Thursday, July 5, 2012
Ribfest VII - Justice Was Served!
Not only does the start of summer symbolize for me countless days and nights with friends and family, cooking outside and enjoying amazing eats, it's always marked by a major food shin-dig that really kicks things off. This event is no other than the annual Meyers' Ribfest, now in its 7th glorious year.
Even though it's stellar every year, our good friends, The Meyers never settle for anything less than perfect, and up the ante with each consecutive year. It's really exciting to see the progression of this event, and I enjoy looking back at the pictures of past times and remembering just how far along Ribfest has come. This year proved to be yet another unbelievable spectacle, as the competition got fiercer, the ribs got saucier and the guests came even hungrier.
To recap a bit about the format of this event, here's some background:
Each year it's nice to see that Ribfest sees more and more competitors, especially in the ribs category. Since the event's inception, the battle has evolved to also include a sides and a dessert throwdown. While the prize for best ribs is no doubt the most prestigious, even the king or queen of sides and dessert gets legitimate street cred.
Everyone's ribs are judged on three important criteria, including appearance, flavor and tenderness from a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest. For the sides and the dessert, the judging is a bit more interpretive, as you rate the dishes from a more holistic perspective.
Being a judge this year, along with four other talented food connoisseurs, we tried to be discerning but also fair. The results, I'm proud to say reflected true greatness, and I genuinely feel that the creme de la creme got what they deserved. Congratulations to the winners of course, but really to everyone for participating in this spectacular carnivorous battle.
We had 9 worthy competitors for the ribs, seven for the sides and three for dessert. In the rib competition specifically, we had veterans such as Adam, Tom, Uncle Bobby and Chris, while also a few rib newbies like the Silverman Brothers, Randi, Jessica and Henry. I loved the dynamic between the rookies and the veterans, since the former really upped the competitive spirit of things, and I was especially excited to see more ladies enter this usually male dominated throwdown.
As each competitor approached the judges' table with their own prized possession, they informed us of the ingredients that made up their ribs and the style of preparation they chose. We then each took a rib, gnawed on it with gusto and exchanged our collective commentary. Here are the ones that stood out to me:
Adam's Thai Ribs - Getting an automatic 5 in appearance, these ribs were absolutely gorgeous, and you can see them here, embellished with beautiful fresh Thai peppers grown in Adam and Jessica's backyard. The glaze was slightly sweet at first bite but sharp and spicy at the finish, ending each note with an exclamation mark. Even though some of the judges weren't wild about the texture of these ribs, I thought they were lovely, and separated nicely from the bone.
Chris - A close second when it came to all the judging criteria, Chris' ribs were done in a "red muddy" style, sporting a gorgeous smoke ring, which indicated right from the start that they'd be stellar. The flavors were really nice, and also fiery like Adam's but definitely not as intense. Their overall taste was more subdued but the actual texture was 100% perfect, the meat separating beautifully upon contact, and making your job of licking the bone clean very easy.
Jessica - I need to give kudos to the ladies here, especially Jessica who did an awesome job with saucing her ribs. Not sure about everything that was in her glaze, but she had a nice sweet, smoky combination going on, and I think there was some honey used, which is always a plus in my book. In terms of the texture, it needed a little work, but I tip my hat to you Jess for giving the boys a run for their money!
Sometimes for me, the sides are the most interesting, as that's where you can really let your creativity shine. While some folks went with traditional BBQ accompaniments like mac 'n cheese and grits, everyone elevated their dishes with non-traditional ingredients or innovative cooking methods. Here are my shining stars:
Thea's Mac 'n Cheese Pancakes - While some folks didn't really get this interesting spin on a classic comfort food, I really dug it. Pancakes, literally stuffed with gooey macaroni and cheese, it was a perfect cross-over dish that went nicely with a modest helping of maple syrup. While its ingredients were super rich, each pancake overall was light and fluffy and didn't feel the least bit heavy.
Jason's Jalapeno Cheddar Grits - A huge standout for me, given that I'm a sucker for smooth, creamy grits, Jason's version delivered and then some. A major reason why a lot of folks including me were crazy about it, was because Jason wasn't shy to showcase the spice, leaving a sharp bite on your tongue after each spoonful. I also enjoyed the really velvety texture, which was too porridge like for some, but I personally really liked it.
Chris's Kale - It was nice to actually throw some veggies into the mix, and I think Chris made a bold choice with the kale, as this leafy green isn't always a crowd pleaser. He really did wonders to it though, as the kale lost its bitterness completely, containing really lovely acid and some smoky flavor from the sausage that was used. Overall, a really stellar execution and everyone agreed that this was one sexy super food.
Going for quality over quantity, this is the category that really put me over the edge, as there were some stellar entries. Between the birthday cake popcorn, the peanut butter-banana pudding and the maple bacon cupcakes, I didn't know what I liked best.
Thea's Maple Bacon Cupcakes - Seeing these beauties in their full glory, with a generous piece of bacon buried in the frosting, I was really excited. The buttercream frosting was expertly executed, as it was perfectly creamy and piped beautifully onto the cupcake. Loving the actual cupcake too, it had little pieces of bacon inside and a slightly nutty maple flavor. Check out Thea's other goodies on her Facebook page - you can even hire her to make dessert for a special event.
Birthday Cake Popcorn - I loved the idea behind this dessert, which combined white chocolate, yellow cake batter, sprinkles and mini M&Ms. It was presented to us with a little candle stuck in the middle to get a true birthday cake effect. Overall, a really tasty and new spin on popcorn - well done!
Randi's Peanut Butter-Banana Pudding - Her own take on Magnolia's famous banana pudding with nilla wafers, Randi is great at making the traditional version, but now came out with something even more special, mixing in creamy peanut butter. Simply decadent and absolutely delectable, it was light and fluffy and tasted sweetly nostalgic. It was easy to see why this dessert impressed the judges and all the other guests alike.
The BIG Winners:
King of Ribs - Adam!
Side dish Prince - Chris
Dessert Diva - Randi
Congratulations to everyone and I can't wait to do it all again in 2013. Long live the rib!