“Come get your ribs!”
The ribbers are in full-throated throttle in Victoria Park on Thursday, the first day of Ribfest. Johnny Cash blares over the loud speakers while ribmaster Adam Gordon tosses his big knife in the air and catches it a few times between flipping ribs.
Gordon, 32, is a Londoner who works for Boss Hog’s (450 Wharncliffe Rd. S.). He has been touring Southern Ontario during rib season (June through mid September) for eight years now. The team is set to do 21 festivals this year.
It’s non-stop work in a highly competitive environment, but he says the lifestyle has its charm.
“It’s fun hanging out with buddies on the road all summer, and to get out of town for a while,” says Gordon.
You know about rock stars. These guys live like rib stars.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle,” says Boss Hog’s owner Tom Diavolitsis of London. “It’s like being a band, traveling and doing shows in different cities and meeting lots of people.
“It’s not like a 9-5 job, where you’re sitting down in an office all day.”
But the hours during rib season can be grueling — employees usually work from 13 to 15 hours a day, says Gordon, as he calls out to customers from behind the fiery grill, pulling up his red bandana to keep the smoke out of his face.
“You love it when you are young and vibrant, but it takes its toll as your get older,” says Diavolitsis, 35.
Diavolitsis says what makes Boss Hog’s ribs special is the stage cook, the smoking process and premium rub or spices they put on the meat. They see themselves as fierce competitors, bringing in 21 first-place finishes at 19 events in 2011. So far this year, they have won 25 awards at nine Ribfests.
One of the organizers of the London event, Cecil Hillier, says they look far and wide to bring the very best ribbers to the Forest City’s festival.
“Every year, the event gets bigger and better, and we get more and more applications coming in than previous years,” says Hillier.
Kentucky Smokehouse took home the title of best ribs last year.
But Ribfest is more than just ribs, says organizer Ruby Hillier. There are more than 250 vendors and only 10 of those are the ribbers.
“There are always new vendors to try,” she says. “You can get smoked meat, hamburgers, chicken, roasted potatoes, kettle corn, Indian food, fresh fruit drinks, salads—you name it.”
The festival also features live music, carnival rides and a beer garden.
- Ribfest runs from till daily at Victoria Park from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., including the civic holiday Monday when they close at 10 p.m.
- Ribfest features 75 bands, 100 food booths, rides, a beer garden and 250 exhibits
- 200,000 people attend annually
- Free admission