BEREA, Ohio — Seasoning, sauce and a little smokiness are all keys to perfecting a slab of ribs, which is what 10 ribbers aim to do at Berea’s National Rib Cook-Off. With the fresh slabs of meat being rubbed down with spices and loaded into smokers, the food isn't the only thing heating up at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds.
Dennis Carrino, a Cleveland native, has been coming to the fairgrounds for Berea's rib cook-off since it began in 1999. Boasting awards earned at his Blazin' Bronco BBQ stand, Carrino has been in the food industry even longer than that. He recalled the origins of the rib cook-off craze that has taken the nation and stakes his claim in their start in Cleveland.
With a deep-rooted history in the BBQ competitions, Carrino said that those in the competition are like family.
“You know what we’re all friends out here and it's a great family and comradery of cookers," Carrino said. “We see the same cookers whether we’re in Cleveland, Ohio, or Reno, Nevada."
Seeing the same faces at these cook-offs is bound to create deep friendships—friendships that come with a little healthy competition as well.
“I think that’s part of why the rib cook-offs and everything has grown because it's a part of one big family. We help each other out. When it comes to judging, the gloves are off," Carrino said. "But it’s that fun part, that we get into the judging—who tweaks a little bit of this, who does a little bit of that, who steals somebody else's secrets—may the best man win."
Kevin Gift of Pigfoot BBQ from West Salem agreed that they are all friends when the weekend starts, but there's a goal at the end of it all, and it's a goal they all have their sights set on.
“It’s all fun, we’re all friends out here until competition time then it's a little different," Gift said. “We’re all competing to win."
Best Ribs, Best Sauce and People’s Choice Awards will all be given away, and the 10 rib teams will be fighting to see their name next to at least one of the awards. That includes the newer ribbers, who are bringing a fiery passion to the big cook-off.
“It’s our third year here," said Josh Crall of After Hours BBQ from Orrville. "How are we going to do this weekend? We hope we're going to do awesome. Like I said, people up here have given us a shot before, weather looks like it's going to be a nice weekend."
Walking through the fairgrounds, patrons will notice right away the trophies and signs adorning each rib team's stand.
“Won one, won two, five, 10 and it kept one going from there…then it really became fun,” Carrino said. "We were the only team who won the Cleveland national rib cook-off four years straight and that’s a record and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Gift would have something to say about the accolades Carrino mentioned, boasting that “my ribs are the best."
Crall is letting his flavors do the talking.
“It’s just sweet, spicy, a little smoke with it there you go, that’s all you need," Crall said.
There will be more than enough of those (as well as other staples like chicken wings, brisket, mac and cheese and other tasty BBQ options.
“Probably do about 1,200 slabs of ribs, about each vendor, so hopefully everybody comes hungry cause we’ve got plenty," Crall said.
Ribs that, Carrino said, will be more reasonably priced than other cook-offs around the country as organizers secured discounted prices on the highly inflated meats being served up this weekend.
"Got us better prices for ribs than we can even buy and he has passed that on to us and we’re passing it on to our patrons and that’s an important feature about this rib cook-off," Carrino said.
With prices set and stands constructed, the teams got to work Thursday, rubbing on the seasoning, loading up the smokers, and prepping the sauces because good BBQ does happen overnight. And on Friday morning the competition begins, drawing out the community to get some good food and lasting memories.
“Everybody comes out for this. You see the families, then the families bring the children, then the children grow up and they bring their kids," Carrino said.
And the stiff competition keeps things fun among the cooks and makes sure they stay on their A-game—which makes the real winners each year the guests who come to take down a few slabs of ribs.
"Ain’t no reason for anybody not to come down and have some good ribs,” Crall said.
Berea’s National Rib Cook-Off will take place Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30 at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea.
RELATED: Berea's National Rib Cook-Off set for Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30
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