Ribfest: Judges, People’s Choice Split on Best Ribs

By Patty Wetli | Monday, June 11, 2012

Frank Sennett samples ribs. Credit: Patty Wetli

Rub BBQ Company (2407 W. Lunt St.) and Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro (3905 N. Lincoln Ave.) both walked away from Ribfest 2012 with bragging rights: Rub earned “Best Ribs” from a panel of celebrity judges and Mrs. Murphy captured the People’s Choice award for the third year in a row. Simon Stein, president of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce, announced the winners Sunday night as Heartless Bastards prepared to take to the stage and close out the fest.

Pitchfork (2922 W. Irving Park Rd.) nabbed second place in Best Ribs and Highland Park’s Real Urban Barbecue came in third. Festival-goers were also fans of Real Urban, ranking the restaurant second in People’s Choice. Big Bricks (3832 N. Lincoln Ave.) made quite the first impression in its Ribfest debut, placing third with the people.

Earlier in the night, the judging panel–Frank Sennett, editor-in-chief of Time Out Chicago; Steve Dahl, Chicago radio icon; and Billy Dec, CEO and founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a restaurant and entertainment development company–carefully considered samples from 22 restaurants competing for Best Ribs.

Sennett, a neighborhood resident and huge rib fan, explained his criteria: “I like a sauce with a little kick. Meat should be tender but with a little bit of chew.”

What was Dahl looking for? “When I arrived at [sample] number 10, I was looking for it to be over,” he joked. (Clearly neither Dahl nor any of his fellow judges, with their dainty bits and Baby Wipes, poses a threat to pro rib-eating champ Tim “Gravy” Brown.) Like Sennett, Dahl prefers his ribs to have some bite, but not too much smoke.

Dec, who’s preparing to open his own Asian-influenced rib joint, has been tasting a lot of barbecue in the past month and carefully considered each rib that passed his way. “I was looking at the smoke ring. Some were boiled, you could tell.” A restaurateur himself, Dec tipped his cap to not only the diversity on display but the willingness of chefs to leave their kitchens, set up shop in a tent on the street “and stick one out of 5,000 ribs in a styrofoam container and present it as their ‘best.’”

So tell us CSJ readers, who got it right? The judges, the people or neither?



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