After six days of cruising the streets of Victorian Square taste testing the Best in the West of barbecued ribs, the panel of judges reached a conclusion on who should win the first place $10,000 cash prize for best ribs. The 13-person panel which included local food critics, Sparks city officials, and people in the media who chose their favorite ribs in a double-blind judging process where no one knew which ribs belonged to which cooker (not even the Rib Cook-Off staff).
Judges were not allowed to sample the ribs before Sunday to keep their palates fair and unbiased by relying solely on taste, appearance, and texture. Judges awarded a number of points per rack of ribs and then the points were aggregated and averaged out to determine the highest scores.
“The judges have no idea what ribs they are tasting,” says Nugget Casino Resort Director of Marketing and Communications Randy Kennedy.
At 2 p.m. on Monday, the winners were announced as to who won the $19,500 in cash and a full year’s worth of bragging rights. Out of the 22 rib cookers, the top ribs of 2017 and $10,000 went to the Chicago BBQ Company from Burr Ridge, IL.
After a stint of owning and managing a chain of Italian restaurants in the Chicago suburbs, BBQ expert Tom Ferguson switched gears and made it his new mission to create the ultimate Chicago BBQ experience. Over 30 years ago, he started competing in national rib cook-off events. In that time span, he won The Best Ribs in the World at the 1986 Richmond World Invitational Rib Cook-Off and over 300 more local and national awards. Chicago BBQ Company has won more than 10 awards at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, with its last first place win in 2012.
Chicago BBQ Company may have won most of the glory and cash, but it’s worth mentioning the other top rib cookers and their award-winning recipes which include Uncle Bub’s from Westmont, IL who won second place ($5,000) and Best Sauce, Aussom Aussie from Pennsylvania who took third ($2,000), Carson City BBQ came in fourth place ($1,000), and fifth place went to Austin’s Texas Lightning BBQ.
From Aug. 30 through Sept. 3, rib lovers could also go online and vote for their favorites in the People’s Choice awards. Receiving around 11,000 votes, Back Forty Texas Barbecue from Pleasant Hill, California seemed to leave a lasting impression with Rib Cook-Off attendees and won the 2017 People’s Choice Award (along with $500).
“A lot of it is timing, getting the right temperature of the ribs, maybe touching up the recipe- a lot of things have to come together in order for them to win,” says Kennedy. This year’s Best of the West also had more variety in winners, which probably means that all rib cookers are stepping up their game.
However, Kennedy’s favorite part of the event was the live music.
“We had a spectacular entertainment lineup this year- The Romantics kicked it off and then it held strong throughout the whole event,” he says. The Best in the West saw the biggest crowds on Saturday evening when the Gin Blossoms played, but Victorian Square had record attendance on Thursday of the event as well.
“It was fairly trouble-free, everybody had a good time,” says Kennedy. Although it was hot and sunny for most of the event, the expanded beer garden and shade tents helped. The Nugget also added more ways for people to get into the Rib Cook-Off Village, but there were still lines at the cookers. “In everything we’ve heard though, everybody says it’s worth the wait,” Kennedy says.
The 29th Annual Best in the West Rib Cook-Off ended on Monday at 5pm with A Flock of Seagulls closing out the event on the main stage in Victorian Square. Now it’s time to save the date for the 2018 Best in the West Rib Cook-Off (and its 30th anniversary) to be held next August.