One day near July 4th for the past 15 years there’s a party on Timberbank Lane. It’s main food attraction is barbecued ribs prepared by about 10 chefs each hoping that their choice of ribs, rub, sauce, and preparation will win the title of The Rib King of Timberbank Lane. Other than a congratulatory cheer at the winner’s announcement, the only award is an apron and chef’s hat. Both are supposed to be returned in time to be awarded to next years winner.
The palm-size golden pig trophy didn’t make it back several years ago so it’s down to apron and hat. I imagine the pig’s permanent owner turning away from cable news during a commercial break to see the porcelain porcine prize posing between his softball and bowling trophies and remembering the year his ribs were the best. On Timberbank Lane.
Each year the cookoff gets more serious. Last year a relative of the neighbors who sponsor the culinary cookoff towed a commercial smoker behind his pickup truck arriving the day before the cookoff. He sat with it all night smoking half a hog in addition to the four slabs of ribs required for the competition. This year he brought his more portable Traeger smoker that fit in his truck bed. It was large enough for the four slabs of ribs and a complement of brats for those who wanted a snack before eating ribs.
The brats were great, I’m told.
The recipe for the event is simple. Every chef makes four slabs of ribs. They must be home cooked and prepared with rub and sauce made by the cook. No commercial-cooked ribs and no store-bought sauce. This is a serious contest. If you don’t have the fortitude to be told your ribs are good enough to compete but not good enough to win, then it’s okay to just show up to eat. It never happens that previous year’s losers return with the same combination of rub and sauce.
The ribs are offered in aluminum serving trays, one dedicated to each cook’s entry. The tray is assigned a toothpick with a colored paper flag that disquises the cook’s identity. First, second, and third-place choices are placed in red, white, and blue cups that mark not only the patriotic colors of the celebration but also the matching award ribbons. There are no awards for second and third place. They are required only for the announcement phase so the awardees know early that their ribs are losers and they have failed, and won’t be The Rib King of Timberbank Lane.
Debuting this year was a rib prepared in a style not previously seen by anyone at the cookoff.
One of the cooks finished his rubbed, smoked, and sauced ribs by deep-frying them after they came out of the smoker. Yes, deep-fried barbecue ribs. Slow-cooked, smoked, slathered with home-made barbecue sauce, coated in flour, and fried in a propane-fired turkey fryer. It was a first for the The Rib King of Timberbank Lane Annual Rib Cookoff near the 4th of July.
Each year always has a first of soemthing. Sometimes it’s the return of a neighbor who moved away in the last year. Or a new bride or groom or child, or the latest grandchild. Or it’s someone who decides its easier to contribute by making their best and famous recipe for scalloped corn or a chocolate graham cracker crust cheesecake covered in tart cherries with a whipped cream crown at the center, or spicy meatballs slow-cooked in a marinara sauce. The covered-dish category is a safe place. There are no losers in the covered-dish category.
Don’t want to forget the cornhole tournament that begins as soon as the ribs are gone. Fueled by the smoked meat, scalloped corn, cheesecake, cookies and cupcakes, and fortified with a healthy helping of adult beverages, the tournament goes on until near midnight with little complaint by the neighbors, all of whom have been at the cookoff, have eaten too much, and are now home complaining of the size of their stomachs, or asleep.