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BBQ Tour Stop #16: Sparks, NV

September 14, 2011

2011 Sparks Nugget Rib Cookoff

After leaving Dillon, Christine and I headed to the Seattle, Washington area for a retail stop. On the way, we spent the night in Ellensburg, WA and visited with old friends from home. The next morning we traveled the Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle and I was in awe at the beauty. We have traveled through many of the country’s best mountain areas including the Rockies, Blue Ridge Mountains and the Ozarks but the drive up the Snoqualmie Mountain where the clouds blend in with the mountains was our favorite yet.

After Seattle, we traveled just south of Portland to Wilsonville, OR for a retail stop at a Fred Meyer store, before heading towards Sparks and the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff.  Because we load into Sparks early for the six day event, we did not schedule anything for the weekend which meant we had a rare weekend off. Since we were traveling through wine country in Northern California, we could have easily arranged a winery tour or two through our Redwood Creek Wine sponsor but after looking at the KCBS website, we saw that there was a contest in the area and our buddy Tommy Houston from Checkered Pig was competing at before he also rolled into Sparks. Additionally, we headed to Lakeport, CA where we ended up winning our first Grand Championship of our BBQ career against a very talented field of cook teams. Special thanks to Chris and Bekah of Smokin’ Yankees, Tommy of Checkered Pig, Steve of Sin City Smokers for helping us out with rubs, injections and parsley that we had not planned on needing!

Sparks is always one of the highlights of our year as the weather is always beautiful and the crowds are always plentiful. This was the 23rd year for the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff! The event starts on Wednesday and runs through Labor Day Monday, as close to 600,000 people converge on the tiny city of Sparks which is right outside Reno, Nevada. While the event also has a contest between the 24 cook teams, their primary purpose is to vend to the masses and fill the casino. As we walked down Victoria Square, quite a few teams invested in new signage to help attract folks to their booth. Memphis Championship BBQ had a large “Praise the Lard” banner across the top of their booth, Checkered Pig added flames to a shiny new large banner, North Main BBQ from Texas updated all their banners in bright new colors. Each year a new team or two gets invited to the largest BBQ event in the country and Uncle Bub’s from the Chicago area was the new team this year.

I was lucky enough to get to judge the contest again for the fourth year as finals judge. The first flight breaks the teams into two groups of twelve and the top ten go to the finals where the ribs are judged on appearance, taste and texture. Since the ribs are all purchased from the same supplier, the differences are how they are seasoned and cooked. This year a couple of ribs really stood out from the others and at Monday’s award ceremony, Back Forty BBQ who celebrated their 20th year at the Best in the West was crowned Grand Champion. Last year’s champ, Bone Daddy’s BBQ won the people’s choice contest while newcomer Uncle Bub won best sauce.

Lastly, as if our week could not get any better with the beautiful weather, great crowds and still on the high of winning our first GC, on Friday afternoon our phones blew up with calls and texts congratulating us on the lucky wildcard draw for the Jack Daniel’s World Invitational BBQ contest. We knew we had the slimmest of chances and I guess our good BBQ karma paid off. I would rather be lucky than good any day!

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