Oakland County grillers invited to compete in annual rib competition

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 16, 2017

OAKLAND COUNTY — It may be hard to imagine right now, as we’re hunched over bowls of warm soup in warm socks and sweaters, but it’s true: Summer will be back.

So it’s time now to start thinking about the seventh annual Oakland County Parks and Recreation BBQ Battle rib competition. 

Jeremy Brown, manager of the Oakland County Market in Waterford, said this year’s battle of the bones will be held at the Oak Park Community Center Saturday, July 29. If you think you’ll be free that weekend and you can cook up a mean rack of ribs, give Brown a ring. The call for cooking teams has begun.

“We have 30 teams each year. It’s an amateur event, and the ribs are judged on appearance, taste and tenderness,” he explained. “But those are all weighted differently, so if something looks bad but tastes great, you won’t suffer in scoring.”

Home cooks — pro chefs can stay home — will prepare six individual ribs for a panel of six judges. On competition day, check-in will be 7-9 a.m., and after a brief review of the rules, the grills will be fired up. And so will the competition. 

“There’s a meat inspection, so we can make sure the ribs are not pre-marinated or pre-rubbed, and the cooks can use wood, charcoal or gas,” Brown said. “Contestants can make pork ribs, spare ribs, baby back — it’s really up to the team.”

This year’s battle will be limited to 36 teams, and the cost to enter is $50 per team. The deadline to enter is July 14, but Brown said it’s best to enter early to reserve a spot in the heat, since teams are competing for $1,500 in cash prizes.

He’s also on the hunt for a few good judges — that’s right, you can be at the dinner table for one of Oakland County’s tastiest events of the summer.

“We want someone who knows meat cuts but also knows ribs. We want to select a nice, balanced rib for the winner,” Brown said. “Everyone thinks that falling-off-the-bone is so important, but in competition, that’s really not the focus. Sometimes that can mean the rib is overcooked.”

Oakland County Parks Fiscal Coordinator Jeff Phelps will once again be one of the judges deciding who takes away the prize for best ribs. 

“I think it’s been four years since I went for my Kansas City Barbecue Society certification down in Ohio. I’ve been judging since then,” Phelps said. “It’s a one-day class you go through, and they go through each category — taste, tenderness and appearance — very thoroughly. And there’s a lot of common sense involved in judging ribs.”

While barbecue is probably still bigger in southern areas like Tennessee, the grilling scene in Oakland County is hardly anything to sneeze at, according to Phelps. And the annual competition is a great way for hungry residents to see who’s up and coming in barbecue. 

The judge’s table isn’t a bad spot to be, since Health Department regulations won’t allow spectators to sample the competitors’ goods for themselves. But don’t worry: There will be plenty of food trucks and other approved barbecue vendors on-site to satisfy every tummy.

In addition to the barbecue battle, visitors can enjoy kids activities, nature programs, an art fair, music, a minipub, grilling demonstrations and more.

Providing a day of entertainment for the whole family is the real goal, in Brown’s mind.

“People from every background love barbecue. It’s such a great event for everyone in the community. Everyone’s there together, doing their thing and trying to produce the best ribs.” 

To register your amateur cooking team in the 2017 BBQ Battle rib competition, call Brown at (248) 326-4900. 

The Oak Park Community Center is located at 14300 Oak Park Blvd.