When I was a full-time sports writer, I never had fall Saturdays off. It was either volleyball, JFL or cross country just about every Saturday. It meant missing a lot of college football, and the occasional small town events here in lil’ ol’ Fairfield. One such event was the annual rib cookoff, part of the Fall Fun Fest.
The cookoff was held a block from my house, so I would occasionally be able to stop by and hang with friends who were competing, but I never could devote the whole day to it.
This year was an exception. Thanks, part-time gig life.
So, I talked my buddy and coworker into forming a team and competing this year.
Two things to know about this decision:
1) I’ve cooked less than three slabs of ribs ever before making this decision.
2) I’m competitive.
So, Jay and I set about to “practicing”. This is where competing with a co-worker and the work-from-home life come in handy. We went through a few test runs. Different grills, different rubs, different sauces, different temps. A lot of ribs. This was the kind of practice even Allen Iverson could get behind.
All in all, my favorite practice ribs were probably our first try, but it still never hurts to tinker and note.
So, come game day, we entered our first BBQ cookoff. I have judged brisket before, but had never actually competed in a smoking competition. The last cooking thing I entered was a chili cookoff (I won, btw). Jay and I were joined on cook day by his dad, Mike.
But first, we needed a team name. I am a fan of cheesy wordplay, and for some reason Tupork Shakur hit me pretty early in the process and I could not get it out of my head long enough to consider anything else. So, Tupork Shakur it was. Any excuse for me to break out the Pac bandana. I had my mother-in-law, Elaine, make us shirts. She is creative as can be. I told her what I was thinking, and she nailed it. It wasn’t until after the shirts were in progress that someone suggested Ghostface Grillahs, which is just a killer name.
Going in, I was actually hoping to pull off decent ribs with as little work as possible. Step one: we used a pellet grill. Jay has a Traeger, I have a Green Mountain. His cooked much more consistently in the practice runs, so we used his despite being smaller.
Step two: the rub. I have a rub I have used for years called Fat Man’s Crack. I always keep a shaker of it around. It is something I whip up myself. We tried some commercial rubs and some proteam rubs, but eventually came back to the Fat Man’s Crack. Also, my label for that is a picture of Rob Ford.
We also chose to baste the ribs, using a marinade I got from one of the Memphis in May ribs champions.
For the sauce, we went with a molasses-forward commercial sauce, cut with the juice from the foil when we wrapped the ribs. We also used a shorter cook time, higher temp than most did for the competition.
All in all, it was a fun day that started at 7 a.m. with registration and setup, and box turn-in at 4 p.m. We cooked three slabs of ribs, turning in at least 4 of your best ribs, while also cooking side items to munch on.
With the ribs taking up all of the room in the Traeger, I finally had an excuse to break out a grill that was recently gifted to me by an old beer drinker buddy for the side food.
Oh, and plenty of beer consumption. And yes, we had Das Boots for this.
The finished product:
So, how did we do?
Well, we managed to do pretty well.
Tupork Shakur took second place overall. Most importantly, we won our side bet with the defending champions and cooking neighbors. Take that, Ribbed For Her Pleasure.
Of the three judges, our lowest score was for box presentation. He wanted the ribs all in a row and did not like the 3×1 design. One said we had perfect texture and another said great taste and rub.
Yes, that trophy is still on my fireplace mantle. It will probably stay there until my wife makes me move it. Which I don’t expect will take too much longer.
For a first time try and cooking against experienced competitors, I’ll take it.
Besides, If we hadn’t placed, I was just going to peel out of the parking lot blaring Tupac’s Only God Can Judge Me Now (If he is KCBS certified) (remix).
Thanks to John Griswold for organizing this every year and thanks to Fairfield Save-a-Lot for the ribs every year. I have every intention of doing this again.