30-5:30 p.m.), Aragoni's magic (12:30-5:30 p.m.), the Funny Dummy Show (1:15-1:45 p.m.), the Ko-Ko-A-Go-Go band (2:30-4 p.m.) and Red Letter F Band (4:30-6 p.m.).

Don't fear the ‘Peppers'

Jim Ballog, who, with partner Adrian Sanberson last year became the first New Mexican team to win the Pork & Brew overall championship in seven years, says he feels like he's got a target on his back this week.

This will mark the 11th weekend in the last 12 weeks that Ballog and Samberson, AKA "Sweet Peppers," will be competing in a barbecue contest.

Ballog said the duo competed in the P&B's first year.

"Everybody reminds me that we were last, and we've been working our way up ever since," he said. "We're coming back to defend."

Want to taste the best of 2010?

"You can always find us because we fly a hot chile pepper with a New Mexico flag wherever we go - that's kind of our calling card," he said, enjoying the notoriety that success has brought his team.

"We had four grand championships last year and numerous ‘reserves,'" he said. "This year has been a little tougher; we've had some thirds and reserves."

Ballog is basically a lifelong cooker: "My Mexican food is pretty good and I'm well-versed on Italian," he said. "I built a smoker about 15 years ago, cooking for my family. I got hooked (on BBQ competitions) when Art Perez (CVB staffer and P&B founder) had the first Pork & Brew.

"I decided to focus completely on perfecting BBQ - and I think we've perfected that," he said.

The duo's Sweet Peppers sauce isn't bad either, nailing a sixth-place finish in Kansas City two years ago at the grand-daddy of all BBQ competitions. "Also in 2009, we had the second-place ribs out of 545 teams (in K.C.)."

Cookin' and winnin' are always fun, Ballog says, but what really puts a smile on his face "is to see my granddaughter smiling when she eats my ribs - she's 7 ... she's quite my fan."

Sweet Peppers, putting 16,000 miles on its vehicle annually on the competition road, also helps raise money for the fight against cancer, ranging from $1,600 their first year and more than $6,000 last year.

"My wife is a 10-year survivor; right now, she's going through her second bout with stage 4 bone cancer. I'm working hard.

"When we go to a contest, we got to win it," he said. "You start with a great product - you have to start out that way. We tell people you cannot start with a can of Spam and get filet mignon; we're going out to keep (the title) here in New Mexico."

Singer/TV and movie star on stage at Star Center

Saturday's highlight is the appearance of comedic touring sensation Rodney Carrington, who brings his hilarious songs and stand-up comedy to the Star Center at 8 p.m. Everyone who buys tickets to the Carrington show will receive one free admission voucher for every ticket purchased to P&B.

Carrington is a multi-talented comedian, actor and writer who has recorded eight major record label comedy albums, selling more than two million copies. Two of these albums have been certified gold by the RIAA. Carrington starred in his own TV sitcom for two seasons on ABC and also co-wrote and co-starred with Toby Keith in the feature film "Beer for My Horses."

Speaking of beer...

Nico Ortiz, owner of Turtle Mountain Brewing Company since it opened here in 1999, has developed a new beer for this year's P&B.

"It's the Pork & Brew Brown Ale," says Ortiz. "It's a brand-new recipe for the event; we were going for a beer that really goes well with barbecue, which tends to be on the sweeter side, not spicy. This is like a Newcastle: lighter brown, a nice multi-body, and light on the hops, so it's not bitter at all.

"We used oats and milk sugar, to give it a real smooth, light body; the milk adds a little bit of sweetness to it," Ortiz said. "We do about 40 different beers a year; some are repeats - this is a brewmaster's special."

And he's also making a special brown ale BBQ sauce.

Ortiz said the brew will be dispensed and sold in 64-ounce "to-go" jugs at his brewery from noon until 6:30 p.m. today. "Fifty percent of the jugs' proceeds go to the Rio Rancho Educational Foundation; we do our part to help out the future anyway we can."