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    400,000 BBQ Rib Lovers Attend the ‘Super Bowl’ of Rib Competitions

    By John Chen–

    Raise your hand if you love barbeque ribs! Raise your hand if the thought of BBQ brings a smile to your face and a twitch to your stomach. And raise your hand if you have foamed at the mouth, licked your chops, and bayed at the moon when you “accidentally” tune into a BBQ competition on various cable channels and streaming services.

    Growing up in California, I have learned that we have the best of and access to just about anything and everything, especially when it comes to the diversity, freshness, and authenticity of food. But the one thing we Californians do not do well is barbeque. And I am not talking about hamburgers and hot dogs, or grilling. I am talking about the really good stuff that takes time, patience, artistry, and a strong understanding of chemistry.

    Big Daddy’s BBQ Winner of Best Sauce

    About 10 years ago, I discovered an annual “Super Bowl” of BBQ rib competition and festival, Best in the West Nuggest Rib Cook-Off just outside Reno in Sparks, Nevada. This competition is always during Labor Day Weekend when the very best St Louis-style pork rib barbeque companies from around the country go head-to-head to compete for the prestigious title of Best Ribs. Each year, hundreds of thousands of BBQ rib enthusiasts converge to sample the best of the best and participate in the selection of the People’s Choice champion.

    According to the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off website, the first competition began in 1989 and has since grown to become the premier BBQ rib competition and one of the largest BBQ festivals in the world. “Often referred to as the Super Bowl of rib competitions on the national BBQ competition circuit, the annual … event spans more than 6 city blocks. It is estimated that 350,000–400,000 BBQ enthusiasts take part [in] the festivities each year consuming more than 250,000 pounds of mouthwatering ribs.”

    Rain On the Horizon at Nugget Reno BBQ Cook Off

    We attended our first ever Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off in 2013 practically starving and ready to eat, but we were instantly overwhelmed at the sheer size of the festival and the number of ribs and other amazing BBQ favorites available. There was just so much to eat and so little stomach space. There were also many other BBQ favorites and sides to sample such as giant smokey turkey legs, Texas fries, pulled pork, BBQ nachos, beef brisket, mac and cheese, bread pudding, secret sauces, kettle corn, street corn, fried pickles and green tomatoes, etc.

    My absolute favorites were the giant prime rib beef bone—so tender, so beefy, so savory, and so big—followed by the jumbo beer battered onion rings. They were so big and crunchy! If you are a size queen, these two festival items are a must! And finally, I love a big, sweet, juicy watermelon wedge that is the perfect refreshing and palette cleansing finish to a rich (and just a tiny bit fatty) BBQ meal! But you decide for yourself what you crave the most. We loved the festival and the BBQ so much that we have returned to the Cook-Off virtually every Labor Day Weekend since then.

    Porky Chick’s 1st Place BBQ Winner

    Fast forward to Labor Day Weekend 2023; we made it to Reno after a three-year COVID-19 hiatus eager to sample the aromatic, sweet, savory, fall-off-the-bone tender, spicy, and smokey ribs! This year there were 20 BBQ competitors, a little short of their normal from before the pandemic, but still just as big, overwhelming, and absolutely delicious.

    Also, for the first time ever, the weather was cool and rainy. You know, the same heavy downpours that turned Burning Man into a vast paste land. However, the wet inclement weather didn’t deter us nor the thousands of people who were there. We sampled the champion, best of the best ribs from Porky Chicks, as well as the second through fifth place winners including the People’s Choice selection, Back Forty Texas Barbecue. In addition, the Best Sauce champion, Big Daddy’s BBQ, had the most amazing guava and cherry chipotle BBQ sauces.

    Just North of Memphis 5th Place BBQ Winner

    Suddenly, as I am finishing this article, my mouth is starting to water and my stomach is showing signs that it wants, no, needs BBQ!! It is with great hope that you will join me next year and experience first-hand the spectacle and the deliciousness of a major BBQ competition. If you do, a few words of advice: don’t be scared of the calories. Everything is calorie free. Bring friends and stay a few extra days so you all can sample more. And most importantly, bring wet naps. You’ll thank me.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball, and football teams.

    Published on October 19, 2023