For those who love ribs, the next two weekends will be heaven.
Smoke on the Water Ribs for the Red Cross will be Friday through Sunday at Promenade Park in downtown Toledo. Eight confirmed rib vendors include six local ribbers. The 25th Annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off presented by The Andersons and The Blade will be Aug. 7-10 at the Lucas County Fairgrounds in Maumee. Ten national ribbers from the National Barbecue Cookers Association will be there with plenty of equipment and enthusiastic competition, and mega-amounts of flavor.
I caught up with Mike Bower, manager of the Famous Dave s BBQ corporate rib team out of Plymouth, Minn., as their two trucks and two trailers were traveling to a Columbus event last weekend. They have a mobile kitchen that s 32 feet long and a 28-foot refrigerated truck plus a 15-foot trailer that holds two Southern Pride Smokers.
There will also be plenty of "barbecue talk" between ribbers and their customers. "That s part of the experience of what we do on the road," says Mr. Bower. "People can get a lot of tips and we are happy to share."
If you buy the sampler bones (which range from two to four bones depending on the event), you can hit quite a few places each weekend and learn how the ribbers make their award-winning food. Here s a sampling of what you ll find.
Confirmed vendors for Smoke on the Water at Promenade Park are: Big Moe s BBQ & Catering from Kalamazoo, Mich.; Black Kettle Bar Be Que, Famous Dave s Big Ten, Po Mo s, TJ s Catering, and Tom s BBQ, all of Toledo; Sidelines Sports Eatery & Pub of Lambertville, and Chicago Barbecue Co. of Burr Ridge, Ill.
"There s a big difference between barbecue and grilling with higher temperatures and shorter time," says Johnnie Harris of Black Kettle Bar Be Que. "Barbecue is no higher than 220 degrees, and depending on your meat and its thickness you might cook at lower temperature and longer. That s the definition of barbecue."
He describes his ribs as tender, juicy, spicy, smoky, and they cook between six and seven hours. This summer Black Kettle Bar Be Que has been at the African-American Festival, Juneteenth Festival at the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Old West End Festival.
"Our pork is marinated in vinegar and water and then rubbed and refrigerated," he says. He uses a Southern Pride smoker to cook the ribs. "We can do 250 pounds of meat at a time. It is a convection oven with propane gas that burns a log for the duration of eight or nine hours." A thermometer maintains the temperature when the door is closed.
"When I bring out the ribs, the sauce is put on by the customer," he says about his tomato/vinegar sauce which comes in spicy and mild. "Some people are purists. They like the meat with the smoke of the grill."
Award-winning Sidelines Sports Eatery & Pub of Lambertville makes a baby back pork rib. "We don t smoke them, we braise them," says Eric Sitter, one of the owners. "We like the way that holds the moisture and the meat falls off the bone."
The ribs are braised in seasoning solution with a tight cover, which Mr. Sitter calls "steam baking." It s "almost like pressure cooking."
Once it s braised, "we cool down the ribs and barbecue them on the grill. Then we add sauce, which caramelizes," he says. Sidelines sauce is sweet and zesty made with honey. Sidelines used to have another location in Maumee; when that store closed, owners opened a second business which is called Sidelines II at 2109 Laskey Rd. in Toledo.
Famous Dave s Big Ten Ribs from the Toledo Famous Dave s Barbecue restaurant at 4757 Monroe St. uses the St. Louis cut, according to Jerrid Heidel, operations director. "We pride ourselves on the largest cut in the industry which is 2 pounds per slab."
It s hickory smoked. They use a rib rub with 18 spices. Although Famous Dave s has multiple sauces, the Rich and Sassy Sauce is used to finish the rib.
This group of local ribbers will be at the Smoke on the Water event at Promenade Park on the first weekend.
A second team, the corporate team from Famous Dave s BBQ based in Plymouth, led by Mr. Bower will be at the 25th Annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off at the fairgrounds on the second weekend. "We can do a larger volume," says Mr. Bower.
"The perfect rib is overall size using the middle ribs which have good marbleization," he says. "We use a heavy amount of sauce on the grill. When the sauce caramelizes, it takes on a different flavor. Sometimes I don t re-sauce it when it comes off the grill for the taste and texture. When you take a nice bite off the rib and it takes a little tug but the bone is clean and there s a sweet sauce."
On-site people try to find different things they can do at home for their own ribs, says Mr. Bower, who is part of the National Barbecue Cookers Association. Members of the NBCA travel together from event to event, but not all of them will be at the same event.
Nine other NBCA members will compete at the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off at the fairgrounds: Armadillo s of Youngstown; Aussom Aussie of Pittsburgh; Buddy s BBQ & Blues of Mentor, Ohio; Butch s BBQ of Mount Laurel, N.J.; Mojo s Ribshack of West Salem, Ohio; Pigfoot BBQ of West Salem, Ohio; Sgt. Oinks BBQ of Tiffin; Smokin Joe s Hog Wild BBQ of Mansfield, Ohio, and Texas Outlaws of Elizabethtown, Ky.
NBCA president and founder Jerry Gibson of Pigfoot BBQ says "the St. Louis cut is the meatiest and tenderest." He uses some sauce, but first the rib is seasoned. The sauce is added to caramelize on the grill. "The smoker is a big oven. We precook ribs and finish them on the grill," he says. He has five sauces: mild, sweet, hot, killer, and apple-licious which is a new sauce made with apple butter.
"It s my 20th year in Toledo," he says. "Working out at the fairgrounds gives more room, but we miss the lunch crowd we had downtown." But crowds have been good this summer. "Business is not down because of the economy," he says.
Aussom Aussie features Australian-style ribs. "We use a fruit-based concept," says Paul McKay. In Australia, cherry and apple woods are used to smoke ribs. Fruit juices are the base of the sauce such as apples, pineapple, orange, and tomato. "In Australia, apples were common and tomatoes were more expensive."
He describes his sauce as sweet and mild but he also has a raspberry chipotle sauce which is sweet and spicy.
Barbecue is extremely popular in Australia. "The secret of a good rib is that it is tender, juicy, and flavorful," says Mr. McKay. He uses a five-hour process in which the ribs are pre-seasoned with a dry rub, then put in the smoker with cherry and apple woods. "Then they hit the grill and are glazed with sauce to caramelize."
Here are three recipes sure to inspire home barbecue. Backyard Barbecue Spareribs has a ketchup-based sauce made with cherry cola seasoned with paprika and chili powder. Maple-Mustard Glazed Spareribs is salted and grilled 1 to 2 hours over indirect heat until tender and brushed with a maple glaze. Memphis-Style Ribs from The Barbecue Bible by Steve Raichlen (Workman, $22.95) are rubbed and marinated and then smoked, mopped, and grilled.
Smoke on the Water Ribs for the Red Cross is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Promenade Park in downtown Toledo. Admission is $3. Children 12 and under are free. There is free admission on Friday until 5 p.m. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
The 25th Annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off presented by The Andersons and The Blade is Aug. 7-10 at the Lucas County Fairgrounds in Maumee. Admission is $8 at the door with optional $25 VIP concert seating available from the Stranahan Theater box office, Ticketmaster outlets, and The Andersons. Hours are 3 to 10 p.m. Aug. 7; 3 to 11 p.m. Aug. 8; noon to 11 p.m. Aug. 9, and noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 10.
Contact Kathie Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.