Twin City Ribfest (2011)

Winston Salem's Twin City Ribfest is my favorite BBQ event of the summer. This year, nine rib competitors from all over the country provided world class ribs (and other BBQ) for patrons at the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds. While we weren't able to sample food from every competitor, we were fortunate enough to enjoy the ribs from four different vendors.

Pigfoot: The first ribs I tried were from Pigfoot BBQ from West Salem, OH. The ribs were well seasoned and cooked just about right. They had a decent smoke ring and a nice outer crust. Overall, they were probably my favorite ribs in the competition. Pigfoot claims to have the meatiest St. Louis style ribs, but they must have given them out on Friday. My only real complaint about Pigfoot's ribs was the lack of meat on each bone. I really didn't get much for my money. Their sauce was a pretty typical rib sauce. It wasn't quite as sweet as I would have liked, but it was still pretty good. 

Big Boned BBQ Co: Katie's first choice was Big Boned BBQ from Hixson, TN. Their ribs were big and meaty, but they also had the most fat content of any of the ribs that we tried. There also wasn't much of a smoke ring (or smoke flavor). The sauce was dark and flavored with brown sugar and molasses; no surprise considering their Tennessee origins. However, I wasn't thrilled with the taste. It really tasted like an inexpensive commercial sauce (KC Masterpiece).

Texas Thunder: Texas has a great BBQ tradition so I was excited to see what Texas Thunder had to offer. They were new to the competition this year. Their ribs were meaty, but far too tender. They were falling off the bone as the server was slicing them. The meat pulled completely away after taking one bite. The tomato based sauce had a nice spice to it, but it wasn't exceptional.

Carolina Rib King: The South Carolina based Carolina Rib King is a two time Grand Champion at the Twin City Ribfest. Last year, they won the trophy for best ribs. Every year I've attended the festival, they've had the longest line of patrons. We finished up the day with a half rack of ribs from the Rib King. The ribs were well cooked and the spice rub made a nice crust. They were pretty tender, but had a bit too much fat still on the bone. Katie and I disagreed about the sauce. I liked it quite a bit, but she thought the tomato flavor was too overpowering. She compared it to ketchup.

In addition to the rib competitors, there were dozens of vendors selling food, beverages, crafts and other products. There were also several vendors selling locally made BBQ sauces. We got free samples of three different sauces. Fireside Foods was on site providing samples of their locally made Black Jack BBQ sauce. Katie and I both really enjoyed their sauce. I don't know that I would call it a BBQ sauce, but it was tasty none the less.

Another great sauce that I sampled was Momma G's Cooking sauce. Momma G's is the type of sauce that I love. It's an all natural sweet and spicy tomato based sauce. It's a bit too thin for glazing, but the flavor is phenomenal. It was good enough that I had to buy a bottle for myself.

We also sampled a couple different sauces from Tay's out of Cameron, NC. I enjoyed their all purpose Carolina sauce. It had a nice vinegar tang. We also tried their new Sweet n Smokey sauce. It was thicker with a brown sugar sweetness. It wasn't quite my style, but I still appreciated the sample.

Despite the blazing heat, Ribfest was an enjoyable festival once again. Last year's favorite vendor, Two Fat Guys, was sorely missed, but the new additions to the festival were solid contributors. The festival seems to get bigger and better every year. It's become the highlight of my summer. I hope organizers continue to draw top notch competitors for years to come.

Ted's Kickin Chicken Sauce

My co-worker, Joe, knows good chicken. So, when Joe said that he had a sauce for me to try from one of his favorite chicken joints, I was happy to test it out. Like many North Carolinians, Joe is a fan of Ted's. Ted's Kickin Chickin (or Famous Chicken) is indeed famous in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Ted's has four North Carolina locations and is known for their made to order wings and spicy sauces.

Joe gave me a bottle of Ted's regular sauce (also available in Extra Hot or Suicide) to try on my own chicken. For Sunday's lunch, I marinated and grilled chicken breasts, brushing the chicken with Ted's sauce just before pulling it off the grill.

The sauce is a cross between a traditional mild buffalo sauce and a medium heat hot sauce like Texas Pete. The result is a sauce that is a bit too thin for glazing, but just about right for dipping. I used the grilled chicken to make Buffalo Chicken wraps w/ sauteed peppers and onions. Each wrap got a healthy dose of Ted's sauce before serving. For those who enjoy buffalo wings with just a little kick, Ted's regular sauce is a fine choice.

Cook's BBQ - Lexington, NC

"Hidden Gem" is the only term to appropriately describe Cook's BBQ. According to this website, Lexington has eleven BBQ joints. Most of them are located downtown or on one of the highways that pass through the town. Cook's, on the other hand, is nearly off the map.

The drive to Cook's is an interesting trip that requires a navigation system. It's several twists and turns away from Highway 8 and there is very little signage to point the way. Even as one rolls down the gravel drive and into the parking lot, it's difficult to believe that the destination has been reached.

The building is worn and unassuming. The exterior is planked with rustic wood and brick. The rustic look is continued inside. The multi room interior is dimly lit and filled with the aroma of hickory smoke.

Based on some online recommendations, I ordered a chopped pork and sliced beef combo plate with fries and white slaw. The beef was moist and flavorful, but not well trimmed. There was still a lot of fat to pick around. The chopped pork was the star of the show. The flavor was pure hickory goodness. Katie and I both agreed that it was the best Lexington style "Q" that we'd ever had.

While at Cook's, a buddy of mine also introduced me to a new treat, pork skins. These are nothing like the pork rinds at your local supermarket. They're dense, crispy and delicious.

Cook's is difficult to find, but worth the effort. They've apparently built a business based on the loyalty of the locals. For me, the out of the way location is part of Cook's charm. For a true Lexington BBQ experience, I would recommend Cook's to everyone.

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