A few weeks ago, Serena and I were in the car when we heard a commercial for the Texas Pete Twin City Ribfest. That thirty second commercial was filled with words that made us giddy, ribs, Texas Pete, beer, live music, BBQ…oh and did I mention RIBS. We knew right then, the only way we would not be front and center at this event is if the Frank’s Hot Sauce Hogfest was being held the same day and since there is no such festival the Ribfest was looking like a winner.
After weeks of anticipation, last Saturday we made our way to Winston-Salem with my hungry nephew in tow (his teenage boy’s appetite would not allow him to miss something called Ribfest). The day started a little rocky. As we exited the highway, the sky looked like it wanted to open up and turn the day to Rainfest. To make things worse, my childlike excitement peaked as we got closer to the Dixie Fairgrounds causing me to act like a kid from New York with ADD, on a sugar binge, seven days off Ritalin, causing me to continue to get us lost in plain sight of the fairgrounds ignoring suggestions from Serena, a Winston-Salem police officer (who’s toe I almost ran over as I drove off because his directions were dragging on) and a parking attendant. As I stepped out of the car to ask someone another stupid question Serena said to the nephew “you are about to be a witness to our first fight because I am about to choke him out” and cue Rainfest. All of this excitement and ignorance led me to overlook the fact that I was running dangerously low on gas. This emergency caused me to eat my words from a recent Facebook post that boldly stated “I will never get gas from BP; I wouldn’t even take a dump in a BP station.” Despite my previous bravado I wasn’t going to allow BP’s negligence to have me searching the ghetto of Winston-Salem later that night or walking around Ribfest with a number two looming….so I ate my words on both accounts and figured it was my contribution to the clean-up efforts.
My keen sense of direction and insight finally guided us to the pickup spot for our passes. Things started looking up once we made it to the VIP tent which allowed Serena to take off the bright orange poncho she had been hiding under. To sweeten the deal, the USA /England soccer game was on and free beer was flowing courtesy of Foothills Brewery of Winston-Salem. The tent was positioned with a good view of the main stage and had a couple couches for added comfort along with a Foosball table that I would later show the nephew a few lessons on. The judges were lined up at the judges table and had already begun digging into the ribs in the first of two rib and sauce competitions. I am not sure if Serena noticed but it immediately struck me that Miss Texas Pete was not at the table judging as promised. My first thought was hoping she was ok because I hear that Texas Pete is a mean drunk…and from Texas.
The rain stopped as the judges jotted down their last scores and if things could not get any better we were invited to tastes the extra ribs. The bad news, we were unaware of whose ribs we tasted but the good news is we had a chance to taste ribs from eight professional rib teams. The teams competing in the professional contest were as follows:
Carolina Rib King (Moore, SC) – Video
Pigfoot (West Salem, OH) – Website
Smokin’ Rednecks BBQ (Gainesville, FL) – Website
Camp 31 (Castleberry, AL) – Website
BBQ Masters (Morrow, GA) – Menu
Big Boned BBQ – (Hixson, TN) – Website
Bib’s Downtown – (Winston-Salem, NC) – Website
Two Fat Guy’s BBQ – (Massilion, OH) – Website
After getting our fill of ribs, I introduced myself to event organizer Allen McDavid of AKA who invited me to join the panel of judges for the King of the Grill rib and sauce competition. This next competition would take place in a few hours and have 11 amateur teams vying for the best ribs and sauce award. I was so full that I couldn’t even think about eating another thing but I had a few hours to walk it off and I was not going to pass up the chance to eat 11 more ribs (becoming a temporary bulimic was always an option, I was a vegetarian for a day once so why not).
Feeling stuffed, we decided to take a walk and see the stands where the professional rib teams were selling their ribs and other grilled favorites like, briskets, chicken, bbq sandwiches and sausages etc. Each stand had its own unique setup and theme to match their name and like a shining beacon to rib lovers, all had their trophies prominently displayed up front to exhibit the various awards won throughout the country. It was interesting speaking to these pit masters and listen to their stories of why they started BBQing professionally (most because they felt they could do better than the next person). One thing they all had was confidence that their ribs were the best. Once they found out we witnessed the judging and tasted all the ribs, many would question us further trying to wean any information and insist that we must have noticed their rib because it would stand out from any of the others. Quite frankly, once we got our hands on those ribs we tore the meat off them like hungry slaves, sure we had our favorites but it was a blind tasting and we had no idea whose rib we were tasting and moved on to the next one.
Our walk would be self defeating! Its purpose was to walk off some of the ribs we had eaten to make room for the next contest but we hit a couple speed bumps on the way. The first speed bump came in the form of a truck with the words “Waffle man” displayed on the side. Inside this truck the Waffle man was taking ice cream or cheesecake on a stick and dunking it in hot chocolate, then adding sprinkles or nuts and if that wasn’t enough, pulling freshly made waffles from his waffle iron to create a sandwich…oh then he made it rain powdered sugar over the top. Brimming with excitement we asked the Waffle man if we could walk around and come inside the truck to get a closer look at this madness. He gave us a show and with each step I was afraid Serena was going to pass out. Squealing and moaning with excitement, by the time he broke out the powdered sugar for his finale she made such a sound that thought I was watching Playboy and I said to myself, “she is leaving me for the waffle man”. After inhaling an ice cream and cheese cake sandwich we thanked the waffle man for being a genius and carried on (Serena looking back longingly at the waffle man maybe asking herself how she could leave all that behind). Speed bump number two was the beef brisket sandwich from Bibs Downtown, excellent.
We made our way back to the tent for the announcement of the winners of the professional division and they were as follows:
Grand Champion (rib and sauce combo) : Camp 31
Best Ribs: Camp 31
Best Sauce: Pigfoot
People’s Choice: Bibs Downtown
After the winners were announced we shied away from the competitor’s area feeling bad for the ones who didn’t come out on top despite their confidence. In the absence of a samari sword, we feared that a few might have thrown themselves on their hot smokers. They were all excellent ribs and any one of them could have taken the prize on any given day.
It was now early evening, Kenny Neal was rocking some blues on the stage and the ribs were being shuttled over for the King of the Grill competition. I took my seat at the table and looked to the sky to thank Dr. Martin Luther King for igniting the struggle that made it possible for me to sit at this table and judge another man’s ribs. I thanked Allah for not allowing Muslims to have ribs, as there would be more for me. I began to thank Mahatma Gandhi but I was cut short with the smell of ribs under my nose and it was on! It was fascinating to taste so many different takes on the same piece of meat. Some were falling off the bone while others put up a valiant struggle. A few ribs imparted the perfect amount of smoke while there were one or two that tasted like they were held behind the muffler of a 1973 Dodge Dart for a few hours. Some were super saucy and some got most of their flavor from a dry rub. There was one rib that stood out the most to me, it was tender as could be and the sauce was exceptional. I wish I had a way of knowing if that was the winner but here is how it came out in the end:
Grand Champion: Suckling Pig (Winston-Salem)
Best Ribs: Suckling Pig
Best Sauce: Grassy Knoll Tailgate
When Pigs Fly (the worst of the bunch): Branton 4 Barbecue
The Texas Pete Twin City Ribfest was the best festival we have been to so far. Unfortunately the early rain put a damper on attendance but we were happy that we made the drive and enjoyed a memorable day. I have already set a goal to enter and win the amateur contest next year (with the nephew as assistant pit master, but may have to reconsider if he keeps rooting against USA World Cup Soccer) so look for us and a big ass trophy next year.
FOR MORE PICTURES FROM RIBFEST – CLICK HERE