Food — There’s a barbecue bonanza next door
by Richie Victorino firstname.lastname@example.org
Make space in your stomach for the Rock N’ Ribfest at Bud plant in Merrimack
When juicy barbecued ribs and smoke-cured rock and roll meet spinning airplanes and hot air balloons, you know you’re at the Rock ‘N’ Ribfest.
The Third Annual Rock ‘N’ Ribfest and New Hampshire State Barbecue Championship takes place this weekend, June 10 through 12, at the Anheuser-Busch facility in Merrimack.
The Ribfest brings in thousands of dollars ($80,000 last year) for roughly 40 local non-profit organizations and is run by the Rotary Nashua West. Ribbers from across the East Coast flock to Ribfest to show off and sell their slow-cooked treasures.
“The first year we went after them and this year they’re coming to us” said Kathleen Regan, incoming Rotary Nashua West president. “Word catches on”
Local grillers will also compete in front of certified and celebrity judges for the coveted prize of New Hampshire Barbecue Champion. Celebrity judges include Mike Morin of WZID.
This year, even vegetarians have plenty of ways to contribute to good causes thanks to meatless delicacies which Celebrations Catering will provide.
But the fun doesn’t stop at the food.
“You could take your family [to the festival] for two to three hours and there’s something for everybody,” said Tim Hogan, member of Rotary Nashua West.
Although the entire festival is being called family-oriented, there is an amusement area dedicated just for children. The amusement area includes plenty of live entertainment and activities. But with live “big kids” music being performed throughout the weekend, children won’t be the only ones entertained.
The aerobatics of Rob Holland wowed the crowd in the first two years of the Ribfest, and he returns again to perform his unique air stunts above the Anheuser-Busch grounds. But Holland doesn’t have to be the only one in the air during the weekend, as hot-air balloon rides in the RE/MAX Properties balloon will be available.
Prizes will be raffled every hour throughout the weekend and there will be opportunities to take photographs with Clydesdale horses. Strolling performers, magicians and clowns will complete the festival atmosphere.
Food vendors will also be at the festival, selling popcorn, ice cream, hot dogs, fried dough and other typical festival foods.
Ribs are as American as apple pie.And like apple pie, blues and jazz, with different areas of the country comes a unique flavor and closely guarded techniques and recipes.
There’s the Mississippi-style dry-rub, or the sweet sauce of Kansas City. St. Louis, Texas and Memphis all have variations. There’s even the choice of baby-back or spare.
But when it comes to barbecuing these ribs, Kevin Cornish of KC’s Smoke Shack in Manchester has one simple belief.
“It’s taking the worst cuts of meats and making it good,” Cornish said.
A dozen ribbers from as far away as Pennsylvania and as local as Nashua come to the Ribfest each year, hoping to show thousands of people what makes their tough cut of meat the best of all. One rib will earn the “People’s Choice Award,” an honor Cornish (and his spare ribs) enjoyed last year.
“It was definitely a treat to get the granddaddy trophy,” Cornish said.
The Ribfest also serves as the New Hampshire State Barbecue Championship. More than 30 grillers throughout the Northeast will fight for the right to call themselves New Hampshire Barbecue Champion. The contest is run by the New England Barbecue Society and the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
“[The Kansas City Barbecue Society] is like the NASCAR of barbecuing,” Cornish said. “They govern the contests.”
Members of the society will make sure no one griller tries to get a leg up on the others by, for example, marinating their chicken for three days, says Cornish.
What makes a good rib? Cornish gives some tips.
For starters you should know the difference between a baby-back and a spare rib.
Baby-backs don’t have to come from baby pigs, but from small pigs. Back-backs come from the back of the pig while spare ribs come from the belly area. Cornish syas he’s biased toward spare ribs.
There are endless flavors that can be added to the rib, but as a rule of thumb, Cornish offers these words. “Slow and low is the way to go.”
But even before the rib hits the heat, Cornish says you peel off the skin membrane from the inside of the ribs (if the skin is there to begin with.)
“Once the rib is cooked, the membrane remains hard and chewy,” he said.
Not only that, but he refers to the membrane as a flavor condom, keeping the flavors from soaking into the meat.
The first hour that the ribs are cooking is the most important to the flavor, Cornish said. Keep that in mind when you baste the meat. In that first hour is when the ribs can soak up the smoke, sauce and spices. After that first hour, or when you start seeing bubbling, any flavor added will come out with the bubbles.
Cornish uses a dry rub, including equal parts of sugar, paprika, pepper and salt, and cooks the ribs on a sheet pan, at 250 degrees for three and a half to four hours. He says that all too often people take the ribs off the heat too soon. That’s because people assume the meat is tightening up when in fact it’s the tendons that are tightening. With patience and a low temperature the ribs will come out tender.
When using an outdoor grill, Cornish turns one side of the grill on while leaving the other side off. He’ll then put the wood (to smoke the ribs) on the side that has the heat, and he’ll put his meat (chicken, ribs etc.) on the side without heat. He keeps a thermometer on the side with no heat to maintain his desired temperature. If the grill is completely off and the temperature is too high for his liking, he’ll prop open the lid of the grill (he uses a spoon to prop it open).
What: Third Annual Rock ‘N’ Ribfest, sponsored by Rotary Club of Nashua West
When: Friday, June 10 from 4 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, June 11 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, June 12 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Anheuser-Busch, 221 DW Highway, Merrimack. From the Everett Turnpike, take exit 10. Go east on Industrial Drive, then left on DW Highway.
How much: Admission is $5 (free for kids 5 and under). Admission to ride area is $10 for an all-day pass or 50 cents per ride.
For more info: www.rotaryribfest.org.
Who will be serving up all the ribs you can stuff in your face? Here’s a list of the pork purveyors to seek out during the fest.
Sticky Fingers – Providence, R.I.
Jack McDavid’s Down Home Barbecue – Philadelphia, Penn.
Firefly’s – Marlborough, Mass.
T-Roy’s Barbecue – Amherst, N.H.
KC’s Rib Shack – Manchester, N.H.
Texas Roadhouse – Nashua, N.H.
Big Moe’s M&M BBQ – Boston, Mass.
Jake’s Boss BBQ – Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Smoken Dudes Smokehouse — Croydon, Penn.
Smoke Shack Southern Barbecue – Loudon, N.H.
Awesome Aussies Boomerang BBQ – Pittsburgh, PA.
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