You know it is summer when the Ribfests are here.
Ribfests are – for those who don’t like to eat with your hands, turn away now – these great outdoor escapes, held in city parks, where professional BBQ rib makers (called “ribbers”) go to compete for the best ribs of the show.
When you sit down at a restaurant, and the menu boasts “award winning ribs” – chances are those ribs won an award at a Ribfest.
It’s usually a long weekend affair, lasting three or more days, and anyone can go to sample ribs from a variety of restaurants and bars, from all over North America.
Last year I went to three Ribfests in Toronto, and enjoyed the messy finger-licking food from ribbers from Texas, Florida and Louisiana – as well as here in Canada.
This past weekend, I went to the first Ribfest of the summer, and sampled some ribs from Tennessee. There were actually two Ribfests in Toronto this past weekend, but alas, I only had time to go to one.
Ribs aren’t the most healthy food choice, they are fatty, greasy, and for those who don’t like eating with their hands – I warned you! – they are probably the messiest food you can eat, as the sauce dribbles everywhere, leaving a sticky residue.
But ribs – pork or beef, side or back – are so very tasty! Tangy, grilled to perfection, meat that practically comes off the bone without any tugging.
Okay, you I’ll admit it – you don’t absolutely have to eat ribs at a Ribfest. Some people don’t like eating ribs – I know it sounds odd but it is true – usually there are many other things around to satisfy everyone’s tastes.
At the Ribfest I went to this past weekend, there were hotdog and hamburger vendors, a French fries truck, even a good old fashioned ice cream truck where you can get soft ice cream.
Though for me, the ribs are the star of the show.
There is something special about ribs.
Sure, I’ll eat ribs at a restaurant – there are places near me that have all-you-can-eat ribs.
But a Ribfest is different.
When I eat ribs in a restaurant, I often feel self-conscious, maybe even a little embarrassed about the thick oozing sauce covering my fingers, hands and face.
It is even worse when you go to a fine dining place, and soak the white cloth serviette with dark red rib sauce.
But at a Ribfest, everyone is covered in rib sauce. At last, I can eat my ribs, make a bit of a mess, and I still fit in!
There are hand washing stations at Ribfests so you don’t have to wander around all day with sauce dripping off of you.
But those are for the weak, the inexperienced rib eater.
Those of us who enjoy a good rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs, thickly covered in tangy BBQ sauce laugh at those standing in line to wash up.
If you aren’t sticking to everything as you munch on your ribs, you’re not taking in the whole experience!
And besides, the best ribbers usually have quite a line up, so after you finish sampling one places ribs, you have to stand in line to get your next taste.
Though my family and friends have devised a system which we use when going to Ribfests which seems to work really well.
Each one of us goes to a different ribber, gets a half-rack of ribs and brings it back. We don’t get the fries, or the buns or the chicken – just ribs. All we’re here for are the ribs, everything else is just filler. We all share the ribs from each vendor, so that we can try each and everyone one’s ribs.
The bones pile up, our fingers stick to everything thanks to the gooey sauce, and the sun beats down on us as we bite into our ribs – this is the perfect way to enjoy summer.
AFTER we have sampled all the ribbers, we’ll line up at the hand washing station – NOW it’s okay, we’re done! We’ll grab an ice cream from the ice cream truck, maybe a few beers from the beer tent, watch the live band, and head home – stuffed silly with some fond summer memories.