There's no need to go on a coast-to-coast road trip to taste top-notch barbecue from each region of our nation.
The 27th annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off brings it all together in one spot for a six-day cookers' competition and finger-licking sampling extravaganza.
The event takes place through Labor Day Weekend at Victorian Square in Sparks, which is located right next to Reno.
"The Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off is everyone's favorite end-of-summer affair, and this event is the largest of its kind in the country," said Lisa Jansen, director of special events and entertainment at Nugget Casino Resort. "People flock to Sparks, Nevada, over the extended Labor Day Weekend to sample some of the world's best barbecue, served up by the most accomplished barbecue competition teams in existence."
Super Bowl of Ribs
Among the 24 teams serving up their signature slabs at this year's Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off are cookers from states that range from Mississippi, Texas and Virginia to Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota.
Throughout the event, the cookers are expected to prepare more than 240,000 pounds of ribs for more than 500,000 people.
According to Jansen, the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off is considered the "Super Bowl of Ribs" within the world of barbecue competitions, and each barbecue team brings its own sizzling style, from sauces and rubs to smoking techniques and special regional recipes, in hopes of taking home a first-place prize.
"When our judges look for award-winning ribs, they judge on appearance, texture and taste. Award-winning ribs will have very little char or burning and appear moist and succulent," Jansen said. "As far as texture, the meat should be tender, juicy and have a nice sauce coating. When you taste the ribs, they should have a balanced salt intensity and a well-rounded flavor — not overpoweringly spicy or too smoky."
Barbecue stars take the grill
As guests stroll and sample from the cookers' booths at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, they'll not only have a chance to cast their own votes for People's Choice, but also to see the various barbecue stars in action, such as Alyson Lupinetti of Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.
"Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ has one of the youngest pit masters in the country — Alyson Lupinetti is 23 years old and part of a very small group of female pit masters," Jansen said. "She is out to show the old-timers what she learned from her dad, legendary pit master Butch Lupinetti."
New to the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off this year are cookers such as Montana Q from Frenchtown, Montana, and Austin's Texas Lightning BBQ.
"Austin's Texas Lightning BBQ may be another new name at the 2015 Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, but the competition team's Nikki Haggerty has been with the event for years as part of her father's team, Chicago BBQ," Jansen said. "This year, she'll go head-to-head with her dad for top honors and bragging rights at the dinner table for years to come."
Family fun and shopping
In between filling up on plates full of ribs and watching the pit masters work their magic, rib cook-off attendees can take the little ones to a sprawling kids' area, which features an array of carnival rides and games. There also will be a huge Crafter's Crossing shopping section set up along Victorian Square, and free concerts will take place on an outdoor stage during all six days of the event as well.
"We have a great street festival vibe going out on Victorian Avenue during the cook-off," Jansen said. "People enjoy the music, the atmosphere and, of course, the barbecue that they can only get once a year during the extended Labor Day Weekend."
Music and concerts
As for the music at this annual event, it seems to be an attraction of its own, with past headliners such as Joan Osborne, Joe Diffie and Jefferson Starship. This year, the main acts include LOCASH, Dishwalla, Foghat, ALO, Jamestown Revival, Jelly Bread and Mojo Green.
"Great music is essential to creating a street festival atmosphere, and it's a job we don't take lightly," Jansen said. "When we pick the bands, we look for artists who put on fun live shows."
The concert lineup starts Sept. 2 with two popular local bands — Jelly Bread and Mojo Green — performing at 7 p.m. on the event's main stage. The following night will feature Jamestown Revival, an indie rock duo from Austin, Texas, whose latest release, "Utah," was named Best Singer/Songwriter album of 2014 by iTunes.
"Each night is a different genre of music, so really there is something for everyone," Jansen said. "You can come down and enjoy the free nightly concerts as you're chowing down on award-winning barbecue."
On Friday evening, alternative rock band Dishwalla will take the stage at 7 p.m. The group reached mainstream success in the '90s with the hit song "Counting Blue Cars," which won a Billboard Award for Best Rock Song in 1996.
The Saturday evening show at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off will shine the spotlight on up-and-coming country duo LOCASH, whose singles "Here Comes Summer," "Keep in Mind," "You Got Me" and, most recently, "I Love This Life," all have earned spots on the Billboard country charts. LOCASH also has written hits for country superstars, such as "You Gonna Fly" for Keith Urban and "Truck Yeah" for Tim McGraw.
The next night, English rock band Foghat will perform on the main stage at 7 p.m. Formed in London in 1971, the group went on to earn eight gold records, one platinum record and one double-platinum record with famous hits such as "Slow Ride," "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and "Fool for the City."
On Labor Day, which is the final day of the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, California band ALO will play the main stage at 3 p.m. Blending jazz, blues and funk, ALO has opened for Dave Matthews Band and toured extensively with Jack Johnson. In fact, ALO is signed to Johnson's record label, Brushfire Records, and their song "Girl I Wanna Lay You Down" features Johnson on additional guitar and vocals.
Along with these six free concerts on the festival's main stage, there will be another outdoor stage set up where free live music will be playing during each day of the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off. Jansen said the number of bands set to perform at this year's event totals more than 40.
"Barbecue festivals take place all over the country, but the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off is unique because we don't charge people to get in, and we don't charge to see the concerts," Jansen said. "We want people to come join us for the party."