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  • Allen Pierleoni /

    Twenty-three rib-cooking teams from around the country competed for cash and braggin’ rights at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off in Sparks, Nev.

  • Allen Pierleoni /

    In a typical scenario at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, racks of ribs came out of smokers, were cut up and sold to throngs of barbecue-lovers who lined up at their favorite cookers’ “storefronts.”

Seven cooking teams took honors at Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 2, 2014 - 9:57 am

A Rib Nation of 500,000 ‘cue lovers converged on the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nev., last Wednesday through Monday for the 26th annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, the biggest such throw-down in the country. Along the way, the hungry crowds took on 240,000 pounds of St. Louis-style pork ribs, rubbed, smoked and sauced by 23 professional cooking teams that travel a national circuit.

All along Victorian Avenue over the extended Labor Day “weekend,” thousands of people lined up at the cookers’ massive storefronts to buy ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. Fragrant wood smoke filled the air, beer flowed, onion rings and funnel cakes sizzled in hot oil, endless ears of roasted corn were plunged into melted butter, and live music played on several stages.

On Sunday, a panel of judges sampled ribs and sauces from all the competitors, and scored them according to strict criteria in order to choose the winners. The six-day event — considered the most prestigious rib-cooking contest in the U.S. — culminated Monday on Victorian Square at the Nugget, when hotel officials announced the winners to a cheering crowd.

More valuable than the cash prizes and trophies are the braggin’ rights that accompany the victories; they translate into big-time rib sales to the public down the line.

This year’s winners were:

First place: Desperado’s BBQ & Rib Co. of Hinckley, Ohio: $7,500

Second place: Bone Daddy’s BBQ of Midland, Mich.: $3,000

Third place: Famous Dave’s BBQ of Plymouth, Minn.: $2,000

Fourth Place: Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ of Mt. Laurel, N.J.: $1,000

Fifth Place: Checkered Pig BBQ of Martinsville, Va.: $500

People’s Choice Award: Back Forty Texas Barbeque of Pleasant Hill, Ca.

Best Sauce: Porky-N-Beans BBQ Company of Port St. Lucie, Fla: $500, the second year in a row for the honor.

The 27th annual rib cook-off is scheduled for Sept. 2-7, 2015. For reservations, event history and information: (800) 648-1177 or (775) 356-3300, or

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

Read more articles by Allen Pierleoni

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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