The morning drizzle gave way to sunshine and barbecue-sauce-covered smiles at Rocco’s on the River’s inaugural Rib Cook-off on Saturday, where hundreds lunched on pork ribs and chili prepared by some seriously talented barbecue aficionados.
“We’re excited. It was a great success for our first year, especially considering what mother nature had for in store for us over the prior 24 hours,” said organizer and Rocco’s co-owner Carolee Ornbaun.
With teams from as far away as Forest Ranch and Roseville, it was a local team that shone the brightest at this weekend’s event.
Team 2NQUE – headed by Jim Saso and Ivan Maldonado – took home the biggest trophy and a hefty $1,000 prize for their first-place finish.
“I thought it was $1,000 total purse – I didn’t realize it was $1,000 for first prize,” said Saso, who added that a big purse is a big draw for serious barbecue enthusiasts, which will mean more competition in the coming years.
It may have been a new venue and event, but it was the same result for 2NQUE – a team that was a regular fixture at the Western Days Rib Cook-off and a three-time winner for pork ribs there, including last year. For his part, Saso was thankful Ornbaun and Don Litchfield took up the torch and continued the rib cook-off with Western Days now defunct.
“I want to just thank Don and Carolee for keeping it going. They worked hard behind the scenes to keep this going, and they have a passion for keeping things like this in the community,” Saso said.
So, what was the secret for 2NQUE’s winning ribs this year? More than anything, it was consistency.
“We’ve just had really good success with the ribs we always cook. I thought it was good quality meat that they gave us, and we just delivered. Going in, we have a plan, we know what we’re going to do, stick to strict time lines and we were really able to execute,” Saso said.
Saltworks – a one-man show run by Jeff Clark of Roseville – took second place, and a $500 prize. 2NQUE and Saltworks will face off again at a cook-off in Elk Grove in the coming weeks, Saso said.
Team Lock’d N Smoked BBQ, led by Carson Lock, of Yuba City, earned the nod for People’s Choice for their ribs, earning themselves a trophy and a $500 prize, as well.
Ornbaun said that she was happy to see people from both within and outside the county competing on Saturday.
“It’s neat that we’re drawing people from out of the area,” Ornbaun said.
Organizer and Rocco’s co-owner Don Litchfield said the ribs turned out great, and offered a variety of styles for lunch-goers and judges to sample.
“One of the judges sent me a text and said that he didn’t realize that there were so many ways to cook ribs. All of the ribs were a different style, except for two that were pretty similar – and they took first and second place. And the ribs (that the top two teams cooked) were pretty much perfect.”
Teams also competed for best chili, which was decided by the people’s choice. The Colusa County Rural Firefighters got the nod by popular vote, earning their team a $500 prize and a trophy. ■