However, those few silent seconds were met with a loud roar from the middle of the crowd packed in front of the West End Stage as Dave Anderson and the rib team from Famous Dave’s BBQ emerged to claim its third $7,500 First Place prize in the 25th annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off in downtown Sparks.
“To take a win out here at the Best in the West, we are competing against the best cookers in America,” Anderson said, following the trophy presentation. “This is just a real honor. I know there is a lot of rib cookers that could have won, but today was our day. This is exciting.”
Famous Daves, from Minnetonka, Minn., collected its seventh piece of Nugget Rib Cook-Off hardware Monday, adding to its Best Sauce and third-place trophies from 2012, a fourth-place finish in 2008 and People’s Choice in 2005 and 2007.
“This is one of the best feelings in the world,” Famous Dave’s Head Pitmaster Rob Stately said. “I have been doing this 16 years and I have been blessed to be a part of this team, and my team was incredible. I cannot say enough good things about this team. They made my job easier and that was the best part about it.
“I am blessed to have Dave around to teach me and show me the ways of great barbecue and we were fortunate enough to get a win today.”
The $3,000 second place prize went to Texas Outlaw Barbecue, out of Elizabethtown, Ky., and owner Steve Vaughn, who collected his third second place finish, which added to his three first place wins and one third place finish. Vaughn was thanked by Nugget Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ascuaga prior to the awards presentation for taking a chance on the Nugget Rib Cook-Off 25 years ago.
Kinder’s Custom Meats, of Concord, Calif., added trophy number 11 to its credentials with a third-place finish, adding to its six top-five finishes and its pair of People’s Choice and Best Sauce trophies.
Fourth Place went to Porky’N Beans BBQ, from Port Saint Lucie, Fla., which was also the day’s only double winner as the team took home the Best Sauce award. The Florida natives finished Fourth in 2012, won Best Sauce in 2006 and scored fifth-place money in 2011 and 2009.
Rounding out the top five was Desperado’s BBQ & Rib Co., of Hinckley, Ohio, which added a fifth-place finish to its collection of first, second and third-place finishes, dating back to 1997.
People’s Choice went to 2012 first-place winner Chicago BBQ Company, from Burr Ridge, Ill., and owner Tom Ferguson credited last year’s win as the reason for grabbing the People’s Choice trophy this year. Ferguson has competed in all 25 years of the Nugget Rib Cook-Off and has won every award except Best Sauce.
After hearing the announcement of the winners, visitors lingering in the grass near the stage chimed in with their opinions, which differed from that of the judges.
“Uncle Bub’s is our favorite,” Sparks resident Leanne Grimmer said. “Every time, every year.”
Robin and David Malsbury also chose a non-finisher as their favorite by exclaiming, “Back Forty always!” The local couple has come to the rib cook-off every year and knows the territory, which was the opposite reaction of Sacramento resident Katie Weber.
“It was our first year here, but we are definitely coming back,” Weber said. “We liked Aussom Aussie the best.”
The rib cookers and vendors were closed as of 5 p.m. Monday evening, marking the finish of the 25th year of the rib cook-off, which populated Victorian Square for six days. Ascuaga, who winced when trying to decide which ribs he enjoyed most before saying it was on a tie between Sweet Baby Rays and Back Forty, said the event’s history and reputation is something he does not take for granted each time the event comes to end.
“You know it is always a relief, too, but it was a great week,” he said about closing up on the final day. “The community really came out, even with the smoke and wind we have had great crowds. It is kind of like throwing a party at your house where it is fun to have everybody here, but now it is time to clean up and get things back where they were.
“To know those guys came out on quite a gamble on us 25 years ago, since they didn’t know who we were, and a lot of great friendships have come and now we have seen grand kids being raised and it has been a lot of fun. It is great to see those names back on the stage.”