Thousands of people are expected to pour into Victorian Square this weekend to enjoy live music, libations and lots of tenderly cooked and uniquely season pork from the country’s top rib purveyors.
For the 30th year in a row, the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off will be featuring 23 of America’s best pork cookers who will be vying for a bit of the $19,500 prize money for having the West’s most delicious meat. More than 240,000 pounds of ribs are expected to be served to pork lovers from today through Monday and between taste testings, families can enjoy carnival rides, an arts and crafts fair, great live entertainment.
City of Sparks Mayor Geno Martini has attended all 29 past rib cook-offs and will be one of the celebrity judges participating in a double blind taste test to determine who has the nation’s best ribs. “The judging is done right here (in the Nugget) that Sunday,” Nugget Casino Resort Marketing Director Randall Kennedy said explaining a complex, foolproof process for ensuring total legitimacy. “We try to keep it clean so there’s no bias,” he adds.
Born and raised in Sparks, Kennedy says that Nugget staff puts in countless hours to pull off this event, which offers cash prizes for first through fifth places as well as awarding cookers Best Sauce and People’s Choice awards. “Plus, the bragging rights as winning the ‘Super Bowl’ of Ribs,” says Kennedy.
The event creates an estimated economic impact into Northern Nevada of about $25 million. Fifty percent of people who come to the rib cook-off stay at local hotels and 60 percent of attendees have come back to the event at least four years or more. The event is also taking over more of Victorian Square this year, expanding it past 15th Street to fit all of the cookers, live music, and rib aficionados. There are also three new cookers coming to Sparks this year including Blazing Bronco BBQ from Florida and Paleo Nick’s from Reno.
After everyone has filled up on ribs, the audience can enjoy live music with headliners such as Mark McGrath from the popular 90’s band Sugar Ray, Colt Ford, Joe Diffie, Jana Kramer, Blind Melon and 10,000 Maniacs. There will also be music on the Plaza Stage featuring all local bands.
“They’re all good, they’re all fun, and they love playing the rib cook-off,” Kennedy says.
Although there is a lot of construction going on in Downtown Sparks, there are plenty of ways to access the event, including 1,000 parking spaces available in the parking garage next to the soon-to-open Galaxy Theatre and a free shuttle service that will have stops at 204 Edison Way and the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno.
City Councilmen Ron Smith and Kristopher Dahir are also getting excited for the rib cook-off. Dahir was scheduled to go out of town that weekend, but he rearranged his calendar so that he could attend the event on its opening day today.
“As a city we are so committed to the rib cook-off and we are always striving to make events in Victorian Square better, safer, and easier to get to,” he says. Right now there is a misconception that Sparks isn’t having any events because of the construction but Dahir wants to assure the community that there is plenty of room to park downtown and Victorian Square will continue to have a lot going on. The Nugget has also already started to talk about hosting an event in early October called “Southern Fair on the Square” reminiscent of The Big Easy event that the Silver Club used to host. The Nugget will be finalizing the music/food/Zydeco dancing lineup in the next few weeks.
But for now, no one is putting away their barbecues until the 2018 Best in the West Rib Cook-Off happens and top rib cookers can go home with huge trophies, a bit of prize money, and the honorary title of having the best ribs in the West.