Todd Harris, of Wadsworth, Ohio, grills ribs for Buddy's BBQ & Blues, one of 10 ribs vendors at the 25th annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off.
If you grill it, they will come.
That's the mentality the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off has carried for 25 years, and the scene at the Lucas County Fairgrounds yesterday seemed to confirm it: for many, the smoky, savory scent of barbecue is simply irresistible.
Troy Michaels, the Rib-Off's operations manager, said that mysterious allure has been key to the success of the festival.
"It's almost like a snake charmer," Mr. Michaels said. "Once the grills start going, with the barbecue sauce and all, the people [show up]."
The Rib-Off, which includes 10 barbecue vendors and about a dozen other food vendors, moved to the Lucas County Fairgrounds two years ago after outgrowing its venue at Promenade Park in downtown Toledo.
The festival needed more space so it could lure more national acts to play the festival, Mr. Michaels said. Southern rock musician and American Idol runner-up Bo Bice took the stage last night, to be followed by hard-rocker Ted Nugent tonight and country singer Gary Allan tomorrow.
Jason Whitacre, of Holland takes a bite of ribs. He showed up early yesterday at the Lucas County Fairgrounds and plans to come back today.
Mr. Michaels said the festival has become a major music event on top of being a food festival. But for many visitors, the day's main attraction was still a half-rack of ribs or a platter of pulled pork smothered in sauce.
Among yesterday's barbecue buffs were Dan and Gayle Schuldt of Haskins, Ohio, who arrived just after the festival started to get their barbecue fix.
The couple also planned to buy food for Mrs. Schuldt's father, a Toledo resident in his 90s who enjoys barbecue but couldn't make the trip to the fairgrounds.
Jerry Gibson, who owns Pigfoot with his wife, Debbie, has worked the summer barbecue circuit for more than 25 years, selling food at the Rib-Off since it was little more than a backyard cookout.
He brought a tractor-trailer load of 250 cases of ribs this year, and hopes to sell all 8,000 pounds of pork by Sunday.
Mr. Schuldt ordered a platter of ribs from Pigfoot, the meat covered partly with mild and partly with hot barbecue sauce. He said he used to eat the barbecue joint's "killer" sauce, the spiciest available, but can't handle that much heat anymore.
Mr. Gibson said the "killer" sauce is made with oil from the habanero pepper, one of the world's spiciest. Habanero extract can clock in at 500,000 heat units on the Scoville scale, he said - 10 times hotter than a cayenne pepper, and 100 times hotter than a jalapeno.
A sign in front of the Pigfoot tent bears warning: "Killer BBQ sauce has been found to be the main cause of hemorrhoidal flare-up," the sign says. "But it has also been found to be the cure for nasal congestion."
A little strange? Maybe. Mr. Gibson, a 59-year-old resident of West Salem, Ohio, said he won't touch the stuff himself.
After decades behind the grill, he doesn't eat ribs and barbecue anymore.
"After a while, you just get burned out," he said.
But some folks need their ribs, and that's one reason Mr. Gibson keeps going.
Nancy and Art Carr of Bowling Green attended the festival in search of a distraction from their imminent layoffs from their city's Rexam PLC plastics plant. It is to be closed in December, less than two years after its London-based owner bought it from Owens-Illinois Inc.
"We're here to enjoy [the food] while we can, because we might not be able to afford it next year," Mrs. Carr said.
The ribs, though, were delicious, she said: not too mild, and not too spicy.
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