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Method to the Madness: Rib vendors share preparation techniques, secrets to success
by Garrett Valenzuela
Aug 29, 2012 | 8536 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Jon and Kristy Bigalk pose in front of their Willingham’s  toy hauler at the rib cook-off Tuesday.Wednesday.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Jon and Kristy Bigalk pose in front of their Willingham’s toy hauler at the rib cook-off Tuesday.Wednesday.
SPARKS — When you are chowing down your pile of ribs this week at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, you are tasting the hard work and preparation of some of the best grillers in the country.

Teams have traveled from across the nation, raising their banners and displaying their trophies, to tout their award-winning barbeque success. For some vendors, this is a side event to accompany their restaurant success. For others, the teams travel year-round to competitions like the Best in the West for the cash prizes.

The Sparks Tribune caught up with five different barbeque teams for an insight to their meat selection, dry rubs, sauces and their secret keys to success.

Here’s a small sampling of what we found:

Jon Bigalk, Pit Master of Willingham’s World Champion BBQ in Minneapolis, Minn.

Type of ribs used: “We have St. Louis-cut pork spare ribs.”

Quality of meat: “Quality meat is where it all starts. It’s garbage in, it’s garbage out. We look for the finest cuts of meat to use in the competitions.”

Preparation time for a rack of ribs: “Truly is a 24-hour process here for us. We start to season them right away. We use our original mild W’ham seasoning as a dry rub and work that into the ribs for about 10 minutes and let them marinate in the fridge for about 12 hours.”

Techniques inside the smoker: “We are using the W’ham’s Turbo Cookers where we hang the ribs. You are not going to see this anywhere else in the country. Each of these boys will hold 100 slabs of ribs but they have a footprint on them that’s half of the other guys’ because we hang the ribs. There is a water pond in the bottom of the cooker and the fire box is adjacent to the water pond so the heat creates steam and the steam rises and condenses on the meat. Because they are hanging in there they will self-baste for five hours. That’s how they get that golden brown color.”

The Boss’s Sauce: “We just came out with a brand knew sauce called Sweet Kristy’s (W’ham Sauce). It’s a sweet and tangy profile and has the original seasoning of the W’ham mild so the base profile of the dry rub runs all the way through to that first bite. We have Sweet Kristy’s and we also have Hot Kristy’s, which we are introducing here for the first time at Best in the West. It has a little bite for some of the people and they seem to be enjoying it.”

Secret Weapon: “My secret weapon are the cookers. Nobody else has these. Nobody else can get these. They are not even made anymore. The last one that was built was Cletus here back in 2004. They are something that is truly special because of the way they cook the ribs. I would definitely say the cookers but it is a close second with that W’ham seasoning dry rub. I don’t even know the recipe. It’s my uncle’s recipe and all I know is that it works and it makes everything taste better.”

Ed Jacobs, manager

at Porky-N-Beans BBQ

in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Type of ribs used: “We’re using beef ribs and we also have world-famous St. Louis-style pork ribs.”

Quality of meat: “It is very important because if we don’t have good quality then our customers don’t have good quality. It’s not more for us to get it, it is for the customers. We want to make sure they have the best.”

Preparation time for a rack of ribs: “Not a lot, it is simple. Once they come out of the smoker they hit the grill for a quick second and it is ready to go. We put Our Famous dry rub on each rack before they go in to cook.”

Techniques inside the smoker: “We can fit up to eight cases of ribs in each smoker and we have three racks in each one. The top racks get finished first so when we take them off we go from the bottom, middle, then the top racks.”

The Boss’s sauce: “We make all our sauces on our own. We have our Sweet and Smokey, which is sweet like heaven. Then we’ve got our regular which is like a traditional barbeque sauce. Then we have our Gator Sauce, which is hot as hell. Sweet and Smokey is our go-to sauce.”

Secret Weapon: “Gary Carrino. That’s our secret weapon. That is the owner’s son and what he does is take care of all the judging ribs. He is our secret weapon.”

Jay Rathmann, owner

and manager of BJ’s Barbeque in Sparks, Nev.

