Is a winning rib the product of excellent sauce or a dry-rub? Or does it lie in the preparation of fire for the meat?
Each competitor at this weekend’s inaugural Port City Carolina Farmin’ RibFest likely has a differing opinion. For Poor Piggy’s owner Ed Coulbourn III, who will compete in the event, the sacred art of cooking ribs starts with an original, special rub.
Coulbourn cooks the ribs at about 250 to 260 degrees for roughly three hours before drizzling them with a little honey, cutting and serving.
“We don’t really use a sauce per se,” Coulbourn notes, “and I believe that is what distinguishes our ribs from everyone else. I believe the secret is in the cooking method and the rub, but not the sauce.”Coulbourn will be the only local from a host of teams competing for the “Grand Champion” title at the rib fest. He has been competing in revered Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS)-sanctioned events since 2010. “Rib fests, like the one coming to Wilmington, are a bit different in that they are longer and more demanding on us ribbers,” Coulbourn says.
Competitors have to cook between 25 and 100 cases of ribs in a few days in hopes of securing top honors and bragging rights. Poor Piggy’s has won a fair share of accolades, including first place in the whole hog category at 2010’s Hogfest, a KCBS event. In 2011, it took first for “Anything Butt” and second for “Whole Hog.” Last year, Coulbourn added a People’s Choice and third-place best entrée at Wilmington’s Epicurean Evening.
The Port City RibFest event organizer, Allen McDavid of AKA Entertainment and Media in Greensboro, has been producing festivals of this caliber for almost 10 years. Wilmington’s shindig will be his 13th festival, one that came to be from Slade McPherson, a barbecue restaurant owner in High Point, NC. McPherson, an investor in local brewery Good Vibes, suggested the celebration.
“We saw Wilmington as a hotbed of foodies and of course tourism,” McDavid explains. “We wanted to provide another outlet for them both. “The best part of organizing an event like this is picking the teams.”
Out of 100 or more nationwide, McDavid pared it down to 10 competitors across seven states. Diners will get a chance to taste some of the most lip-smacking brisket, pork, chicken and of course the crown jewel: ribs.
“Victories translate to money in the form of higher sales based on their success,” McDavid tells. “It is very important to the ribbers. All you have to do is look at their signage.”
Coulbourn seems confident going up against other well-known competitors who have traveled the states and even been featured on Food Network and “Pit Masters”: Texas Pit Barbecue (Willis, Texas); Big Boned BBQ (Hixson, TN); Porky Chicks BBQ (Fayetteville, AK); Texas Outlaws (Elizabethtown, KY); Bib’s Downtown (Winston-Salem, NC); Carolina Rib King (Moore, SC), Pigfoot (West Salem, OH); Smoke Shack BBQ (Columbus, OH); Dre’s Place BBQ (Villa Rica, GA); and The Hickory Shack (Greensboro, NC).
“We have to remember that we really just got started with this not even two years ago,” Coulbourn says, “so we’re just glad to be in the mix, rubbing elbows with these guys. We’ll get our shot, and we’re looking forward to that day!”
According to McDavid, judges consist of high-profile chefs, novices and foodies. A few include Chef Keith Rhodes, Catch owner; Jessica Cabo of CAM Cafe; Chef Shawn Underwood from Taste the Olive Café and Wine Bar; Shea Carver, editor of encore and Devour; C.A.R.E. founder Johnnie Sexton; as well as other local politicians and celebrities. They will be judging the meat and sauce.
“Judges are primarily looking at appearance, texture, taste and tenderness,” McDavid discloses. “The amazing thing about it is that, after a quick set of instructions, they pick up on it fast.”
Port City RibFest will stand different from other BBQ cookoffs. Its primary purpose is feeding the attendees. Winners of the rib fest are awarded trophies and compete for pride, so there is less focus placed on cash prizes and fierce competition.
Planning an event like this comes with some difficulty, too; in this case, picking a venue. Originally, the festival was to be held at Cape Fear Community College’s student parking lot off Front Street. Due to unforeseen circumstances, they had to change it at the last-minute.
“We weren’t told that we couldn’t hold the event; in fact they wanted it there,” McDavid says. “Despite the fact our contract which stated ‘BBQ and Music Festival’ and was signed by both parties (AKA Entertainment and Media, LLC and CFCC), on June 25th we received a scanned copy of it via e-mail with handwritten alterations stating ‘no live music,’” McDavid states. “I called our contact, Lynn Sylvia of CFCC who said the college had an exclusive arrangement with the Azalea Festival, and only that festival could have live music on the lot. I asked her what she thought ‘BBQ and music festival’ meant on our contract, and she said, ‘It could mean recorded music.’”
So McDavid moved the event to the U.S.S. Battleship park on the Cape Fear River. Rib fest will showcase three major bands, including Earphunk, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, and Larry Keel and the Natural Bridge. As well, a host of locals will play, like Bootleg Dynasty and No Dollar Shoes. All genres will be performed live, from bluegrass to Americana to rock and jam bands.
“The goal musically is to provide variety and give ample opportunities for local acts to get additional exposure along with their regional and national counterparts,” McDavid explains.
The Port City RibFest runs from August 9th through August 11th. The setup also will feature a Kids’ Zone, a marketplace with arts and crafts vendors, a Hookah bar, a karaoke competition (with a prize of $250) and a mobile saloon with can-can girls. The winner will be announced on Saturday, August 10th, at 5:30 p.m. Admission is $7 per adult, $5 per senior and children are free. There is also free parking.
In addition, there will be shuttle busses and rib fest taxis. The downtown pick-up point is the WAVE bus stop at the corner of 2nd and Market streets. Departures and arrivals will be frequent, while dropping visitors to the front gate of the rib fest. The rib fest shuttle system will run from the corner of N. 2nd and Market streets downtown. All shuttle taxi riders will receive a $2 admission discount.
Port City Carolina Farmin’ RibFest
August 9-11; Fri., 11 a.m. – midnight; Sat., 11 a.m. – midnight; Sun., noon – 10 p.m.
U.S.S. Battleship Park