ST. MARYS — The smell of ribs filled the air over SummerFest Saturday afternoon as competitors served up their best dishes as part of the annual rib cook-off.
Armed with spices, rubs, sauces, smokers and grills, each competitor sought bragging rights for the year — as well as trophies and cash prizes — for having the best ribs. The cook-off drew competitors from Lima, St. Marys and New Knoxville.
Ed Scarberry, of Lima, is a veteran of rib cook-offs.
Saturday was the second year he participated in the SummerFest cook-off, and he was the defending champion.
“I won it last year and thought I’d come back and defend my title,” Scarberry said. “I like the camaraderie — you see the same people each time.”
Without divulging his secrets, Scarberry said wood selection, timing and the right rub are vital to making good ribs.
“There’s only a small window when they are either overdone or underdone,” Scarberry said.
“Don’t oversmoke. When you do ribs, typically I put an hour and a half in smoke, I wrap them in foil, put a little butter, brown sugar and honey in there. I let them sit for an hour and a half and then take them out. Then I finish them for the last hour. The last 15 minutes, I put sauce on them because sauce has a lot of sugar, it can burn under the heat.”
Dave Breland, of St. Marys, brought his secret recipe to the cook-off. For Breland, cooking is a passion he often shares with his family.
“Jason got me started a few years ago,” Breland said. “I’ve been out here every year supporting it. I just enjoy it. It’s a love of mine to do.”
While he didn’t share all his tips, Breland did reveal his most powerful ingredient.
“Love — you have to love what you do,” Breland said. “I love cooking for my family and I think it comes out in my food. You just have to love what you are doing, no matter what you are cooking.”
Like Scarberry, Breland said he enjoys the camaraderie that comes with a cook-off.
“The sharing of food and talking with each other is really cool,” Breland said.
Jerry Weller, of New Knoxville, is a veteran of seven rib cook-offs. For Weller, meeting the other competitors and cooking good food go hand and hand with a cook-off.
Weller gave a few tips for those who want to spruce up their ribs.
“First is meat selection,” Weller said. “Once you have a good slab of ribs, you want to trim them. You use a good rub, season it up on all sides ahead of time.”
Weller cooks his ribs at 280 or 290 degrees for approximately three hours. At the two hour mark, Weller transfers the ribs into a pan, covers the pan with foil. The ribs are then coated with sauce when the meat is near completion.
“Just be patient,” Weller said to rib cooks.
“If you’re looking, you’re not cooking. Don’t open the lid. Just leave it down and let it go ... Make sure you use heavy-duty foil ... You should be able to take a tooth pick and poke between the bones and it should be nice and soft. If you have any resistance, it’s not done yet. You should see the meat pull back about a quarter to half an inch on the edge of the ribs.”
Event Chair Jason Drummond said he was pleased with the turnout. He noted he hopes to turn the fledgling cook-off into a premier event in the area.
“I competed in a few amateur style competitions before,” Drummond said. “I’m just trying to make the event bigger each year. The first year we didn’t have a payout. This year, we have enough sponsors and people getting more interested to have a payout ... We are slowly getting bigger.”
Drummond has big goals for the cook-off.
“My goal is to have a big event where I bring in the KCBS, the Kansas City Barbecue Society, and let them run the event,” he said.
“And I’d also like to keep the amateur, backyard style cook-off. I’ve also been to places where they have a kids section where kids do it from a certain age. I am hoping to do that eventually, it just takes a while. The KCBS, you have to have a big tournament for two years running before they’ll come in.”