While John Ascuaga’s Nugget personnel will be concentrating on the fires fueling the hundreds of pounds of ribs being cooked during the six-day event, it is hard to miss the haze settled overhead. Nugget Public Relations Manager Lauren Garber said Wednesday morning the smoke was not affecting the daily plans or operations in downtown Sparks.
“We don’t anticipate any fewer crowds this weekend,” Garber said of the event that attracted about 500,000 people in 2012. “This is a very popular event for northern Nevada and we are expecting the same crowds we have hosted in recent years.”
Now in its 25th year, the Nugget Rib Cook-Off is the biggest barbecue event in the nation, hosting 24 professional competitive cookers vying for more than $14,000 in cash prizes. Andrew Jepson, owner of The Barbecue Company in Arizona, said he thought crowds would put fear to the wind to come eat at the celebrated event.
"I'm sure that the smoke will affect us on some level but when you think bad thoughts, bad things happen,” Jepsen said Wednesday morning as he and his team got the smokers going for opening day. “We need to think the best of this situation. People mark this event in their calendars and will show up regardless of the smoke."
Jepsen was not the only owner looking at the bright side of the smoke situation. Dan Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Hickory Smoked BBQ in Virginia, said there will be a battle among the types of smoke in the air.
"We're going to put out the positive smoke, the better smelling smoke,” he said. “People are going to follow their taste buds and see the smoke signals we're putting out."
Garber agreed and said smoke was a part of what makes the Rib Cook-Off the major event it has become. She said the cookers likely won’t notice the smoke the way Washoe County residents have in recent days.
“I know there have been some event cancellations lately but our event is smoke centric,” Garber said. “The cookers are around it all the time and we are hoping it will make our area smell better. I think people are going to notice it (wildfire smoke), but I don’t think people are necessarily worried about it impacting the weekend. People expect to smell smoke.”
Garber said the Nugget’s hotel rooms are sold out for Thursday through Saturday with limited availability on Sunday, which may have changed as of press time. She added that tickets to the popular Rib Village, where ticketed visitors have unlimited access to ribs from every cooker, are sold out except for Monday’s daytime setup.
Air Quality conditions have progressively worsened in the Truckee Meadows since last week. Government air quality authorities cited the air as “unhealthy for all” Wednesday afternoon, and expectations for Thursday showed similar trends.
Still, cookers at the Nugget Rib Cook-Off do not anticipate a lull in traffic throughout the event.
“We can only hope for the best,” said Tommy Houston, owner of Checkered Pig BBQ. “Maybe the haze will block the sun and it won't be as hot. The crowds never ceased to amaze me and I'm sure that they'll show up for some barbecue."