Restaurant News & Reviews

Dry, sticky, sweet and hot: Here comes Ribfest

Dallas Green has a Texas accent, a Texas-size cowboy hat and a rib recipe that’s so good, he travels the country seven months out of the year making it.

The owner of Cowboys Barbeque & Rib Co. is based in Fort Worth and is one of six “rib masters” who will be in Wichita cooking for the masses at this weekend’s first Wichita Ribfest, which will be staged in a parking lot near Intrust Bank Arena.

He’s also one of about 20 rib masters in the country who’s made a career out of traveling from rib event to rib event, cooking, competing and clowning around.

“Everybody has their own sauce, their own rub and their own techniques,” said Green, who boasts a long resume of rib championships. “That’s one of the things about a ribfest that’s so great. You have a product, and there’s a lot of ways to fix it. You’d be surprised. You get the best in the world.”

The Ribfest is an event being put on by the arena that originally was planned for last August, but the arena canceled the event in June, citing “unforeseen conflicts.” The annual BlackTop Nationals event was scheduled in the same area the same weekend. Scorching summer heat didn’t help, either.

The arena revived the idea in February, planning the festival for a May weekend that was likely to offer more reasonable rib-eating weather. The Ribfest runs through Saturday in Lot D, a city-managed parking lot east of the arena at 777 E. Waterman.

It includes live music from national acts such as Gloriana and “American Idol” alum Casey James, plus several local bands, a beer garden, kid activities and lots of food.

The vendors, who hail from places such as Arkansas and Illinois, will each sell full meals from their booths — generally several ribs and a couple of sides. The meals cost less than $10, but prices vary from booth to booth. A panel of local judges will choose winners based on the ribs’ tenderness, texture and taste, and a people’s choice winner will be named, too.

Other fair-type foods, such as funnel cakes, also will be sold, and vendors selling barbecue-related items will be set up throughout the event.

The Ribfest also will include kids’ activities, such as inflatables ($5 for unlimited bouncing,) a character artist and face painters.

Arena officials say they don’t know how many people will attend, but when Tulsa put on a similar event, 20,000 people went. They hope downtown workers will visit for lunch and then bring their families back in the evening and on Saturday.

Green, who also has a Texas-size personality, said that he got started on the rib circuit when he had a restaurant in Richmond, Va., and was encouraged by fans to enter a rib competition. He said he would — and then promised that if he did not win, he’d attach two five-gallon pails of barbecue sauce to his arms and jump off the James River Bridge.

He did win — and kept winning.

He describes his ribs as “twangy — a perfect balance between heat and sweet.”

They’re best eaten with abandon, he said, with no regard for where sauce is sticking.

“You gotta get a little on you if it’s going to be any good.”