One of my favorite daydreams happens while watching the Food Network and fantasizing about what it would be like to eat amazing food as a JOB. Being raised in the South, I’ve gained a particular amount of knowledge when it comes to barbecue. I mean, I’ve ordered ribs on a first date because, let’s be honest, no man is worth passing up ribs for. So after years of attending the Rib Roundup, you can only imagine how stoked I was to hear that for the very first time, I would not only visit ever competitors booth and try their amazing ribs, but I’d also have the honor of selecting a winner of the first annual Mellies Bellies award. So fitting.
Unfortunately, another part of growing up in the South is knowing that the weather is just as moody as I am on an empty stomach. As soon as filming began, the torrential downpour took its cue. No worries though, if the pressure of judgment on a first date isn’t enough to keep me from ribs, clearly a bit of water wasn’t going to either. So out came the obnoxious pink umbrella and off I went to start judging some ribs!
Pig in or Pig out
First up was Pig in or Pig out, a booth that was so confident their ribs were irresistible they had a figurine of a pig eating one of them. I have to give them props on presentation; their ribs were served up in a bright red doggy bowl which made for a fun and attention grabbing way to walk around eating your ribs. Gotta love good people, good food, and good humor! I knew I was off to a great day of ribs when I could see and smell the amazing dry rub Pig in or Pig out had created. It didn’t take long before I had a doggy bowl of my own and was digging into our first contender.
Jerk & BBQ
I wasn’t only raised in the South (Titusville, FL) but I am also half Latin, so I’ve grown up with an open mind to all types of food. That being said, spicy is just not something I’ve ever been able to handle, which is what made Jerk & BBQ such a memorable booth for me. I was presented with two different ribs to try: original baby back ribs and jerk ribs. Their baby back ribs were fall off the bone tender and gave me the perfect amount of smokey and sweet. But that’s not what I want to tell you about. Just about anyone can give you a good sweet and smokey rib, but good jerk ribs are much more rare. Adding spicy to the mixture of sweet and smokey adds an entirely new element that I FULLY embraced. Have you already forgotten that I mentioned I can’t do spicy? Well, I still can’t, but you better believe the inner conflict I was having over my taste buds wanting water but wanting another bite first was well worth every confusing morsel. So. Good. And anyone who can force my tastebuds to override their anti-spicy instinct is a winner in my book.
Huckleberry Barbecue was a competitor I remembered from last years Rib Roundup. The firefighter behind this amazing food blew my mind last year with an amazing key lime barbecue sauce. Who even thinks of that?! They proved to still be ahead of the curve this year debuting an awesome new idea for grab-n-go BBQ: the bread cone! I’ve been gluten-free for four years, so unfortunately I couldn’t taste test one of the delicious looking pulled pork bread cones, but by the rate they were selling you could tell the taste was as good as the idea!
Best Damn BBQ
Sometimes cliches exist for a reason and sometimes that reason is to describe incredible ribs, so I will say: I’ve saved the best for last. Walking up to the Best Damn BBQ booth you could tell that Richard and his crew were right at home. They were the only booth to come with a food truck and the novelty of ordering your food at the window made you feel like you were at your neighborhood food truck. As I waited to try my last ribs of the day, Richard told me a bit about how he makes his ribs. To capitalize on the flavor the grill gives his ribs, I watched him take slabs straight from the cooler and onto the grill. After some time on the grill smothered in his secret dry rub recipe, they are ready to be devoured by the line of customers. I could tell these ribs were different just by looking at the dry rub left on the rib when I went in for my first bite. I could’ve sworn I saw some oregano on there. It was an incredible first bite. Tangy and a bit more on the salty vs sweet side. The extra texture of his secret dry rub added an entirely new element I hadn’t tasted yet that day, and after a day of eating amazing ribs it really is a testament to the chef to still be able to stand out and make such an impression. Literally salivating as I type this.
Oh, so I should also mention that after all of this, I come to find out that the rib I tasted DIDNT EVEN HAVE SAUCE YET. That’s right. Their slogan is “ribs so good you don’t need any sauce”, and they sure don’t. Obviously I had to now try one with the secret mustard based sauce. As I waited for another magnificent rib to be prepped for its on-screen debut, I overheard a customer ask if he could please purchase an ENTIRE CUP of the sauce. The girl at the window gave him a cup at no charge which I thought was a great little moment to have witnessed. Moments like that show you that sometimes it really is just about the food and the people and not about the money. I should also mention that I’m not a huge of mustard either (not a picky eater, promise!) I just don’t really do the whole condiment thing. However, I do appreciate what they can do as foundations for great sauces, and this mustard based sauce was absolutely incredible. It was the perfect sweet, tangy and ever so slightly spicy compliment to the smokey and salty ribs. The perfect marriage of flavors for my tastebuds, and the perfect ending to a flavorful day!
To see more of this years contenders be sure to check out the video of my search for the the winner of the first ever “Mellie Bellie” Award below!
WORDS BY Melissa Ziegler