Smoke on the Water: Celebrity judges tasked with choosing best ribsWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Some volunteer opportunities simply rub people the right way.
Consider the rib-judging gig at Smoke on the Water — Ribs for the Red Cross to be near the top of this list.
There, 13 celebrity judges will have the responsibility of determining which combination of meat rub and sauce is the tastiest.
“We have a lot of fun and we get really full,” said Brittany Barhite, who serves on the Smoke on the Water — Ribs for the Red Cross committee. “You can’t complain about free ribs.”
Barhite oversees the Glass Pig award, which is the Judges’ Choice honor to be awarded to one of the 11 rib vendors at this year’s contest. There is also the People’s Choice award, voted on by the public during the weekend event.
Oftentimes, the people and the judges speak the same language when it comes to rubs and sauces. Last year, both awards were won by AJ’s Doolittles of Lambertville.
Vying for the Glass Pig and People’s Choice awards with AJ’s Doolittle’s at the 2011 event will be Baldy-Q Rib Shack (Swanton); Big Moe’s (Kalamazoo); Deet’s BBQ (Maumee); Famous Dave’s (Toledo); Po Mo’s Ribs (Toledo); Johnson’s BBQ (Chesapeake, Va.); Sgt. Oink’s (Tiffin); Sidelines Sports Eatery (Toledo and Lambertville); Texas Roadhouse (Toledo); and Twist & Shout 4 BBQ (Carey).
Winners will be announced on- stage at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 7 prior to the John Michael Montgomery concert.
Each of the celebrity judges —members of the media, city government and community organizations — will judge the ribs based on appearance, taste, tenderness, sauce and overall impression.
“We get these huge turkey-roasting tins full of ribs and pass the tins around, one rib vendor at a time,” Barhite said, explaining the judges are free to sample as much as they want. “Typically they only take one slab because they know they have at least 12 more slabs to go. That’s about all they can handle.”
This year’s celebrity judges are Toledo Humane Society Executive Director John Dinon; FOX Toledo News anchor Shaun Hegarty; 13abc reporter Tony Geftos; Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller; Glass City Jungle blogger Lisa Renee Ward; 94.5 WXKR’s The Morning Show host Mark Benson; Toledo City Councilman Rob Ludeman; Columbia Gas of Ohio Communications and Community Relations Manager Chris Kozak; Toledo Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Chris Hanley; Girl in the Glass City blogger Christine Senack; WTOL morning anchor Jonathan Walsh; K100 DJ Ryan Nutter; and Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo Monsignor Michael Billian. Local resident Kevin Kwiatkowski will also be a judge.
Kozak, who is serving as a rib judge for the fourth year, said he relishes the role.
“It’s a really amazing thing,” Kozak said. “You have a dozen racks sitting there, waiting to try. You don’t know which one is from where, each is different and distinct from the next —and they are all outstanding. But you can always tell the winner. It seems to just stand out from the rest and as soon as you try it, you go ‘That’s the one.’”
Kozak said the judges are aware of the seriousness of their role.
“For the vendors, this is not only their livelihood and career, but barbecue is personal,” Kozak said. “You can have wet or dry, Carolina, Memphis or Kansas City style, different cuts of ribs — there’s lots of thought, time and effort put into that rack of ribs. So you want to be sure you give each rib equal attention.”
Rachel Hepner Zawodny, a former rib judge who now serves as event chairwoman for Smoke on the Water – Ribs for the Red Cross, admits the tasting can get heated, especially for vendors vying for the hardware.
“The rib vendors set up their booths and they’ll have all their awards there with them, surrounding their booths,” Zawodny said. “That’s really what draws in people — the more awards, the more people you might get at the booth. It’s definitely competitive for them. They want to be the best, they want to be well-known and they want the recognition to draw people to their restaurant.”
In fact, the practice of judging the ribs behind the stage ended when some of the vendors began to question the fairness of the arrangement.
“They said, ‘How do we know?’ so we said, ‘We’ll show you,’” Barhite said.
The judging is now conducted under the watchful eye of the public — and vendors.
“The vendors like to display all these huge trophies they get,” Barhite said. “They promote it in their restaurant that they were the People’s Choice award winner. It really is a big deal for them.”
Barhite said Smoke on the Water — Ribs for the Red Cross is great for Toledo for several reasons.
“Not only is it a great fundraising event for the Red Cross, but it also brings camaraderie and excitement to Downtown Toledo,” she said. “We get boaters coming in on the water; you have all the people coming Downtown for three days. It’s just really nice to have an event in Downtown Toledo and see the park filled, people listening to music and enjoying the ribs. It’s just real nice to be a part of that.”
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