The Rotary Club of Nashua West will hold its eighth annual Rock N’ Ribfest from Friday, June 11, to Sunday, June 13, at the Anheuser-Busch Merrimack Brewery. The event features live music, barbecue vendors from up and down the East Coast, and the New Hampshire state barbecuing competition.
The event’s chairman, Randy Smith, expects this year’s event to draw 30,000 to 35,000 people. Last year, around 26,000 people attended, and Smith expects “a good solid growth.”
Ribbers will be selling ribs in a variety of sauces and rubs. Vendors will come from as far as Florida and Ontario to participate. This year’s ribbers include Gator BBQ, Firefly’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que, Jack’s Down Home BBQ, Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que, Florida Skin & Bones, and Uno’s. Former winners of the People’s Choice Award, T-Roy’s Barbecue and Big Moe’s M&M Ribs will return this year. The Rotary Club decided not to hold the People’s Choice Award this year because the voting process was cumbersome.
The rib vendors will also be selling other barbecued meats and side dishes that go well with ribs. “The biggest thing we’re doing this year is we came up with this idea of bellies and bones. We sell a fried clam along with ribs. It’s kind of my take on a surf and turf,” said Steve Uliss, owner of Firefly’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que.
There are some advantages to having vendors from around the country and Canada.
“Anytime we get people from outside the region, we get a little bit of their style. We like that diversity,” Smith said.
For those who don’t like ribs, there will be plenty of food options, including seafood rolls, hamburgers and hot dogs, and treats like ice cream and fried Oreos.
Several bands will perform live on the main stage during the weekend’s events (see line-up on page 64) and there will be activities and entertainment for children to enjoy at the Ribfest. On the children’s stage, karate, dance and musical groups from the area will perform. A wildlife educator will be available to introduce a collection of wild animals to children. The kids’ area will include a rock climbing wall, inflatables, sand art and face painting. Admission to the area will cost $10 for unlimited use for the day or 50 cents per ticket. “Put a wrist band on them and let the kids enjoy the rides,” Smith said. “The parents can go off and enjoy the food and the music.”
A whoopie pie eating contest will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m. Sixty contestants will compete to eat the most eight-inch whoopie pies for a significant cash prize. The first 20 people to sign up on each day of the Ribfest will compete in the contest.
RE/MAX Properties will offer tethered hot air balloon rides from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday for $10 per ride.
While most people attend the Rock N’ Ribfest to enjoy the barbecue offerings, 36 teams descend on the festival grounds to compete in creating the best grilled and barbecued items in the state. Governor John Lynch declared Saturday’s grilling competition and Sunday’s barbecue contest as the official barbecue championship for the state of New Hampshire. This means the overall winner will be eligible to compete in the Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn.
Because the number of teams is limited to 36, people come from all over to compete in New Hampshire — they have a higher likelihood of winning on the state level and moving on to the national competition. This year, teams will come from as far as New Jersey and western New York state. Anyone who registers before the 36-team maximum is met may compete, but competition organizer Roland “Pete” Petersen said, “[Teams] are well advised to read the rules and be familiar with them.”
The average backyard griller might be surprised by the intensity of the barbecue competition. The grilling competition follows New England Barbecue Society (NEBS) rules, and the barbecue competition is regulated by the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS). These organizations train judges how to assess the different foods prepared in competition and create rules that competitors within their jurisdictions must follow.
Judges look for three elements in each food item: texture, appearance and flavor. Petersen explained that the texture “shouldn’t be mushy and it shouldn’t be too chewy.” For appearance, judges look to make sure that the sauce hasn’t been applied in a manner that hides ugly meat and that the meat is held together on its own, without the help of toothpicks. Judges also check that garnishes are amongst those allowed by KCBS rules. Taste, the most subjective of the three categories, is scored based on how well the sauce or rub enhances the taste of the meat. Petersen said there is a common misconception that spicier is better when barbecuing, but he recently judged a competition in which one entrant used jalapeños. He said that this entry was scored poorly because the judges could not taste the meat with such an intensely hot sauce.
“There are some regional preferences. In the South they like a lot of mustard-based sauces and rubs ... New England prefers relatively bland. Competitors are well advised to be aware of those,” Petersen said.
Petersen said that one of the greatest difficulties for competitors is getting the timing right. Each team must cook four items and they must be on the judges’ tables at a specified time. If the meat isn’t on the table at the correct time, the contestant is disqualified for that type of food.
On Saturday, teams will compete in the grilling contest. Petersen explained that the key difference between grilling and barbecue is that grilling is cooking over direct heat, whereas barbecuing requires the use of a smoker. The grilling competition tests contestants’ abilities to cook shrimp, rib eye beef steak, sausage and chicken wings. Competitors can win up to $150 for each dish, in addition to the grand prize for the whole competition of $600.
The same teams will compete in the barbecue contest on Sunday, during which chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and butt, and beef brisket will be cooked. The prizes for the barbecue competition are higher, up to $225 per dish, with a grand prize of $900. This year, the grand prize winner will also receive the Jim McGrath Memorial Trophy, which honors the memory of one of the event’s coordinators who passed away this year — “Jim was an ardent barbecue promoter,” Petersen said.
“It’s just an incredible event. There’s great quality food,” Uliss said. “If anyone wants any wants any barbecue tips, I would be happy to guide them through the barbecue world.”