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One Weekend And Three Racks Of Ribs

The second semi-annual rib cookoff went down at my brother’s neighbor’s house last weekend in Lakewood. He and some of his neighbors engage in a little friendly barbecue competition in August.

This year, I asked if I could enter, too, and I’m not sure what sort of chain of command my request had to be funneled through, but I got the news a few days before that my request was accepted and that I was going to be grilling with the big boys.

And there’s nothing like an underdog, right? Who could not have been rooting for me to win? Besides my brother?

I have spent enough time in the kitchen to know that it’s all about the recipe. After that, it’s the quality of ingredients and then the mighty hand of the cook. So, I set out to find an award-winning recipe. I wanted to build this all from scratch-both the rub and the sauce. No shortcuts for me. No pre-made spice rubs, no bottled sauces.

And there’s a serious rib guy on the Internet who gives you his award-winning barbecue advice for free-and his recipes. And I’ll tell you, I could have eaten that sauce like a soup. What’s not to love about stuff made with vinegar?

And I had a ball making it. Even if I wasn’t slated to win, what a great morning it was making something so American, so full of history and flavor. The ingredients were bizarre. When have you ever mixed ballpark-style mustard, honey, ketchup, hot sauce, brown sugar, steak sauce, lemon juice, molasses, and cider vinegar in the same bowl? Who even thought to add those things together in the first place?

But the barbecue master, online, whose name is Meathead, insists you cannot make the sauce with even one less ingredient. It’s all very important and every one of those ingredients has a purpose.

And after the first spoonful, I knew he was right. This is a kind of Kansas City sauce, equal parts vinegar, sweetness, heat and spice. If you’re getting hungry, I’ll provide the links for the recipes at the end, or go directly to the nearest barbecue restaurant.

I started all of this on Friday and by Sunday, the day of the competition, I was getting a little tired of ribs. I’d been shopping, stirring, and chopping for days and when I went outside to start the grill to finish the ribs off with the sauce, I sort of felt like a baker who makes cookies all day, everyday, and has sworn off cookies for the rest of her life. I was in danger of doing a face plant in a pan of sauce.

Everything had gone very well until I fired up the grill. “Don’t burn the outer layer of the rib,” my husband had warned. “There’s sugar in the sauce and it likes to burn.”

And despite my being careful, I burned some of the ribs. Are you kidding me? After all of this work, my ribs are flammable? What would Meathead say? Or better yet, what would Meathead do?

Sadly, there was no heading on his website, “What To Do If You Burn The Ribs After 36 Hours Of Hard Work And Sacrifice And $60 In Ingredients And Three Trips To The Store.”

I shared the burnt ribs with the dog. Some of the ribs had stuck to the grill and later, I peeled off the meat and gave those little tidbits to the dog too.

To my dog, I was the hands-down winner of the day. And I told myself that was enough.

I managed to salvage enough ribs to make a plate up for the competition, and in all honesty the competition was formidable. One neighbor, the guy who won, had injected spices into his ribs before cooking them. (Note to self: buy a needle injection kit next year.)

There was also a peach-bourbon sauce, made by my brother who is, in my humble opinion, one of the best home chefs I know. And there were, in total, five plates of ribs–all very different from one another and all very good.

There was also corn and baked beans and corn bread and coleslaw and deviled eggs.

“Everybody gets a trophy today,” I said.

But the real story, in the end, was how great it was to come together with people and share a meal.

Especially today, when all kinds of people are out of sorts about politics, and the demise of civility, it was nice to be a part of something special on a sunny day by the lake.

This is what life is all about and this is why we live here.

I don’t have the heart to email Meathead and tell him that in my neighborhood, he’s not a winner, but that at the end of the day, my dog thinks he’s great.

Amazingribs.com is the address for Meathead’s advice and recipes.

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