Highlights from Ribfest Chicago — Eating America

On Eating America, Anthony Anderson visited Ribfest Chicago.


For the last 16 years, Chicago vendors have come out to this beloved festival to prepare their best ribs for thousands of hungry barbecue lovers. Whether it's sweet, spicy or smoky, this festival has it all. And this year, 16 competitors are going after the title of People's Choice and the Judges' Chef Award.

Pig Out

During the three-day event, chefs cook up about 50,000 pounds of pork. After being seasoned with rubs and sauces, all of those ribs are packed into massive smokers that add a classic flavor to the meat and cook it slowly.

No Sauce, Please

Staying true to his ways, Chef Jared Leonard is serving up ribs cooked with only a rub — no sauce. "Normally, ribs covered in sauce are dry or they've been reheated," he says. The ribs are served to hungry guests after being smoked in the "Rub Tub" with about 400 other slabs.

Fighting for First

For the last two years, Chef Jeff Shapiro's ribs have placed second and third in both categories. This year, he hopes to take a No. 1 slot for the first time with his St. Louis-style creation, which features yellow mustard in the sauce. "It's all about the sauce. We've got the best sauce in the area," he says. 

Familiar Face

Mark Link, a born-and-raised resident of Chicago, is entering the competition for the fourth year in a row. Last year he won the Judges' Chef Award, and this year he is hoping to be the first person to win it two years in a row. "The rumor this year is that they're all coming after me, and I say, 'Bring it on!'" Mark says.

Judges' Criteria

The four judges say they're hoping for ribs that look good, aren't overcooked and pull apart easily. When it comes to taste, they want smoky, tangy and sweet. "All of that stuff adds up to deliciousness," one judge says.

Getting Saucy

While some of the judges want a great dry rub and prefer to put the sauce on themselves, others prefer wet ribs. It's a blind taste test, so they have no idea whether they're tasting a dish from a previous winner or not.

Waiting Patiently

The competitors watch as the judges taste their soulful creations. Each is given an overall score as well as individual scores for flavor, texture and tenderness. All of them are taken into account, and awards are given to first-, second- and third-place winners.

Trophy Time

After a tough competition, Mark pulled through and became the first person to win the Judges' Chef Award two years in a row. He impressed with his Kansas City-Style Wet Ribs, which were slow-cooked with lemon, apple juice, agave nectar and a blend of secret spices.

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