On a cold, grey and rainy Saturday in Soho, the air was full of the smell of BBQ smoke as all the competitors for Ribstock were cooking away. Seriously, the smell of smoke was detectable from Chinatown and every person who walked past St Anne’s Churchyard wanted to know what was going on.. Ribstock started off as an idea by Street Food hero The Ribman to get a load of people together and compete to cook their ribs for people to blind taste and judge. After a collaboration between J Downey of Tweat Up (who have previously organised fantastic events like when Pitt Cue were about to close to the UK’s first ever Chilli Stand Off) and Peter Butler, plans were drawn up for Ribstock. Given the success of previous Tweat Up events, combined with the Ribman’s popularity (and vocal announcements over Twitter to his many followers) and well, the fact that everyone loves ribs, tickets sold out in such a fast time (600 tickets sold in under 5 minutes) that it took the organisers by surprise but I’m sure it also made them very happy to know that people were hungry for ribs out there. I was extremely lucky and managed to snap up a pair of tickets so it then became a countdown to Ribstock and what promised to be Rib Heaven.
The event was 10 top chefs and restaurants would cook their ribs which would be tasted and judged not only by those lucky enough to get a ticket, but also by a panel of judges under Kansas City Barbecue Society Rules. They managed to get some heavyweight participants – Including Ben Spalding formerly of Roganic, Barbecoa and UK Barbecue champion Andy Annat. But that wasn’t it, there was also going to be a Hot Sauce challenge where people got to blind taste some hot sauces and vote on their favourite. Competitors for the hot sauce competition included Tom Parker-Bowles (famously a chilli fanatic), Chef Jocky (from the Fat Duck) and the Ribman’s signature Holy Fuck sauce.
The day itself was brilliant and it was interesting to see just how different the ribs were from the 10 competitors; some were restaurant-like (the Salt Yard) to something for the BBQ purists (the effort from UK BBQ Champion Andy Annat). I was there in part because I’ve long admired Tweat_Up and all their gatherings and when you offer ribs, hot sauce and killer cocktails – What could possibly go wrong? But I was also there to see what the BBQ ribs were like as a precursor to Grillstock at the end of June, and one very important lesson I learned from Ribstock – You need to pace yourself because YKL and I could only manage 8 of the 10 offerings (Who’d have thunk there was such a thing as too much ribs?). As as it turns out, the 2 we didn’t try finished in the Top 3 – woops! That said, my personal favourite (from a BBQ purist side) would be Andy Annat’s offering – Nice(ish) smoke ring and bark on the rib itself, smoke flavour permeating the meat – which was tender enough but retaining a bit of a bite. However, the offering from Lucky Chip wins for the most tender rib – But it was almost as if the meat had been sous-vided for too long beforehand so it was almost *too* soft and which there was a really decent char on the outside as it was finished on the grill, there wasn’t any smokey flavour to it. Still, it was bloody delicious..
Oh, and the winner for best ribs were Redhook, whilst the hot sauce competition was won by Tom Parker Bowles (who sadly wasn’t there on the day to collect the award himself)
I should also point out how incredibly well organised the whole event was – From the printed cards which not only were your voting cards, but also used for your 3 free drinks (which were exceptional, from Milk and Honey) and also tripled (quadrupled?) up for you to write some tasting notes for each competitor as your card was stamped by them as you got your ribs from them. Even each marquee for the competitors were well laid out and I dread to think about the level of health and safety checks the organisers would have needed to satisfy in putting together such an event – So a HUGE thanks to all involved in not only organising and setting up the event and site, but also in the (undoubtedly) massive clean up operation afterwards. Everybody I spoke to had a great time and if it weren’t enough that everyone was brought together in a Churchyard in Soho by a love for ribs, hot sauce and alcohol, their spirits nowhere near dampened by the inclement weather, they all left hoping that they will be able to make it to the next event organised by Tweat Up et al.
You can view all my photos from the day at my Flickr page