Barbecue competitors and rib vendors from all over the country are coming to Merrimack for the 11th annual Rock’n Ribfest, New Hampshire’s “official state barbecue championship.”
Many competitors return year after year, and quite a few who have gone on to the American Royal national barbecue competition in Kansas City, Mo., have won the title there after winning at Ribfest.
“It’s a big title,” said Colleen Westcott, organizer and member of the Rotary Club of Nashua West, which hosts Ribfest. “It’s very technical, and it’s very serious.”
Forty to 50 sanctioned judges at Ribfest will grade competitors down to the tenth of a point, Westcott said.
“That can make the difference between a team going on for the nationals and just missing it,” she said.
The Rotary Club of Nashua West started Rock’n Ribfest 11 years ago, and it’s been held the weekend of Father’s Day ever since. This year’s festival runs Friday, June 13, through Sunday, June 15, at Anheuser-Busch in Merrimack.
“The fundraiser idea was, let’s hold a barbecue that brings the community together, a family event, and let’s hold the state of New Hampshire grilling and barbecuing competition. It was a hit. People loved it. It’s just continually grown year after year,” Westcott said. “When everybody [the competitors] starts arriving on Friday, it’s like a family reunion.”
Westcott said the New Hampshire state competition is early in the season, so many of the competitors start here before going on to nationals, which are held in the fall. Last year, 42,000 guests attended Rock’n Ribfest, along with 42 competitive barbecue teams, and around 50 sanctioned judges.
Those numbers are what the Rotary Club of Nashua West is anticipating for this year’s event.
The competitors’ barbecue won’t be available to the public during the weekend (only the judges will be able to sample the ribs and wings). If you don’t happen to be a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned judge, there’s only one way to sample what the competitors are cooking, and that’s at A Taste of Ribfest on Friday night. Six of the championship competitors will prepare ribs and wings for A Taste of Ribfest ticket-holders, and they’ll talk to tasters about their barbecue. There are only two seatings for the Friday night taste, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and tickets cost $30.
“It’s incredible. You get to taste what a competition rib, what a competition wing tastes like,” Westcott said. “You’re going to get a good tasting of barbecue like you’ve never had it.”
But don’t worry, there are still plenty of opportunities to pig out on barbecue during Ribfest. Unlike the competitors, the professional rib vendors will be selling their ‘cue all weekend long.
“Both the competitors and the vendors come from all over,” Westcott said. “You get a lot of different flavors and a lot of different techniques coming into Ribfest.”
Vendors include Firefly’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que of Marlborough, Mass., Aussom Aussie of Pittsburgh, and Jack’s Down Home Barbecue of Philadelphia, just to name a few.
“It’s more than just ribs. We’ve got all sorts of food,” Westcott said. “My son loves the fried Oreos.”
There’s plenty of entertainment to check out all weekend too. New this year is a performance by Josh Logan on Friday night, plus a comedy show Saturday night. There’s also a new cooking school for those who’d like to experience a behind-the-scenes look where pitmasters will lead an all-day course on how to cook barbecue like the competitors (early online registration required).
For young families, there’s children’s entertainment, bouncy houses and a children’s stage. There’s also the Ribfest 5 Miler on Sunday with a Piglet Race fun run. Sunday is also Military Appreciation Day, and Anheuser-Busch provides beer for purchase all weekend long. Many guests make sure to check out the brewery after sampling ribs, Westcott said.
After all the fun, the Rotary Club fundraiser benefits about 40 area non-profits. Westcott said that 90 percent of attendees are aware of this and make sure to come back for a fun weekend and a good cause.
“It really puts a boost back into the community,” she said. “They get a surge of support after Ribfest. … It shows that it’s not just us trying to give back, it’s the community that wants to give back to the community.”
As seen in the June 5, 2014 issue of the Hippo.