BEREA, Ohio — Spices, sauces, and a little smokiness are all keys to perfecting a rib platter, which is what 10 rippers strive for at Berea’s National Rib Cook-Off. With platters of fresh meat rubbed with spices and loaded into smokers, the food isn’t the only thing that gets hot at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds.
Dennis Carrino, a native of Cleveland, has been coming to the fairgrounds for Berea’s Rib Cook-off since it began in 1999. Carrino has been in the food industry even longer, with awards earned on his Blazin’ Bronco grill stand. He recalled the origins of the rib cook-off craze that has swept the nation and lays claim to its Cleveland origins.
With a history steeped in BBQ competitions, Carrino said the contestants were like family.
“You know we’re all friends out here, and it’s a great cooker family and camaraderie,” Carrino said. “We see the same cookers whether we’re in Cleveland, Ohio, or Reno, Nevada.”
Seeing the same faces at these cook-offs is bound to create deep friendships — friendships that also come with a little healthy competition.
“I think that’s one of the reasons the rib cookoffs and everything has grown, because they’re part of a big family. We’re helping each other. When it comes to judging, the gloves are off,” said Carrino. “But it’s this fun part that we’re dealing with judging — who changes a little bit of it, who does a little bit of that, who steals someone else’s secrets? -May the best man win.”
West Salem’s Pigfoot BBQ’s Kevin Gift agreed that they’re all friends when the weekend kicks off, but there’s a goal at the end, and it’s a goal they all have their sights on.
“It’s all fun, we’re all friends out here until competition time, then it’s a little bit different,” said Gift. “We’re all fighting for victory.”
Best Ribs, Best Sauce and People’s Choice Awards will all be presented and the 10 rib teams will compete to have their name next to at least one of the awards. This includes the newer Ribbers, who bring a fiery passion to the big cook-off.
“It’s our third year here,” said Josh Crall of Orrville-based After Hours BBQ. “How will we do this weekend? We hope we will make this great. Like I said, the people up here have given us a chance before, the weather looks like it’s going to be a nice weekend.”
Strolling around the fairgrounds, guests will immediately notice the trophies and plaques adorning each Rib team’s stand.
“Won one, won two, won five, won 10 and it just went from there…then it got really fun,” Carrino said. “We were the only team to win the Cleveland National Rib Cook-off four years in a row and that’s a record and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Gift would have something to say about the awards, which Carrino mentioned, boasting that “my ribs are the best.”
Crall lets his flavors do the talking.
“It’s just sweet, tangy, a little bit of smoke on top, there you go, that’s all you need,” Crall said.
There are plenty of those (as well as other staples like chicken wings, brisket, mac and cheese, and other tasty BBQ options.
“Probably doing about 1,200 rib platters, about each vendor, so let’s hope everyone comes hungry because we’ve got enough,” Crall said.
Ribs, which Carrino says will be cheaper than other cook-offs across the country as organizers secured discounted prices for the heavily overstuffed meat, which will be served this weekend.
“Got us better prices on ribs than we can possibly buy and he passed that on to us and we pass it on to our guests and that’s a key feature of this rib cookoff,” Carrino said.
With prices set and stalls set up, the teams got to work on Thursday, grinding up the spices, inviting the smokers in and preparing the sauces for a good BBQ does happen overnight. And on Friday morning the competition begins, drawing the community to get good food and lasting memories.
“Everyone comes out for that. You see the families, then the families bring the kids, then the kids grow up and they bring their kids,” Carrino said.
And the stiff competition keeps the chefs having fun and staying on their A-game — which makes the real winners each year the guests who come for a few ribs.
“There’s no reason for anyone not to come down and have some good ribs,” Crall said.
Berea’s National Rib Cook-Off will be held at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea over Memorial Day weekend May 27-30.
TIED TOGETHER: Berea’s National Rib Cook-Off is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend May 27-30
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