BBQ Competition Fires Up Park Gathering

For many years the Russell and Rainone families have eaten together on Ivy Lane sharing family time amongst neighbors. One day, Angelo Rainone and Leigh Russell had a discussion over who could make better BBQ ribs. That led to another great meal in a “rib-off” with four teams according to Keli Russell, Leigh’s daughter. “And then it spread from there.” Angelo Rainone, along with Ben Russell now organizes and run the fourth annual Rib-off which was held last Saturday in Peterson Park. “We had 8 teams the second year, 13 in the third, and 18 teams this year,” said Rainone.

About 400 competitors, supporters, and carnivores gathered in the Park grilling up spices, mixing in all sorts of concoctions including molasses, ketchups, peppers, and other ingredients to tempt the taste buds of judges in the fourth annual BBQ contest. From the first four teams, until this year the competition had 18 different teams from around the Wolcott area. Each team paid a $25 entry fee for each submission of their best BBQ ribs, BBQ chicken, and then if they wanted, an open category which invited selections ranging from steak sandwiches to wings and margherita shots.

Grill teams started the bright cloudless day at around 8 am. The judging began at 3 pm, allowing enough time for the pork to begin falling off the bones.

Natalie Testa and Amber Ely of Watertown manned the “Rub This” tent. She opened a rack of spices, adjusting their positioning in a standard grill. “I know the hot spots, the cool spots and the low spots of this grill. Its like my baby” they said explaining how to get the right texture for the juices to soak into her masterpiece. Winners of the Open Category, Keli Russell and her boyfriend Brian Peck had a little help from Russell’s mother. She lent them pots, pans, and silverware. “But we brought the Green Monster” noted Brian, of their backdrop for the name of their team, Fenway Pork.

Frankie Perrone was the team leader at a unique BBQ’ing booth decked out in leather jackets and chrome. His sons Rusty and son Garren helped him build a unique stove. Indeed, the side gas tanks were those of a motorcycle, which also included an exhaust pipe mounted to the top of the stove. “we only use Harley Davidson parts as part of our own Chopper barbecue,” noted Garran Perrone who’s team called themselves ‘Bad Ass Biker BBQ’. “I tried some of their ribs – a slightly sweet but gritty pepper blend that was not at all spicy. What’s in it, I asked? ______ oil, some ________ oil, _______ oil, and a few secret ingredients, he said. For their open submission, one of the boys roasted a striper he caught off the Rhode Island coast – which was also very flavorful.

Knowing there were eighteen teams and only a few judges given a couple of hours to do the judging, I wondered if I might be able to tell a good sample myself. Team “Ribbed for your Pleasure”, I tasted a sample of what I thought was a tasty concoction of molasses, ketchup and peppers. “Actually, none of those are in the ingredients,” said the chef. Instead, it was a rub covered with a homemade BBQ sauce with some smoke spices. On top of it all was a sprinkling of parsley. Better put than I can give it justice. That team as made up of Tim Alice, Mark Pettinichi of Wolcott and their friend Mike Spino.

There were some experienced judges on hand for the competition, but even they didn’t have an easier job. Dan Chieffo of Waterbury has experience competing in chili cook-offs himself admits how he has his own personal favorites, but its still fun. Another judge said after eating 5-6 samples, the judging becomes more difficult. Though throughout the day a full meal is had. Asked why Joe Orsini became interested in helping to judge the competition, he noted “I love BBQ. I’ve been involved in the steak business before and have been a general manager of “such restaurants. He has a taste for what should be in a rib, and the variety of possibilities.

Food wasn’t the only thing teams were competing for. Presentation also counted, and last year the Ginny Pigs won for best kitchen setup. This year they included an image of the Virgin Mary, and no kitchen would be complete without Jesus Christ to watch the careful ingredients being prepared. Homeliness was important to the team too, as cheese graters, rolling pins and dish towels hung from the ceiling of their tent. Every step of the way teams were careful to prepare dishes to the timing of the judges, and perfection in freshness. Cathy Pernerewski and Steve Penerewski had one exchange in preparing steak sandwiches “too fat, too fat, Steve” as Steve sliced the steak in slices to be topped with cheese and light lettuce with less than 2 minutes before the judges wanted their submission. “Anyone want some tenderloin?” Steve asked those gathered around for a demonstration that could have been on the Food network.

While the prizes at the end of the day were one enticement to enter the competition, most amateur chefs just wanted to enjoy the experience. Josh Dalton of Waterbury had been looking forward to this year’s competition since reading a newspaper article last year about the rib-off. “Just wanting to see what other people think of my food I think is awesome!” he said in front of his Salty Dalty BBQ stand. He called Town Hall who got him in touch with the Russells to set up shop on Saturday. He noted how he had been to competitions in the south that were intensely serious about bar-b-cuing. Indeed, those competitions include big rigs and serious competitors drawing quantities paralleled only by State Fairs. While Wolcott’s competition is only in its 4th year, it already has grown to fill Peterson Park.

Certainly showing up at 8 am to begin a day’s worth of cooking requires a little planning. Jim Tucker, leading his family at J & J BBQ ratted off the stock he carried in: 4 racks of ribs, plus numerous chicken wings and thighs. Tucker has a unique story where he used to play minor league baseball in North Carolina for the Chicago Cubs. “On days off from playing baseball, my host mother would teach me how to BBQ.” he noted of his Carolina style. He handed a passing family a sample with long and thick cooking gloves specially suited for handling the gooey rib sauces. His Carolina ribs held a strong but irresistible bite which I’ve never tasted before. His team of about a dozen family members sat behind him enjoying some of the 4 racks of ribs and dozens of chicken wings he grilled throughout the day.

At 5 pm, all teams and families gathered around a pavilion for the results of the blind taste- test judging. Here are the winners:

1st – Grill Smoker
2nd – Ginny Pigs
3rd – Rib Elo

1st- Rub This (first time in competition)
2nd – Fire it Up
3rd – Fenway Pork

Open competition – any submission:
1st – Fenway Pork (2nd year in a row)
2nd – Ginny Pigs
3rd – Nice Rack BBQ

Joe Delucia was the head of team Gill Smoker. He wouldn’t reveal his secrets except that he uses “smoker’s secret sauce”. Next year he’ll defend his skills, though will admit that the taste that impressed the judges was “all in the vinegar”.

All recipes and secret and not-so-secret ingredients have been withheld to protect the innocent. And the guilty. Some participants’ tongues still ached days later, and others’ stomachs are getting ready for next year.
A Special thank you for the sponsor of this article: Cut Right Landscaping of Terryville. Call them at (860) 589-4376. Thanks for the hat guys! Without it, the top of my head could have been the same color as the ribs!

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3 Comments to “BBQ Competition Fires Up Park Gathering”

  1. Thanks for the great write up, hope to see you next year on September 18th

    Thanks again, Ben

    PS I alway thought the best team was


  2. This is such a cute article!! We had such a great time and we are still talking about the rib-off to everyone.

    Thank you to all of the teams… you were all so much fun and that was the best part. We saw some old friends, made some new ones and made great memories together.

    We will be back next year and we will be cooking our winning chicken thighs again, so watch out!!

    Team Rub This

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