Last year the Cape Fear River went up in smoke, and it was finger-lickin’ good. No, there wasn’t a massive fire, but the inaugural Port City RibFest, rounded by AKA Entertainment and Media, did heat up things at the Battleship USS North Carolina Memorial Park.
Locals can pick their poison, as barbecuers from across the nation compete this weekend, Friday, August 15th through Sunday, August 17th, for the second annual Port City RibFest. This year a portion of the proceeds will go to the CARE Project, an organization that aids those with or affected by hearing impairments.
Event producer Allen McDavid, a member of the Foy family (former owners of Poplar Grove Plantation and Figure Eight Island), has helmed a similar festival in Winston-Salem for 10 years. Knowing how passionate about barbecue North Carolina is, he expanded it to Wilmington last year.
His previous Wilmington foray into fire-smoked swinedom proved more successful than anticipated; close to 20,000 people were in attendance. “The enthusiasm for this event has been almost overwhelming,” McDavid proclaims.
This year he adds Raleigh, Charlotte and Asheville to the list of festival stops. He’s enlisted a 20-person crew, dubbed the “Rib Gypsies,” to help him undertake the festivals.
The three-day Port City event will dole out awards for Best Sauce, Best Ribs, People’s Choice, and overall Grand Champion on Sunday at 5:15 p.m.. This year’s contenders include: Sticky Ribs (Texas), Florida Skin and Bones, Texas Pit BBQ, Camp 31 (Alabama), Poor Piggy’s (Wilmington), and 108 B Grill Team (Georgia). Last year Texas Pit BBQ reigned over all, winning the Grand Champion and Best Ribs moniker.
“We are very excited to be coming back to the second annual Port City RibFest,” Ronald Conaway, Texas Pitt BBQ proprietor, says. “Our first year was very successful, and the people were great.”
The pork-slingers have been showcasing their talents in cookoffs for 22 years, and they’ve accumulated hundreds of awards. “We firmly believe the best way to prepare award-winning ribs is with our special blend of oak, maple and cherry woods,” Conaway explains. Texas Pit BBQ’s Rib Rub and award-winning Honey Glaze BBQ Sauce finish off the meat. “[You] smoke [the ribs] low and slow, and use a really good dry rub.”
Poor Piggy’s defended local pride as the recipient of the People’s Choice award. “Obviously, everyone has their individual tastes; but if it’s not smoked low and slow, it’s not BBQ,” McDavid tells.
The awards are decided upon by an expert panel of judges, including Randy Aldridge (Good Morning Carolina, WWAY-TV3, ABC affiliate), Dennis Rodgers (former columnist for Raleigh News and Observer), William Aman (former Wilmington chef) and Aaron Martin (a Wilmington-native and certified BBQ judge with the Kansas City Barbeque Society).
Port City RibFest’s Facebook page requested people to nominate locals to be judges in July. The selected finalists then campaigned and collected votes on the social-media site. It elected John Dismukes (part of the New Hanover County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, vice president of the Board of Directors for the Parks Conservancy of New Hanover County, Inc.) and Cindy Pye-LaBod as judges.
Pye-LaBod hails from Lexington, NC (a barbecue mecca, known for its vinegar-based sauce, BBQ slaw and its annual ‘cue festival in October). She was nominated by a friend. “I really was shocked by how many people shouted: ‘I vote for Cindy,’” she says. “There were some funny comments in the voting area as well! Someone even nominated me for Ribfest Prom Queen!”
With a palate shaped by Lexington, Pye-LaBod maintains unaffected taste buds (though she still hopes to introduce Wilmington to BBQ slaw). “In my travels I make it an effort to try BBQ to taste the different sauces,” she describes. “ I know that with the different sauces I have tried, I can be unbiased.”
The festival also will be serving heaping helpings of beef brisket, beef ribs, chopped/sliced pork, chicken, and sausage. Pours will come from Leinenkugel’s Leinie Lodge and Defiant Whiskey’s Shady Lady Saloon (complete with can-can girls). Duplin Winery, Miller Lite, and Foothills Brewery, too, will be on hand to quench thirsts.
“I am billing this festival as the ‘nation’s most unique BBQ festival,’ because of its setting and the entertainment offerings,” McDavid details.
The three-day festival will host myriad concerts; among them will be Wilmington gems Stray Local and Dubtown Cosmonauts. Jim Avett, The Avett Brothers’ patriarch, will play a set on
Sunday. A full list of the bands/musicians playing can be found on Port City RibFest’s website.
Other attractions include: the market place, Squidling Brothers’ Side Show, Lucha Libre (masked-style wrestling), Water Wars, and The Juggling Gypsy’s mobile hookah lounge. The kiddies will delight in seeing Ripley’s Aqaurium in Myrtle Beach’s mascot, Sharkee, and all his friends. As well, they can enjoy the inflatables and games in the Kidz’ Zone.
“I am trying to redefine what a BBQ festival is with the goal of appealing to a broader and younger audience,” McDavid says.
Port City RibFest
Battleship USS NC Memorial Park
1 Battleship Rd.
Fri., Aug. 15th – Sat., Aug 16th
11 a.m. – midnight
Sun., Aug. 17th, noon – 7 p.m.
Admission: $1 – $7; $2 off on Sunday w/church bulletin