Tim Johnson, owner of Timmy's Pizza and BBQ in Garrett, has been basting up slabs of meat for more than 12 years. With the second largest commercial smoker in the United States, Johnson has his Ole Hickory smoker stuffed with ribs, pork butt, brisket and more in preparation for his favorite time of year – competition and festival season.
As a long-standing Fort Wayne Ribfest competitor, Johnson said he has perfected his rub and sauce, but that doesn't mean he is stopping there.
“There are little tricks we all play with. But the main idea is the temperature and then the rubs you use on the meat. I've been working on my recipe for 10 years and it's completely different than anyone else's,” he said.
Johnson's restaurant also serves up gluten-free pizza and traditional pizza in addition to his barbecue. He is also a regular at many local festivals, including Fort Wayne's Three Rivers Festival and Johnny Appleseed Festival.
During a 10-day trip two years ago, Johnson and his wife, Neza, rode their motorcycles to barbecue shops throughout the South while tasting the best barbecue in the country.
“The flavor is different from one region to the next. Barbecue is almost like a language of itself. When people know you're not local competition then they'll tell you about what they're doing and what product they got,” he said.
That regional variety will be evident at Ribfest this year as barbecue teams from Texas, the Carolinas, Ohio and more set up shop at Headwaters Park.
A barbecue recipe "is an ongoing thing. I don't think anybody that's ever said 'this is the way we're doing it and we're never going to change' has been around very long. We're always looking for new stuff, and trends change. Barbecue is definitely hot right now,” Johnson said.
When Johnson said barbecue is hot right now, he's not talking about the sauce. He's not even talking about the temperature. He's talking about the popularity.
That rise in popularity has organizers Mark and Cindy Chappuis always looking for new ways to please festival-goers, which is why this year Ribfest will be having its first 5K on Saturday morning.
OK, finding the connection between belly-filling barbecue and running 3.1 miles may be a tough one, but Ribfest will still be doing exactly what it does best – food and music.
Selling 25 tons of barbecue in four days is no easy task, and neither is picking the select small group of national competition teams.
“These teams take their competition seriously and we go out and find the teams (who) are winning critics choice awards and people's choice awards at the national level,” Cindy said.
From brisket to ribs and music to family-friendly events, the Chappuises feel like they have the recipe for Ribfest nearly perfect.
“Our thing is, if it's not broke, don't fix it. We really try to focus on great food and great music and the rest pretty much takes care of itself,” Mark said.
So, when you out navigating Ribfest this weekend remember:
– There's a $5 sampler to try a sample from each BBQ team
–Bands will be playing around the clock
– The event is under a pavilion, so the party is happening rain or shine
– Don't forget to cast your vote for the People's Choice Award
Four BBQ tips from Tim Johnson of Timmy's Pizza & BBQ:
Low and slow - cook your meat at a very low temperature for a long period of time. Johnson cooks his pork butt between 210 to 225 degrees for 10 to 12 hours.
Know your wood - try out various wood chips such as hickory or mesquite to see what flavor you like best.
Buy quality meat - Johnson partners with a local butcher shop to get local and quality meat for his BBQ.
Perfect your rub and sauce - Working on your perfect rub and sauce can be a long process. Johnson recommends testing new recipes and ingredients in addition to tasting food from other barbecue joints to find that flavor and BBQ style you like best.