At Esquimalt Ribfest, BBQ experts show off high-volume, tasty efficiency

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Esquimalt Ribfest lineup. Sept. 13, 2014.

[Updated with award winners.]

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Esquimalt Ribfest is over for another year. Award winners were announced on Sunday. Here's a link to a YouTube video of the award presentations. A judging panel awarded Best Ribs and Best Sauce to Prairie Smoke and Spice. The People's Choice award, based on diners' ballots, went to Boss Hog's.

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During a visit to Esquimalt Ribfest on Saturday evening, I sent photos of the event to family members. A reply came back: Good? Fun? Busy? Worth it?

Here are answers to those questions.

Two of us shared a full rack of pork ribs. They were definitely good, even excellent. Five “ribbers” — specialists in barbecue ribs — are at Esquimalt Ribfest, labouring in a cloud of smoke. The ribbers cater at large gatherings, compete in barbecue contests, and are the star attractions at ribfests. Ribfests are relatively new in these parts but are well established in the East. The Esquimalt version is in its second year.

Our full rack of ribs cost $23, were lightly coated in a tasty sauce, were tender without being mushy, were meaty, and were piping hot. Plus, they were not too salty. The ribs rank among the best I’ve ever had. We bought them from Prairie Smoke and Spice, which is based in Regina. We bought two sides for $2 each: coleslaw and apple cider beans. The full rack, with the ribs conveniently cut up, was plenty for two people.

The four other ribbers are Boss Hog’s BBQ from Ontario, Gator BBQ from Ontario, Smoke and Bones from North Vancouver, and Misty Mountain from Alberta.

Esquimalt Ribfest is at Bullen Park, behind Archie Browning arena. It started on Friday and ends Sunday.

The place was packed when we arrived on Saturday evening, and people appeared to be having fun, mostly by eating ribs, standing in long lines chatting, drinking locally-brewed beer, and listening to greatly-amplified live performances of blues music.

The lines for both food and drink looked fearsome, and we thought briefly about abandoning our ribs quest. But we noticed that lines were quick moving. Each of the ribbers, their offerings and boasts displayed on giant signs above their mobile kitchens, hosted two lines. The longest two were at Boss Hog’s, which had a lot of 1st symbols on its signs. They won the Best Ribs award at the inaugural Esquimalt Ribfest last year.

We decided to join one of the shorter lines, at Prairie Smoke and Spice. About 30 people were ahead of us. It took about 20 minutes to arrive at the order window, and under a minute to place our order, pay with cash, give my name, wait 15 seconds or so, hear my name called, and receive our order of piping hot food.

Next, we hunted for a place to sit at the crowded communal tables, and were successful after a couple of minutes. We semi-neatly ate our ribs and sides while chatting with a couple of strangers.

The $23 for a full rack of pork ribs is good value, especially since they were delicious ribs, and some of the money from the event goes to charity. A full rack of uncooked ribs from a grocery store might cost around $15. The value added by the rib cooks was considerable — the trimming, smoking, and saucing, not to mention the expertise. Plus the cut for charity.

Prices are the same for several common items at all the booths.

A full rack of pork ribs, at $23 (tax included), is the best value. A half rack is $14.

A full rack of beef ribs is $25. A half rack is $15.

There’s also beef brisket, pulled pork, barbecued chicken, coleslaw, baked beans, baked potatoes, corn bread and potato salad. The sides available at each booth vary.

Only cash is accepted, which really speeds up the ordering process.

Parking is limited. We travelled there by bus, and are glad that we did after seeing all those circling cars.

A volunteer told me that it has been quite a bit busier this year than last, particularly in the evening. The word is getting out about the wonders of Esquimalt Ribfest.

The Esquimalt Ribfest ribbers are described here.

And here is the menu, with prices.

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Esquimalt Ribfest booth. Sept. 13, 2014.
 

Esquimalt Ribfest grill. Sept. 13, 2014.
 

Esquimalt Ribfest rack of pork ribs. Sept. 13, 2014.- - -

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