Yes, it can be hard to write about Ribfest. Until technology speeds up and we can provide you with smell-o-vision, the written word hardly does the story of Ribfest justice. But, luckily, you have the chance to stop out to Ribfest Friday through Sunday to get a whiff and a taste of your own. On Thursday, two News-Sentinel reporters stopped to visit each barbecue team to meet the grill masters and to take a look at what's on the grill. Here is what they found.
Getting to know the teams
Timmy's Pizza & BBQ With a restaurant half an hour outside Fort Wayne in Garrett, Tim Johnson, owner of Timmy's Pizza & BBQ, said after 12 years, he has nearly perfected his rub and sauce. Johnson's sauce is what he calls a Louisiana-style BBQ with a vinegar base. He also has the second largest commercial smoker in the United States. For more information visit the company's website.
Big Boned BBQ Winner of the 2011 Best Brisket, Big Boned BBQ traveled from Charleston to sling traditional Carolina barbecue. Big Boned BBQ employee Mark Sams said when he is manning the grill, he is cooking ribs with meat that falls right off the bone. For more information visit the company's website.
Cowboys BBQ and Rib Company Straight out of Fort Worth, Texas, you'll know when you see Cowboys BBQ and Rib Company owner Dallas Green around Ribfest. Just look a man donning a cowboy hat, large cigar and a black Cowboys BBQ and Rib Company T-shirt. Once you've found Green, you've also found traditional Texas barbecue, including the accent. For more information visit the company's website.
Texas Pit Barbecue The first words Texas Pit Barbecue employee Tonya Bayham said about the company's barbecue was that everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the barbecue. Owners Ron and Valerie Conaway spend the entire summer on the road competing from New York to North Carolina. With a St. Louis style, Texas Pit has a strong focus on making proper ribs. For more information visit the company's website.
Low and Slow In its fourth year at Ribfest, the mostly family-run operation is back again to serve up its specialty pulled pork, cooked with lots of TLC, said Jim McCullough of Low and Slow. The food is based around apple, including the applewood in the smoking process and the flavors in the sauce. The employees at Low and Slow all have full-time jobs, McCullough said. In fact, Ribfest is the operation's only rib fest. "We just like to come down here and cook," he said.
Carolina Rib King Solomon Williams, owner of Carolina Rib King from South Carolina, takes great pride in his state. It's what makes his barbecue different, he said. "That's where it began, we keep fighting between the Carolinas and Texas and Memphis. We keep battling on who did it first." He travels across the country, which is a hard process that can leave him tired. Though, now in his second Ribfest appearance, Williams said he's had some return customers who remember his food. "It warms you up real well." He's brought along a mustard-based sauce this year to try on his wide variety of pork and chicken. “Everything's my specialty,” Williams said. “I give love with all of it.” For more information visit the company's website.
Jack on the Bone If you hear the ringing of the cowbell, you might just be near the Jack on the Bone tent, which has been dishing out barbecue favorites with a dash of Tennessee's Jack Daniel's since the fest first started 16 years ago. Katie Cline, a Jack girl at Jack on the Bone, travels all across the country during the summer. It's an nice change of pace from her regular job as a kindergarten teacher, she said. "We're super known for the fact that we have Jack Daniel's in our sauce," Cline said. They like to give a little spritz of Jack Daniel's on everything that passes from their grill, just to bring out the flavor of the whiskey that's in the sauce. And if you get some on your meal, they'll let the crowd know with a few shakes of that cowbell. For more information visit the company's website.
Wrigley Field and Grabill Inn When Wrigley Field and Grabill Inn partnered for the chance to share the each company's best food, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Wrigley Field has the quintessential bar food and Grabill Inn has the traditional family-style food, this booth at Ribfest offered a unique menu featuring many options in addition to BBQ. Daniel White, owner of Wrigley Field Bar and Grill said it's a great opportunity to work around some of the country's best grill masters at Ribfest. For more information visit Wrigley Field and Grabill Inn.
Desperados Donna Rice, co-owner of Desperados out of Hinckley, Ohio, has been featured on Food Network and boasts an impressive list of national barbecue titles. After starting the business with her husband, Lee, Rice said customer service is a big part of the business. When she is serving up a plate of food, she likes to treat each customer like they're the judge. For more information visit the company's website.