Type of rib: “Pork ribs, St. Louis style which are two-and-a-quarter pound per rib.”

Quality of meat: “When you go to the store you pick out the steaks you want to pick out, you dig through the bacon pack to find the one with the most meat. This is the same principle. You don’t want to buy ribs that are paper thin and have the bone sticking through them. You want a nice, quality product.”

Preparation time for a rack of ribs: “None. A lot of guys will pull the ribs out to season them, throw them in the cooler and pull them back out and cook them. We will do that, but when it is down to the wire and everything is running at capacity, we pull them out of the box, into the pit and gets seasoned right in the pit.

“We have Our Rub, which we have been winning competitions with for several years. That is what we primarily use and we will use it on the pork ribs, beef brisket and even if we are doing chicken. It is our primary rub for all products.”

Techniques inside the smoker: “Here is the difference between where we’re at and where (other competitors) are at, we are the local. We still do a lot of business at this event and we have been here for 24 years. Those guys can only bring so much equipment, so when you are doing five times the capacity with the same number of pits the only way it is going to be accomplished is by pre-cooking. They are trying to get ahead so instead of being a four-hour process, you can turn it into an hour and a half.

For us, basically, we start with a fresh product and warm it straight out of the gate. The only ribs we ever have to re-heat are the ones we are left with at the end of the night.”

The Boss’s Sauce: “I would stick with our original and even do a half and half where you don’t cover the whole thing. It’s a very light sauce and is basically a sauce you can make other sauces out of. There is not much to it, but the point is that it is the marriage between the meat, the rub and the barbeque sauce that brings it all together. It by itself, I like it. It with pork or ribs, it’s 100 times better.

Secret Weapon: “My sister, Kelly Samseul, does a really good job cooking the ribs. I can basically step back and let her take care of the rib cooking. She is our primary cook at the restaurant, and when you cook every day you know what you’re doing.”

Tommy Houston, owner

of Checkered Pig BBQ

in Martinsville, Va.

Type of ribs: “We’re doing pork ribs, St. Louis-style like everyone is using for the competition. They do not vary much in size.”

Quality of meat: “To me, that is the first key ingredient. You have to start off with a good meat. I think what we have here is equal to anything we have ever used. But that is just one of the elements of making great ribs.”

Preparation time for a rack of ribs: “Probably 10 minutes. Basically, we get them out, put our dry rub on them and right into the pit they go. They end up cooking for about four or four-and-a-half hours.

“Our dry rub has salt, brown sugar, white sugar, paprika for color, a little bit of aloive spice. It is just a recipe that I came up with a long time ago out here on the rib circuit that seems to compliment our sauce and everything we do. We call it Racing Dust.”

Techniques inside the smoker: “We use Southern Pride smokers religiously, and we are using hickory wood. They just lay flat in there for about four hours.

The Boss’s sauce: “Our sauce doesn’t go on until the very last thing. We use our Checkered Pig Grillin’ Sauce, every time that is what we are using before the ribs head out the door.”

Secret Weapon: “Good old Southern hospitality. Ribs made with a whole lot of love.”

Jon Apelt, member of rib team for Famous Dave’s BBQ in Minneapolis, Minn.

Type of ribs: “We are going with the St. Louis strip pork rib.”

Quality of meat: “It is very crucial. We inspect every rib that is put into the smoker and make sure every rib goes up to the counter perfect.”

Preparation time for a rack of ribs: “It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. We put a little seasoning down and then put our Famous Dave’s Rib Rub down on them. We smoke the back of the ribs to burn the membrane off the back.

Techniques inside the smoker: “It takes anywhere from two and a half hours to four hours in the smoker. They are flat and on shelves inside the Southern Pride smoker and all the juices flow while they are on the rotisserie.”

The Boss’s Sauce: “We use our award-winning Rich and Sassy. We always have to go with Rich and Sassy when we’re here.”

“We also have sweet and zesty, which is a sweet flavor and very popular with the kids. We have our Texas Pit, which is a more south-of-the-border kick to it. We have Devil’s Spit, which has even more of a kick to it.”

Secret Weapon: “Make sure they are as tender as a mother’s love.”
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