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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rib Fest

I don't know why I've never gone to this before. 5 straight days. 24 competitive barbecue teams. Over 500,000 rib-loving visitors. This is a big deal!

Officially it's called the Nugget Rib Cook Off and it's been happening every Labor Day in Sparks, NV since 1989. Maybe it had something to do with my past (I spent a couple of challenging months as a hostess at Tony Roma's back in college). Maybe it was thinking of the sheer messiness of eating ribs that made me nervous. But either way, I'm glad I got over it. It was one of the best experience I've had all year.

It got even better when friends texted to say they were joining us . Can I take a minute to say just how awesome is my friend T is? It was the weekend before her wedding and while others might have been busy bridezilla-ing it up, she and her equally awesome now-husband, E, took a break from RSVP wrangling, seating chart-ing, and favor assembling to enjoy some ribs with us.

It's held on the plaza outside the Nugget casino, and draws a huge crowd. It’s a bit intimidating to negotiate the (at least) 4-block long stretch of barbecue, beer, lemonade, fried pickles, funnel cakes, garlic fries, and ice cream vendors. Even more intimidating as almost every vendor has a mountain of trophies and awards displayed out in front – making it impossible to choose which one to try.

It's also like 95 degrees! As a newbie I let T, E and MFM (who had all been before) take the lead. MFM and I went a day earlier on Friday and tried the slightly sweet and perfectly unctuous ribs at Texas Thunder. We also tried the slightly dry (in my opinion) but still tasty sampler at Famous Dave’s (who knew they had competitive barbecuers in Minnesota?).

But when T & E joined us, the real eating began. We had a strategy. We separated and got a variety of offerings from as many vendors as we could handle – trying a range of items including pork and beef ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, chicken, beans, mac & cheese, hot links, and cornbread – and met back in the middle to share.

We noted that next time, we’ll take cue from an Asian family we saw – who came totally prepared with tongs, platters of rice, and markers & name cards so they could remember who to vote for!

My favorite? The delicious, finger-licking ribs from Ohio’s Desperado BBQ got my vote for best ribs. It also gets bonus points for its catchy tagline ("Lick my ribs" - I'm still kicking myself for not buying that t-shirt). All attendees were able to vote for the "People's Choice" award, and Bay Area’s Back Forty BBQ ended up winning the entire competition.

And just in case you’re wondering how many days one can go before getting barbecued-out, for me the answer is exactly two. By Saturday evening all I wanted to do is look for a place to eat pho!



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