As Seen in the Leader Telegram…
Annual Ribfest Draws Cooks, Hungry Fans
Joseph Combs said he’s been perfecting his secret barbecue sauce recipe for a couple years.
However, he won’t share it with anyone. When asked where it is written down, he laughs and points at his head.
“It’s all up here,” Combs said. “They don’t want to know it anyway, so they don’t have to cook.”
Combs, of Neillsville, was among 26 cooks who participated in the 7th annual Chippewa Valley Rib Fest, held at Swimrite Pools and Spas in Eau Claire. Combs spent an hour Friday night making his rib sauce.
“It’s spicy, sweet, and a bit of tang to it,” he said.
This was Combs’ first time participating in the cooking event.
“I’m impressed. I have a feeling it’s only going to get bigger,” Combs said.
Combs said he put his ribs on at 9:30 a.m., and slow-cooked them for 3½ hours.
Ty Schoettl, sales manager at Swimrite Pools, said the annual cook-off started as a grilling competition and it grew. They’ve had as many as 30 cooks in past years. The cooks this year came from across the state, plus from Minnesota and Illinois.
“We usually see 1,500 to 2,000 (visitors),” Schoettl said.
The cooks all began making their ribs early in the morning, followed by judging, then they were auctioned off in the afternoon.
Last year, Rib Fest raised just under $10,000. Schoettl said the goal is to top $10,000 this year, with the proceeds going to Feed My People Food Bank.
Paul Bjorklund of Eau Claire said this is his fifth time competing in the cook-off, and he enjoys the camaraderie.
“It’s also seeing the different (cooking) techniques,” Bjorklund said. “It’s about coming up with the right rub and perfecting your sauce. It’s also trying to do better than you did last year.”
One year, Bjorklund tried something different, bringing a jalapeno-flavored barbeque sauce, but he admits it didn’t go over well with a few judges. He went back to a sweet, tangy homemade sauce with plenty of brown sugar and “a mild amount of heat.”
Dave Platteter of Arcadia was also participating as a cook for the first time.
“We’ll be back. It’s a fun time,” Platteter said. “It’s a good cause, and I enjoy cooking. Maybe I’ll pick up a tip or two.”
Platteter said the secret to his ribs is he slow-cooks them at 250 degrees, adding that it takes 4 ½ hours for them to be ready.
“Low and slow,” he said of the temperature. “It breaks down the ribs to be tender, and doesn’t dry them out.”
Feed My People Food Bank executive director Emily Moore was thrilled with the turnout Saturday.
“It’s impressive. It shows how much work Swimrite and the other sponsors do to make this happen,” Moore said. “We’ll use the money to purchase meat — which seems appropriate with this being Rib Fest.”
Michael Lawler of Menomonie was among the patrons who showed up to grab a big plate of ribs, listen to the live music, and relax while eating. It was his first time attending the festival.
“I love it. Don’t change it,” Lawler said. “They did a nice job.”