Best in the West cook-off was a rib-tastic way to spend Labor Day

More than 500,000 raucous barbecue-lovers filled the massive Victorian Square special-events plaza and the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nev., over the long Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 5). The draw was the 28th annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, recognized as the most prestigious such throw-down in the country.

The voracious crowds chowed-down on more than 270,000 pounds of St. Louis-style pork ribs, lovingly rubbed with proprietary spice mixes and mopped with house-made sauces, slow-smoked over hardwood charcoal and sold by 23 professional cooking teams that travel a national circuit from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

“Side” dishes included beef and bison ribs, and brisket, pulled pork, chicken, fried catfish, fire-roasted corn, beer-battered onion rings, spiral-cut “tornado” fried potatoes, deep-fried peaches and dill pickles, and funnel cakes.

Live music played on several stages, a beer garden poured craft brews, and vendors sold goods ranging from toe rings and tie-dye T-shirts to artwork and kitchen gadgets.

On Sunday, a panel of 12 judges from around the country sampled ribs and sauces from the competitors, and scored them according to strict criteria to choose the winners in a double-blind tasting.

The six-day event culminated on Labor Day Monday, when hotel officials announced the winners to a cheering crowd. When the wood smoke had figuratively cleared, the first-place winner was Rasta Joe’s from Plymouth, Ind., who took home $7,500.

The other winners were:

▪ Second: Bone Daddy’s from Midland, Mich., $3,000

▪ Third: Texas Thunder from from Borger, Texas, $2,000

▪ Fourth: Montana Q from Frenchtown, Mont., $1,000

▪ Fifth: Texas Outlaws from Elizabethtown, Ky., $500

▪ People’s choice: Montana Q

▪ Best sauce: Checkered Pig from Martinsville, Va, $500

More valuable than the cash prizes and trophies are the winners’ braggin’ rights, which translate into big-time sales to the public down the line.

The 29th annual throw-down will be Aug. 30-Sept. 4, 2017. For more information: l (800) 648-1177 or

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe