Jesse McDay, owner of We Are Ribs, prepares his ribs at last year’s Northwest Ohio Rib-Off.
Customers line up at vendors’ booths for great tasting ribs at the Lucas County Fairgrounds in Maumee.
The Lucas County Fairgrounds will sizzle today through Sunday as 11 award-winning barbecuers converge for the 31st Annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off.
Myriad vendors will provide a number of savory flavors to try, and no two will be exactly alike.
“Ours are really fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth,” said Eric Sitter, co-owner of Sidelines Sports Eatery and Pub. “I mean they are really tender.”
He’s even had people tell him his ribs are too tender, which he finds hard to believe.
The Rib-Off runs from today through Sunday and is sponsored by The Blade. Mike Mori, the event coordinator and director of sales for The Blade, said he expects close to 60,000 people to attend during the four-day event.
■ Admission: Grants access to the event and the day’s concert. VIP concert tickets cost more.
■ Thursday: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is $6 in advance; $10 at the gate
■ Friday: Noon to 11 p.m. Admission is free until 3 p.m., then $8 in advance; $12 at the gate
■ Saturday: Noon to 11 p.m. Admission is free until 3 p.m., then $7 in advance and $10 at the gate
■ Sunday: Noon to 7 p.m. Admission is free
■ Food: A variety of ribs and sides from 11 vendors. Samplers of 1-2 ribs will run about $8, while full rack dinners will average $26
■ Parking: $5 at the Lucas County Recreation Center, $3 at the Lucas County Fair Grounds
“It’s a very successful event. It seems to me that the ribbers are pretty happy,” Mori said.
Ribs aren’t the only attraction. The event also includes live music by such national acts as the funk band War today, rocker Ted Nugent on Friday, and founding member of STYX Dennis DeYoung on Saturday.
Local bands complement the national acts: Bruce Sims and the Jam Band will provide an R&B flavor today as the opening act for War, alternative rock band In Theory opens for Nugent, and East River Drive, a cover band that plays rock classics, will open on Saturday.
“This event from a concert standpoint has really been the cornerstone of the summer concert schedule,” Mori said.
Eleven participating barbecuers compete in a popular voting contest for the People’s Choice Award, with national and local categories, and a local celebrity judging contest for Best in Northwest Ohio.
Sidelines, with locations in Toledo, Maumee, and southeast Michigan, is one of this year’s local vendors. The business took a two year break from competitions and opened two new locations, but Sitter says his staff is excited to come back to the Rib-Off.
“One of our newest locations is out in Maumee near the fairgrounds and the staff is just all over it,” he said.
The event is a great opportunity for vendors to show off their products to a large audience, and to have some fun outside the kitchen.
“We’re definitely going to turn in the best product we can, but it’s really about getting out there for a weekend with your staff and having a good time,” Sitter said.
Another local vendor is Deet’s BBQ, located in Maumee. Deet’s has participated in the Rib-Off for the last three years and has won awards each year, including the best local category in 2013.
“We really strive for the local vote and the People’s Choice because those are the people that are in our community,” Deet’s owner/partner Trevor Deeter said.
Eric Sitter, co-owner of Sidelines Sports Eatery and Pub, coats his ribs with sauce at a past rib-off.
Of course, ribs aren’t the only food option at the event. Many vendors will have other foods and sides available. In addition to three-rib samplers, half-racks, and full-racks, Deet’s will sell pulled pork, smoked chicken, coleslaw, cornbread, baked beans, and a pecan dessert that Deeter calls a “pecan pleaser.”
“We cook everything on site ... we want to make sure we have the best quality and the freshest ingredients,” Deeter said.
Deeter said that while the event is a lot of work, it’s a great way to reach out to a large audience, and, besides, he enjoys the atmosphere.
“They always have great music out there,” he said.
Some community organizations, including the Toledo NAACP and the Toledo Community Coalition, have expressed disapproval at the selection of Nugent as a headliner, given his history of controversial and racist comments, including comments about President Obama.
In a Blade letter to the editor, Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications Inc., The Blade’s parent company, said he would not support hiring Nugent in the future, but that Nugent had not met the standard to be uninvited this time.
“Ted Nugent has been our top grossing band a number of times and I expect him to again bring in a record house,” Mori said.
The Rib-Off’s mix of music and food, as well as its outdoor location draws in larger crowds than other venues in Toledo, like the zoo or Huntington Center, can accomodate.
“We certainly have the biggest crowds. Nobody brings 11,000 people to a concert in town,” Mori said.
Sitter agreed: “They’ve done a great job out there building it into a mega-event.”
Tickets for War are $6 in advance and $10 at the gate; VIP seating is $22.50 in advance. Nugent’s show will cost $8 or $12 at the gate, with VIP seating priced at $29.50. And tickets for DeYoung will be $7 or $10 at the gate, and VIP seating is $25 in advance. Admission to the Rib-Off is free on Sunday, courtesy of a sponsorship by Cedar Creek Church, which will also be providing music.