Wall basked in his company’s triumph Monday of winning first place and the People’s Choice award at John Ascuaga’s Nugget’s 22nd annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off. It was the second time in four years one rib vendor won both prizes.
Wall attributed his success to “the way the event has been built up.”
The second-generation cooker said he had never seen more people visit his booth than this year and he hardly was able to leave because he and his crew stayed so busy.
Wall took home the title of this year’s best cooker and a handsome $7,500 cash prize, which Wall said he would like to put to good use by investing in more equipment to more quickly quell the public’s increasing appetite.
“Some folks waited in line for more than an hour,” he said. “I know it’s going to be like that, but for me, I don’t think that’s right. I want to get them in so they can enjoy the rest of the event.”
The People’s Choice Award, determined by a vote of the public, came down to three restaurants, said Michonne Ascuaga, CEO and daughter of the hotel casino’s namesake.
“We had to count several times just to be sure because it was so close,” she said.
Bone Daddy’s competed against Willingham’s and Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ for what COO Stephen Ascuaga said could be considered the higher honor.
Stephen said about 5,000 participated in the vote for People’s Choice this year.
Nugget spokesman Mike Traum said it’s pretty rare for both judges and the public to agree on one cooker above all 24.
“It’s pretty extraordinary to win (overall and People’s Choice) when most cookers are super busy putting out a product,” Traum said.
Other winners of the contest included Kinder’s Custom Meats, Rasta Joe’s BBQ, BJ’s Barbecue and Chicago BBQ Co.
Official judges selected the winners according to a double-blind testing method and sampled from the same ribs that were served to the public.
Though official numbers will come in the next week or so, Stephen said the Nugget staff expected a bigger turnout this year.
“It was excellent, a great, great event as always,” he said. “It’s considered to be the premiere event in the (United States) and the cookers say they’ve had just amazing support from the community. It’s a great wrap-up to the whole summer.”
For one happy couple, the cook-off is especially meaningful. Every year they mark the anniversary of having met just outside the Nugget during the cook-off in 1996.
Paul Uzarski of Reno said he got lucky when he met Chantell Brand of Sparks. Uzarski said they were working together but Brand didn’t know he was interested in her.
“I asked her if she wanted to get me a beer at the Nugget,” he said.
“But then I asked him if he wanted to buy me a beer,” Brand said with a smile. “I think he saw the color of my hair and the way it glimmered in the sun.”
She said Sparks offers a friendly atmosphere for people from all walks of life.
“I just like that (the cook-off) is a great social gathering,” she said. “I love running into people. It’s like they know you.”