35,000 are expected at three-day Ribfest
MERRIMACK - Hungry patrons devoured countless ribs on Saturday, sampling amazing food from some of the best grillers in the Northeast and beyond.
"We put love and soul into every rib we prepare," said Jack McDavid, co-owner of Jack's Down Home BBQ in Pennsylvania.
McDavid's business is one of seven professional rib vendors on hand for this weekend's 12th annual Rock'n Ribfest, continuing today at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Merrimack.
McDavid, whose grandfather taught him how to slow cook the ribs over hickory wood, said he will distribute thousands of racks of ribs throughout the three-day event, along with other grilled specialty items such as brisket, pulled pork and barbecue chicken.
The New Hampshire Union Leader is among the businesses sponsoring Rock'n Ribfest. An estimated 35,000 people are expected to attend the event, which started Friday evening in the rain.
"It was definitely a rainy start, but today they have been coming in droves," said Jill Gage, one of the organizers from the Nashua West Rotary Club, the group that hosts Ribfest each year.
Rock'n Ribfest has become a family tradition for many New Hampshire residents, , Gage said Saturday.
"This is absolutely phenomenal," said Sandy Vincent of Nashua.
Paul Hunt of Stoneham, Mass., agreed. Saturday was Hunt's second visit to Rock'n Ribfest.
"It is now a tradition," said Hunt, who wished the event would be held more often than once a year. In addition to ribs, he planned to try grilled corn and smoked sausage.
Along with rib vendors from New Hampshire were professionals from New Jersey, Canada, Pennsylvania and Vermont. T-Roy's Barbecue of Amherst participated.
"I do this for fun. This is my hobby," said Troy Hamele, referred to as the pit master at T-Roy's. "I have a passion for barbecue."
Hamele started smoking ribs at 2 a.m. Saturday, preparing for a long line of hungry customers once the gates opened.
For the past several years, T-Roy's has won the People's Choice Awards at Ribfest, an honor it again hopes to earn this weekend, said Hamele.
"We use all homemade seasonings and sauces, and we are one of the few to use fresh ribs that are not frozen," he said.
In addition to the ribs and other tasty treats at Ribfest, there are bouncy houses and games for children, live entertainment and other family activities.
"Of course we love the ribs, which is why we come, but we also love the entertainment," said Doug Kabel of Merrimack.
Organizers are expecting today to be the busiest day at Ribfest, in part because it is Father's Day and many families are planning to attend.
The event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at 221 Daniel Webster Highway. Admission is $10 at the gate. Children 8 and younger get in free.
The New Hampshire State Barbecue Championship is running in conjunction with Ribfest. Several dozen competitors will compete for the title of grand champion, which will be chosen Sunday.
The competition is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and the New England Barbecue Society; the winner will be qualified to enter the National Barbecue Championship later this year in Arkansas.
For more on the event, including a complete schedule, go to ribfestnh.com.