Appetizers

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

What makes these ribs taste so good?

Paul Mackey of Aussom Aussie Australian Barbecue Company talks technique and tradition at the recent Best of the West Ribs Cook-Off in Sparks, Nev.
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Paul Mackey of Aussom Aussie Australian Barbecue Company talks technique and tradition at the recent Best of the West Ribs Cook-Off in Sparks, Nev.

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 www.nuggetcasinoresort.com.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

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