Compared to previous years, the 2013 event was very different as The Nugget tried different things to improve its signature Labor Day Weekend classic. One of the big changes that was a big hit, was the newly added mascot, Mr. Ribster.
“Adding Mr. Ribster, to the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off this year was overwhelmingly positive,” said Lauren Garber, the public relations manager for The Nugget.
Mr. Ribster provided free entertainment for kids and adults. Patrons seemed eager to have their picture taken with the new mascot. The kids’ area got a positive response. It was a big factor in making the Rib Cook-Off family friendly.
“This year, some of the rib cookers even had special kids meals to help keep the event as family-friendly as possible,” said Garber.
Despite the rather smoky air, the turnout this year was great, making record numbers for the cook-off.
“On Wednesday, our opening day, we saw record beverage sales. Drink sales were up 12 percent on opening day, from the previous year,” said Garber.
“The smoke didn’t affect my time this year. I was too busy trying all the ribs to even notice,” said Nikole Ornstein, a local who attends every year.
Less foot traffic was definitely something that changed the 2013 event as well, making it easier for people to get around. The new layout is something that is going to carry on to next year’s event. The new setup allowed The Nugget to give the rib cookers and vendors more room to operate correctly.
As far as entertainment goes, John Ascuaga’s Nugget provided the free entertainment. Nugget officials said the entertainers this year put on great shows and are an important part of the event.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of our nightly music sponsors,” said Stephen Ascuaga, Nugget CFO.
As far as ribs go, it’s an honor for a local company like Famous Dave’s to win first place at the event. Famous Dave’s is an incredible, nationally acclaimed brand that produces different products you wont necessarily be able to find in their restaurants.
“I was surprised that Famous Dave’s won, being that they are considered a chain restaurant,” said Ornstein.
The unique thing about Famous Dave’s that people may not know is that it is a traveling, competitive barbecue team, and it’s customers will be able to enjoy their favorite barbecue not only once a year at the Rib Cook-Off but at a local location as well.
Having such a well-known BBQ company win is one factor that can make this event so unpredictable. Many of the favorites of the locals didn’t even place in the event like, BJ’s BBQ. Although the local company has won in the past and placed in the Top 5 many times, it did not place this year.
"People don't realize those 24 cookers are the top 24 cookers in the U.S," said Kelly Samsel, the manager of the family-owned BBQ company. "All of us have amazing product. There's only five (trophy) spots for 24 cookers. The winner changes every year. If you're first place once, it doesn't mean you'll get a trophy next year."
Although the BBQ company didn’t place in the annual event this time around, BJ's officials were pleased with the turnout and got positive feedback.
"We have a great turnout every year," Samsel said. "We sold a lot of ribs and had a great time … There are still local people that haven't had our BBQ before. We definitely get new customers.
"When it's all done, what we work on more than anything is asking what we can improve on year to year. What can we put on the menu that customers really liked? We want to make sure we give the customers the best in every way. We know there's always room for improvement."