Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hot Hot Heat!

The Great American Rib Cook Off is all about heat, from the grills to the sauces, and this year YIC chose to attend on a particularly scorching day. The Great American Rib Cook Off has been a staple of Cleveland’s Summer since 1991, providing a combination of fun music, great food and a good honestly I don’t know what the hell happened this year.

This year’s Rib Cook Off was much smaller than I remember years past being. There were only 10 purveyors of pork, and there wasn’t much of a stage (although it WAS Sunday) and thus no real musical acts. The combination of lame atmosphere, excruciating heat, and exorbitant prices drowned out the presence of even the most spectacular sauces and ribs.

The first hiccup with the Rib Cook Off from a YIC perspective is the cost: it was $10 to park and it usually costs $7 for an adult ticket ($5 with a coupon), except if you get there before 3 p.m. Being the princes of frugality that we are, we made it just in the nick of time, saving ourselves $10 collectively.

The lack of entry price was the only frugal part of the day as we were to soon discover. Since the goal was to try as many of the different sauces as possible, YIC decided to stick to the samples which were 4 or 5 tickets and water, which was much needed on this day, at 3 tickets (ticket = $1.25). All told we ended up buying about $60 in tickets. Throughout the day we tried samplers of ribs from 6 of the vendors and a pulled pork sandwich from one (Ed.: Brendan refused to leave without buying a pulled pork sandwich…).

I suppose I’ll write about the ribs in pure Rib Cook Off style, by naming the best instead of simply describing them all. So for "Best Ribs," the honor goes to Porky and Beans (same as the actual winner) with their ribs being full of rich flavor and falling right off the bone even before we dowsed the with their put-some-hair-on-your-chest hot sauce (description not actual name; although, Porky and Beans, think about it!). Following close behind for me was Texas Thunder, with perfectly cooked ribs that had a nice spice with the grilled on sauce, but not the same succulent dry rub that set Porky and Beans apart.

Now for the important part: "Best Sauce," because, I’m sorry folks, cooking meat is one thing but mixing up a batch of spicy, tasty, burn-the-hair-off-your-mustache-but-make-you-say-sweet-Jesus-that-is-good BBQ sauce is at the very least an art form but in reality more of a gift. This year Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ proved they have the gift with their Super Pyro BBQ sauce. This was the perfect combination of hot and tangy and nothing else came close to this at the cook off. This sauce was so good that it is not only the only real bright spot of the day but literally the only thing I will ever admit to liking that comes from New Jersey.

The other three rib gurus whose fare we ate were Johnson’s BBQ, Carolina Rib King, and Uncle Bub’s BBQ. None of the ribs we tried were bad, and we definitely left with full tummies, but it just felt like something was missing which could have made the event better. Also, how in the world Famous Dave’s BBQ won the Peoples' Choice Award two years in a row escapes me!

Overall, this is a pricey event, and although there were still some great ribs the overall atmosphere was seriously weak this year. So the Rib Cook Off has some upside in the chance at tasting some good food, but it comes at the cost of a real splurge. Spending money on something awesome is completely encouraged from time to time, but with the weak showing of vendors, lack of fun entertainment, and generally boring feel to the event, YIC would not recommend making this one of them. Total cost $80 (two people but only 2 hours of fun).


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