Tuesday, 7 August 2007

RIBFEST 2007, London

Ribs [ribz] –noun (used with a plural verb)
1. a cut of meat from the rib section, esp. of pork or beef, with some meat adhering to the bones.
2. a dish of this meat, usually baked, roasted, or barbecued with a pungent sauce.

Fest [fest] –noun
1. an assembly of people engaged in a common activity (often used in combination): filmfest; gabfest; love-fest; poetry fest.

Alone, these two words mean little, but together, they become something magical: RIB-FEST. A celebration of meat, of people coming together, and another form of deliciousnous with smokey greatness. Except for last year, Rick, Dude, Brad and I (but never all 4 together) have been attending this event for 4-5 years now, and this year, not only did we all come together - but Amanda joined us as well.

London Ontario is the home to one of many Rib-Fests that are held all around North America. Hundreds come to take in the Civic Long Weekend feast of beef ribs, pork ribs, roasted chicken and pulled pork, among many other types of carnie food. There are two sections - the smokehouse area of the ribs, and the selling tents (swords, cell phones, blankets, flags etc) and circus food (fresh cut fries, candy apples, popcorn, fresh squeezed lemonade). Of course, the rib section is the most important.

We arrived early on Sunday, afraid the cloudy weather would bring rain and wash out the event. The line ups were small, and unlike previous Rib-fests, the wafting smell of smoking meat was at a minimum. Most of that comes from the change of most vendors from wood smoking to propane. I know Hank Hill says "taste the meat, not the heat", but I like tasting the heat.

The ribs and dinners are not cheap - but they are uniform from one vendor to another. The proceeds all go to the London Boys and Girls Club. The Vendor's come from all over Canada and the US and compete for the honour of being named best ribs. This can be confusing as they all seem to have won the #1 spot at the same places in the same years. This means when your choosing which one to go to is based on the ribs you can see cooking, and your sense of smell. The meat all comes from the same place, so the rib joints must use their sauce and cooking ingenuity to win over our hearts and stomachs.

Here's a list of some of the places we tried:

From the London area itself, this was Rick and I's breakfast stop. We ordered a full rack with extra sauce to ensure you get a full taste of the flavour.

Rick: "its just a good tasting bbq sauce"
WK: "the ribs are very tough . . . a mild, tasty sauce [though]"

Overall - decent bbq sauce, over cooked pork ribs - nothing really memorable.

Once Dude and Bramanda showed up, we decided to do a three-way taste-test. Rick, Brad and I each went to 3 different Rib tents, ordering a full rack in which to split 3 ways, to get a sense of the different flavours.

    (Brad's Choice)

I'm assuming they are from Kentucky with their self-described 'smoked southern-style BBQ ribs.'

Brad and Dude tried this rib local. The ribs were quite a bit smaller than the other locations.

The sauce was pretty minimal on these ribs. The flavour was pretty minimal too. The meat was falling off the bones quite easily compared to other places.

A decent rib, but I don't think anyone would have gone back for seconds.

Indiana sent us their best with Boss Hog, a Dukes of Hazards homage rib kiosk.

Of the traditional style BBQ ribs, I think this was the favourite. The right amount of smoke flavour, sweetness and ribs BBQ'd just right.

    (WK Choice)
Walking down to the far left end of the parade of ribs, I came across a young man and woman offering free samples of the sauce from Fire Island BBQ. They were offering 3 different types of sauce: honey garlic, traditional mild, and suicide. While the traditional mild looked tasty, the concept of a suicide rib was VERY appealing to this usual wing lover. I had one dip of some bread in a chunky yellowish sauce and I was hooked.

I am not the biggest rib fan in the world. Ribs are good, don't get me wrong, but I'm a wing man through and through. Ribs are rarely spicy, as in hot, burning etc. Ribs are all about bbq and honey garlic - sweet flavours. So the concept of a 'suicide' rib is, well, unique. Waiting in line people all around me were ordering the suicide - on their pulled pork, alone, or topping up the mild sauce.

The sauce had a lot of flavour, a nice bite and a great smell. The extra sauce on top made this a knock-out ribs.

Traditionalist would scoff at these ribs, but they were heaven for me. Since the pork meat I find is pretty bland, the spice is nice. This would make a great wing sauce - but Rick pointed out the taste of 3rd Degree was definitely in their recipe (oh 3rd Degree, is there anything you don't get into? he he)

Amanda, famous non-meat eater was more than content with her cheese pizza. See, everyone can enjoy Rib-fest!
Everyone ~ even Bramanda's puppy Starbuck (named for the pilot, not the coffee) got in on the ribs!

Rib-Fest by the Numbers:
120,000 Number of people expected to attend
35,000 Pounds of ribs consumed
5,000 Cobs of corn consumed
3,500 Hours of volunteer time
500 Volunteers required for the event
150 Kegs of beer consumed
50 Food and Craft Vendors in the park
11 Rib Restaurants participating
5 Days of fun
2 Labatt beer tents
1 Largest Rib-Festival in Canada
0 Charge for admission - FREE, FREE, FREE!!

Rib-fest was fun, filling and fantastic. I still say it is really expensive, and I will not be happy until there is a Wing-Fest. Coupled with Dirigible-Fest. Now that would be sweet.

LONDON Boys & Girls Club

PS: Ribs Royale won best ribs. We tried their sauce (Rick's mechanic was offering tastings while we were leaving Rib-fest). It was alright, but my money would have been on Fire Island Suicide.
PSS: UPDATE -Tom Diavolitsis over at Boss Hogg BBQ was helpful enough to correct me in that they won the prestigous Peoples Choice Award - congrats and sorry for mistake!!!

1 comment:

Ricky said...

Amanda's pizza was from Capri Pizza, which I ordered on Sunday and it was delicious that night, and on Monday and Tuesday and I think might be delicious on Wednesday.

Keep on dreaming for your dirigible fest...maybe you can buy one and start the festival when you become a real wing king and rule the wing world. But there is a wingfest, you're just too chicken (get it, chicken!) to attend!