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Sep 2, 2010 07:03 PM

Sparks: 2010 Nugget Best of the West Rib Cook Off

I was eager to go to the 2010 Nugget Best in the West Rib Cookoff and I wanted to avoid the traffic, so I parked at Legends and stood by the sign that indicated it was the pickup spot for the free shuttle service at about 3:20 p.m. About 3:35 p.m. I saw a Legends security guard and asked if the shuttle was running. He got on his radio and checked. It started at 5 p.m.

So I got back into my car and drove to Victorian Square and the Gods smiled on me. Someone was pulling out of a spot at the Silver Club just as I arrived, so I got a parking spot close by.

I walked to 10th and Victorian and decided this would be as good of place as any to spend my $24. I saw Aussom Aussie, Famous Dave's and a place that advertised it had the leanest pork in the United States. I'm not sure lean pork is a good thing, so I ruled them out. The line for Famous Dave's was about 12 people deep, so I decided to go with Aussom Aussie's which I had never tried before.

The meat at Aussom Aussie's was excellent. Tender and thick and flavored well enough you didn't need a sauce. I tried some of their hottest sauce. It was okay but not great. Lots of heat but not much else to balance it.

I decided to go to Famous Dave's next but the line had exploded to about 24 people. That was way too long. So instead I went to Memphis Championship Barbeque, a chain in Southern Illinois and Las Vegas. The meat on the three-rib sampler at Memphis Championship Barbeque was good but didn't have much flavor. It demanded sauce. They have a vinegar-tomato sauce there. It was thin, almost like tomato juice, and they used a lot of brown sugar or molasses to balance the vinegar. It wasn't bad. It's distinctive. But it was clearly No. 3 of the three I tried.

Finally the line to Famous Dave's had died down to about eight, so I got in line there. They basically have a St. Louis-style rib, although their sauces are of all types. It came with their sweet and sassy sauce. This is a much better attempt at balancing sweetness with tanginess. I also got some some of their Texas pit sauce that added a darker, peppery flavor. Famous Dave's and Aussom Aussie were close on the quality of rib meat but Famous Dave won going away on the quality of the sauces.

I had $3 left. It was enough to get me a small lemonade at the lemonade stand. Big are $5 now.

I'm not sure I'll have time to hit it again, but it was certainly worth it today.

From left to right are the rib samplers from Aussom Aussie, Memphis Championship Barbecue and Famous Dave's

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  1. I'm a rib snob! There, I've said it and I'm not sorry. I've never been to the ribfest. I have a smoker and make my sauce and rub from scratch. I slow cook my ribs over hardwood charcoal with wood chunks-mesquite, hickory, etc. I hate falling off the bone ribs. My friend and bbq mentor, who recently published a bbq book calls that meat jello. KC, Memphis, North Carolina, and Texas are the rib capitals of the U.S. The top restaurants in those areas have ribs that have some fight to them. Low and slow is how you attain those perfect ribs. No boiling, no wrapping in foil. Outside those areas, meat jello seems to be the rib of choice.

    That being said, my brother in law called me yesterday and was dying to hit the show. He wanted another body to be able to sample more of the joints. We ended up there at 3:30, with no crowds and no lines.

    Our 1st stop was Desperado, last year's winner. I was pleasantly surprised that the meat had some fight to it, however there was no smoke flavor. I liked the sauce, which wasn't overly sweet. It was a surprisingly good start.

    Next was Memphis Championship BBQ. The meat was toothsome, but again no smoke flavor. I found them a bit porky, like a pork chop. The sauce was very good-a nice balance between tart and sweet.

    Porky 'N Beans was a bit more tender, on the cusp of falling of the bone. The sauce was too sweet for my taste. Again, the meat had no smoke flavor.

    I'm beginning to see a pattern. The ribs may have good texture but no smoke flavor. They have all needed sauce, and if there's smoke in the sauce, it's probably from liquid smoke. The smoke in my ribs comes from the wood-a natural flavor. I wonder if they don't have the time to really smoke their meat because of the volume they need to serve.

    Ray Red Gills Razorback Cookers was my best of show. I loved their sauce-barely sweet with lots of tang. No high fructose corn syrup. Very pure sauce. The meat had great texture and a nice char. Again, no smoke on the meat but there was good flavor from their rub.

    Bone Daddy's was the first meat with actual smokey flavor-unfortunately the texture wasn't to my liking-falling off the bone. The sauce was too sweet.

    The vendor I had most been looking forward to was Whillingham's. They are a longtime Memphis restaurant and have won Memphis in May-the grandaddy of bbq contests. Amazingly, it was the worst rib I tried. Classic meat jello. Horrid. The sauce sucked also. I'm not surprised when they told me they did their ribs in a pressure cooker and then grilled them. This is not BBQ. Where's the smoke? This was a travesty. Like finding out there's no Santa Claus.

    We were so disgusted ( and a bit full) that we decided to take a break and have a beer at Great Basin Brewpub. It was nice to cool off and mop up. I've never been there and was impressed with my brewski. However, it was time for round 2.

    We headed to Texas Outlaws and really regretted it. Meat jello and the worst sauce of the day. Cloying and thick and sweet like molasses. It was made with high fructose and regular corn syrup. Diabetics stay away. Disgusting.

    Wanted to try pulled pork somewhere so we went back to Razorbacks but they had just run out, so we went to Memphis Championship again to check it out. The meat was moist but of course not smokey. It was still enjoyable with their excellent sauce.

    When we arrived, we were starved. Desperado was our first stop and as an experiment we wanted to compare them again after so many other ribs. I still liked the sauce but these ribs were a bit more flaccid-not the texture from the first visit. Oh well.

    I had noticed that Carson City BBQ won for best sauce last year. I sampled it and liked it alot but didn't like the look of the ribs coming off the grill, so we abstained.

    I really enjoyed the show and would certainly consider visiting any of my top choices if they had restaurants. However, as Dorothy said, "there's no place like home."

    1 Reply
    1. re: RevrendAndy

      I'm glad to read your report on ribs and I'm glad you finally made it there. I love eating your ribs, too, Andy. But we seem to have different tastes in ribs and sauce.

    2. We didn't go this year, Steve. My experience the last couple of years has been more like Andy's - not so great ribs and long lines to get them. Plus $7 for 3 ribs? I think I'd rather just go to BJ's in Sparks and have their ribs. Better prices and you even get a table and chairs to sit and eat!


      1 Reply
      1. re: bill2975

        The price is kind of a let down. I still remember when it was a buck a bone.
        I still like the idea of exploring.
        I have friends who went Sunday evening and it was a zoo. Wall-to-wall people and they couldn't find a place to sit down.