Rib Cook-off is under way | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rib Cook-off is under way

SPARKS (AP) – More than 100,000 pounds of ribs have been ordered for the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off, which began Wednesday with the sweet smell of barbecue wafting over Interstate 80 and continues through Labor Day.

Butch Lupinetti, the defending champion from Mount Laurel, N.J., said he’s been riding a whirlwind of popularity since his Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ took home the blue ribbon last summer.

He said the mechanics even knew him in the repair shop in Chicago where he stopped to get his truck fixed last week en route to the 18th annual Nugget Rib Cook-off. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years, but once we did good in Nevada last year, things have just sort of taken off for us,” Lupinetti said.

In the past year, he’s been featured on the Food Network, cooking against chef Bobby Flay.

He’s done cookouts with the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA and the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL. Hits on his Web site, smackyourlipsbbq.com, have grown exponentially.

So has the target on his back. Twenty-three other rib-cooking enterprises will try to knock him off the top of the culinary mountain this year – and grab a portion of the $16,500 in prize money.

The challengers include 2004 winner Tommy Houston and his Checkered Pig BBQ from Martinsville, Va.; and three-time champion Jim Clayton of Texas Outlaw BBQ of Elizabethtown, Ky.

“Those dots are hot,” Lupinetti told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I can feel them burning on my back.”

Another contender for the crown is Tom Ferguson of Chicago BBQ Company, runner-up to Lupinetti last year.

“I’m going after Butch this year,” Ferguson said with a smile. “I’m going to do exactly the same thing I did last year except kiss the meat a little more. I’ve been cooking it the same way for 30 years.”

He said the Nugget Rib Cook-off is the pinnacle for competitive rib cookers.

“This is the best one in the country,” he said. “You have 25 of the best barbecue cooks there are. We are all proud if we come in fifth.”

Local favorite B.J.’s Barbecue of Sparks, a past winner of the contest, will be vying for another title.

“People start asking us at the start of the summer if we’re getting ready for the rib cook-off,” said Roberta Rathman, who owns B.J.’s with her husband, Pete. “We’re a little different than some of the other competitors because we’re also trying to attract customers for our restaurant.”

This year’s event has been expanded by a day because of record crowds and overwhelming demand, said Beth Cooney, executive director of marketing for John Ascuaga’s Nugget.

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