A Finger-Licking Good Time

Reno, Nevada, known to many as the “Biggest Little City in the World” (or a miniature Las Vegas) is not somewhere you’d expect to find the world’s best BBQ. But, over the Labor Day weekend the “Biggest Little City” becomes home to a belly-rubbing, BBQ bonanza.

My aunt lives near Reno so we visit on a regular basis and we like to plan our trips to coincide with “The Best in the West Rib Cook-Off” (held on Victorian Square in nearby Sparks, Nevada). This year the festival runs from August 30th-September 4th and my lips are smacking already. And, I’m not alone. More than 300,000 visitors devour close to 150,000 pounds of St. Louis-style pork ribs during the multi-day rib-fest.

The festival brings together more than 25 rib cookers from around the nation for a fierce, but friendly rib cooking competition to determine who makes the best BBQ in the country. The first year I attended (the festival is in its 18th year) the only entrants that I recognized were Famous Dave’s and Chicago BBQ Company. Now, I love eating at the Famous Dave’s near my home in Wisconsin, but sampling the other competitors “bones” (that’s what they are referred to at the fest) made me wonder how I could smuggle a few racks home on the plane.

The ribs are unbelievable. Or should I say the sauces are unbelievable. The southern-style ribs feature a tangy sauce (the kind that oozes down your fingers). While the northern-style ribs are coated with a sweet sauce (the kind that you slurp off your fingers after your done sucking the meat off the bone). And the smell… ribs being smoked over hickory, mesquite and cherry wood… it beckons you from your car.

The stars of the Cook-Off are the ribs, but that’s not the only thing that the festival has to offer. Once you have your ribs in hand you can walk over to one of five stages where live music is performed on a daily basis. Or you can peruse the arts-and-crafts area where more than 125 booths are set up displaying everything from crocheted oven mitts to ceramic turtles. Your kids will love the children’s carnival area. It features a 4-Way Trampoline, a paddle boat lagoon, obstacle course, one of those inflatable bounce houses and a 30-foot colossal slide.

Lines are longest at night so if you want to beat the crowds go earlier in the day (when the lines at the past champions booths are shorter). If you stay into the night then use that time to sample ribs from the newer stands. If you like BBQ and have never been to the Reno area then you may want to consider adding this festival to your summer to-do list.

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.