Blazing Bronco BBQ Co. is the runaway winner of the Ground Zero Best of Show Award at the 21st Capital City Ribfest.
The Cleveland team amassed 71 of a possible 80 points from the four judges, 19 of them from Grant Schippert, the winner of the Journal Star Ribfest trivia contest.
“It looked good, tasted good,” Schippert said of Blazing Bronco's rib. “The texture was great. It had a nice smoky flavor to it, but it wasn’t over-the-top smoky. It was, by far, the best.”
Journal Star dining critic Jeff Korbelik and I concurred with Schippert, each of us scoring Blazing Bronco at the top of the seven vendors. Photographer Kayla Wolf’s top score went to Howling Coyote Southwestern BBQ, which finished second in the judging.
The judging is based on two rib samplers supplied by each vendor. The judges, who don’t know the names of the vendors, score the ribs in four categories — taste, texture, appearance and overall — with a maximum of five points per category.
As Korbelik and Schippert walked to the Blazing Bronco booth to present the trophy and banner that comes with a $1,000 cash prize, an elated Gary Carrino emerged from inside, pumping his fist.
“Lincoln, Lincoln,” Carrino said. “Where’s that Ground Zero sign? That’s unbelievable.”
Carrino is a Ribfest veteran and multiple winner with his former team Porky N’ Beans. He brought Blazing Bronco to Ribfest for the first time this year.
“I tweaked that recipe,” Carrino said of his ribs. “I changed a lot of things to get it right.”
Schippert proved he was a Ribfest regular, showing up wearing a black shirt, the better to hide sauce spills. I can attest to that. I dumped a fully sauced rib from the final vendor we scored on my shirt and shorts.
During the judging, Schippert said he doesn’t have a favorite vendor he goes to each year. Rather, he said, he usually gets a beer then makes a decision based on the length of the lines at each booth.
“The ones with the longest lines, either they’re favorites or they’re really good,” he said. “I’ll usually go to one of those. But it depends on how hungry I am. If I’m real hungry, I go to the one with the shortest line. You can’t go wrong with anybody here.”
To cap the Thursday evening judging, Schippert was convinced or, more accurately, coerced into trying a rib drenched in Johnson BBQ’s “thermonuclear” sauce.
“I’ll have maybe two or three more,” Schippert said, his eyes watering and sweat coming out from under his baseball cap. “My lips are on fire. This is getting worse. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to talk too.”
A few minutes and a helping of Johnson’s creamy cole slaw later, Schippert had recovered and headed home. He’ll be back at Ribfest on Friday or Saturday.