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Friday, September 2, 2011

PNE 2011 - RibFest!

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The last 2 weeks before Labour Day, the city of Vancouver trades in the beaches, the mountains, and all that is good and pure about our city for a big asphalt parking lot in East Vancouver.  The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE for short) something I've never really understood completely.  It's crowded, the amusement rides are expensive and the food is for the most part crap.  Yes there's the Summer Concert Series but even that kinda sucked this year, what with Cheap Trick bailing on us at the last minute and Wilson Phillips being named as their replacement.  I think it's God's way of punishing us for the Stanley Cup riots.

This year however, the PNE is doing something quite exceptional ... sorta.  It's called "Rib Fest", and it combines 5 top BBQ teams from around North America for 2 weeks of the type smoking folks around here (except those that know me) can only dream of.  Ribs, brisket, pulled pork ... it's all there and if the smell of cotton candy and the fried onions at Jimmy's lunch can't clear your head of the barn yard funk from the 4H exhibits the PNE insists on keeping (because after all this is a country fair) then the intoxicating aroma of smoke and meat just may become your new best friend.

In typical meat-geek fashion, I wasn't just going to visit the Rib-Fest and stuff myself silly.  There's voting involved here!  I need to do my due-diligence and inspect the product from each of the 5 teams who entered, and then carefully consider who will earn my vote.  Pigging out is for chumps ... or at least for when the voting's done.  Over 3 different visits my wife J and I tried the ribs from Smoke & Bones (North Vancouver, BC), Gator BBQ (Everglade City, Florida), Crazy Canuck Smokers (London, ON), QN4U (Clovis, CA) and Prairie Smoke & Spice (Pilot Butte, SK).  Each of these teams has serious BBQ pedigree with teams competing ant the Grande Nationals, Jack Daniels, Canadian Championships ... this is serious competitive stuff here folks.

We judged the ribs on appearance, flavour, tenderness and a fourth "overall" experience category;  how did the  vendors engage us as a customer?  Were they just shell shocked after a week under the blazing sun and being asked where the roller coaster was ... or did they look you in the eye, tell you you were about to each the best damn BBQ you've ever eaten and please vote for their team?  In my opinion that is a very important part of BBQ. This is food you have to LOVE to cook, because it's not easy.  It's smelly, and tiring (14 hours to smoke a brisket), but the results are so worth it.





 The results were quite surprising.  I really didn't expect much out of the team from Ontario ... call it my West-coast bias.  Saskatchewan is kinda like Canada's Texas so I thought they might have something worthwhile.  California is better known for tri-tip BBQ, so I wasn't expecting their ribs to be as strong.  Florida was the only real representative from "the South" (although real Southerners will dispute that point) and the team from North Vancouver ... well I've competed against them before, so I was prepared for what they brought, or so I thought.




We took no notes.  It's tough to write with sauce all over your hands, and beside it would have meant I'd have to put down my beer, and that wasn't going to happen.  Beside, certain things stick in my mind when I'm eating BBQ ... texture of the meat, tang of the sauce, and most importantly for me the delicate aroma of smoke.  No need for notes ... I remember where the good stuff is.  Everyone's ribs were excellent, especially considering the rate at which they were churning them out.  Quality often suffers when quantity increases but fortunately the professionalism of all the teams showed.

So, who won?  For me, and for J, the clear winner was ....

Smoke & Bones!  I'm a bit surprised to be honest.  Not because a team from North Vancouver can produce world quality BBQ, but because the competition was so stiff.  The Gator BBQ team took my honourable mention ... and I only say that because they took my razzing about how Auburn was going to run roughshod over whatever football team they supported (that was for you Nick!).

I really hope they do the Rib Fest again next year.  There's precious few great BBQ places out here, and even fewer competitions.  While this wasn't a true competition, it was another opportunity to eat BBQ, drink beer, listen to great music, and watch the summer fade away.

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