One whiff of the aroma in Thunder Bay’s downtown north core is enough to realize Rib Fest is back, bigger and better in its second year.
The fires are crackling and the pork, smothered in tangy sauce and charred to perfection is being snapped up by hungry passersby on Friday, the opening day of the three-day festival that last year drew an estimated 25,000 people.
Diane Lachance said she’s dropped by for one reason, and one reason only. She’d give you couple of guesses, but chances are you’d only need one.
“Well, I’m here for the ribs. They’re very good. I was here last year and it was a very good event. I thought I’d try it again this year,” Lachance said, the sun beating down on the rapidly growing festival crowd, local musician Jean-Paul de Roover delighting them with a set of home-grown tunes.
“It’s everything, the entertainment, the ribs and the weather.”
Chris Sakellis calls Las Vegas home, though during the busy summer, the visiting ribber makes London, Ont. his base of operations.
Back for a second year and in the hunt for the title of best ribs and best sauce, Sakellis said he loves touring Northern Ontario.
“Last year we had a great time here, this year we’re here for three weeks. We’re staying here,” he said.
Asked what makes a rib fest successful, the obvious choice, he said, are the culinary offerings and the chance to taste some authentic barbecue.
“A lot of it’s the food and the entertainment. We have a little bit of bragging rights in who wins best ribs and best sauce,” he said, pointing to his other three competitors who’ve set up shop in the OLG Casino parking lot.
“So it kind of give us some competition, but it’s a friendly competition. We tour around with all these teams all summer,” said Sakellis, winner of 10 of their last 13 rib shows.
“It’s just so overwhelming being here. In about two hours we’re going to get rocked. This place is going to fill up with people.”
The secret to making good ribs is simple: low and slow.
“We cook them in our smoker at about 275 degrees for about three-and-a-half hours.”
Fellow competitor Randy Austin runs the truck for Jack the Ribber, said rib festivals are popular because they give people a chance to sample something they can’t necessarily make themselves.
“It’s probably because not everyone has a smoker. And everyone likes a barbecue and a beer,” said the winner of last year’s people’s choice award for his ribs, noting he uses cherry wood on his fire to provide an extra layer of flavour.
“It’s a good time to get out.”
Organizer Suzan Cooper-Rochon of the Waterfront Business District, said the crowds appear to be even larger than they were a year ago.
“It’s a really good start and the weather is really co-opearting well. Who doesn’t like ribs, really? Also, we have a lot of other different vendors here as well.”
Cooper-Rochon encouraged visitors to take advantage of city transit services to get to the festival, which wraps up on Sunday.
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