Area's grill masters converge for Rib Fest


Ricardo George, owner of George's Florida Style Barbecue on NW 6th Street, has been smoking meat and covering it in his homemade sauce for over 28 years. He began cooking for friends and family and now maintains a restaurant and catering business.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 12:47 a.m.

Facts

Rib Fest

  • What: Several of North Florida's best grill masters will be cooking barbecue. The event, which is open to the public, will benefit the United Gainesville Community Development Corporation, a non-profit group devoted to revitalizing distressed neighborhoods.
  • When: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • Where: Near SFCC's downtown campus, at the corner of NW 6th Street and 5th Avenue.

  • Lunchtime at a barbecue restaurant. It's not backwoods hillbillies in overalls. It's mechanics, nurses, professionals, men, women and families. There isn't one group that's excluded from the love of the grill.
    On Saturday, several of the best grill masters in North Florida will be gathering near Santa Fe Community College's downtown center for the inaugural North Florida BBQ Rib Fest. To benefit the United Gainesville Development Corporation, the grill masters of Gainesville will showcase some of the best barbecue in the area. The event is free and open to the public; you simply pay for what you eat.
    If you're looking to be the grill master of your family, a major element is the sauce. The secrets of sauce are a well-guarded treasure among the best barbecuers, but these experts were willing to provide some helpful tips to assist in kitchen experimentation.
    As the publisher of the country's largest barbecue magazine, Barbecue and Beverage, Jim Shults says there are almost as many tastes for barbecuing sauces as there are barbecue chefs.
    First, the sauce strategy. The type of sauce needed is important - from marinades, mops, sops, finishing sauces, etc. Sauce can either be used as a marinade before cooking, painted on during cooking, or used as a dip while eating.
    As for the ingredients, really anything goes. Most sauces begin with a mustard or vinegar base. Add-ins range from whiskey to molasses to cumin pepper to orange juice.
    The traditional taste for meats varies around the country. Shults says Texans prepare beef with a cayenne pepper punch, whereas the same ribs in Kansas City would be sweet. Shults says the only real tradition is that there is no tradition. You have to make your own.
    National name brands and small-time chefs offer hundreds of different sauces for commercial purchase. Shults says that at sauce competitions, almost no one wins twice because the competition is so varied and tough.
    One important factor is that you have to make sure the sauce complements the meat, not covers the flavor.
    "Most people are cooking too sweet," says Shults. "Most amateur cooks throw on a bunch of sugar-loaded sauce and everyone says 'mmm' and think it's good. Why don't they just go eat the bowl of sauce and forget about the grill?"
    Shults' trick to find the best sauce out there for barbecue is to flip the bottle over and read the nutritional facts. If you see high fructose corn syrup or sugar as the first or second ingredient, try a sauce that's not made by a food giant. Tomato paste, vinegar, or some other actual food should be the base.
    Sugar-based sauces need to be put on in the last few minutes of cooking, or the sugar will start to caramelize into black goop.
    Other types of sauce based on natural ingredients can be put on at the beginning of the smoking process, which allows more time for the meat to absorb the flavor.
    "The idea of the sauces is that, with the sauces from smaller companies rather than commercial brands, the sauce helps the flavor, not covers up the food," he says.
    Shults isn't totally against using any kind of sauce. If you'd rather not start from scratch, he says a good trick is to take a premade sauce and add your own flavor with a shot of liquor or some spices.
    "When I go to make a barbecue sauce, I find something I like and I modify it with a shot of whiskey or a variety of spices, herbs and other sauces such as soy or Lea & Perrins. I'll taste as I go, then I'll be sitting there like a dummy because I forgot what I put in. And it'll be so good. I just get so mad," Shults says.
    Look for more advice and recipes at bbqmag.com.
    Brian Hood of David's Real Pit Barbeque on NW 39th Avenue says his restaurant goes through more than 80 gallons of sauce a week. Though David's uses its own recipe, owners had to employ a bottler to keep up with demand.
    "People ask me if I get too tired to barbecue. Never. Not in a million years," Hood says.
    As for sauce, he agrees that it's mostly a matter of personal choice.
    "This is a big barbecue town. Most people are into trying something different," he says.
    One secret he reveals is that using real fire is one of the best ways to get great flavor. He believes David's is the only restaurant in town that uses all real fire.
    Rocky Voglio, owner of Newberry's Backyard Barbecue, is a stickler for perfection when it comes to the sauce at his restaurant. He says it's important to not overpower the flavor of the meat, to take it easy on the vinegar, and to make sure you're not just throwing things in a bowl haphazardly.
    "The most important thing is to make sure you measure to have the consistency. If you have four ounces of something today, don't use four and a quarter tomorrow," he says. "You must maintain the exact amount of everything each time it's made. That's why the large corporations are so successful and why we're so successful here at Newberry's."
    William "Ricardo" George, owner of George's Florida Style Barbecue, has one last piece of advice: patience.
    "The key is first of all you need wood chips and choice meat. The real secret is just to give it enough time. You can't rush it," says George. "That's usually the problem. A lot of people rush it."
    For his sauce, George uses a red sauce and a hot mustard sauce. He's been cooking since 1974, and says that no matter what else you put in the food, there's one thing every barbecue chef should have.
    "We do our best, and I love what I do. That's the other secret to cooking," he says.
    Lots of tastes
    Among the barbecue specialists who'll be preparing food for Saturday's Rib Fest are:
  • George's Florida Style Barbecue
  • Newberry Backyard Barbeque
  • Big Al's Off the Chain
  • Frogs BBQ
  • The Rotary Foundation Fryers
  • Huckleberry BBQ
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