BY WILLIAM ROLLER
Mark Garewal, pit master for A.M. Desert Storm Concrete at the 27th annual Rib Cook Off at Samaha Park, Saturday.The tangy treat of barbecue pork ribs drew several thousand hungry BBQ enthusiasts to Samaha Park on Jan. 27 where the tantalizing aromas could be smelled blocks away from the 27th annual Holtville Athletic Club Rib Cook-Off.
Lines snaked in front of the most popular booths as word of mouth stoked a rush for ribs more intense than the backyard griller’s favorite smoker chips.
Renita Schaffner, whose husband Rudy is one of the event’s original organizers, noted it was one of the smoothest running and well-attended events with perfect weather.
“I love the camaraderie, and everybody looks forward to it,” Schaffner said of being involved with the cook-off for nearly three decades. “It’s for a good cause: the service clubs, such as 4H, FFA and Imperial County Sheriff’s Explorers. And the kids help out, but without their input it would very difficult to succeed. The kids benefit, and they love to participate.”
Three of those eager youngsters were Drew and Landon Kellum, as well as Duke Strahm, who helped with delivery of ribs and cauliflower for the Redneck Ribs crew, explained Mitchell Kellum, a griller for the team.
“Our advantage was we get our ribs marinated early and have two big hot boxes so once we get started we have more ribs ready to go than anybody else,” said Kellum. “It’s all a secret family recipe of Bobby Turner’s family. We got three or four generations here. One thing about Redneck Ribs, we were here when it started, and we’ll be here until it closes down.”
Rebecca Greer patiently queued to get her barbecue from Redneck Ribs.
“I got these last time I was here so it was worth waiting in line,” she said. “Next stop is the city of Holtville booth.”
Ben Nisperos arrived from Brawley for his third Rib Cook-Off and waited with friends to sample the Super Bowl ribs.
“These are my favorite,” he said. “But I also like Redneck Ribs.”
At A M Desert Storm Concrete pit master Mark Garewal was carefully turning ribs on the grill. He remarked he had an advantage over the other cooks.
“I don’t drink as much as the rest do … a little less seasoning,” he boasted. “Back in Illinois my mother cooked ribs, since I was a little kid. But ribs are definitely better out here, because we’re cooking them now.”
At Los Compadres’ booth Hector Perez expected to serve nearly a couple thousand before the end of the day. The team used a custom-made covered indirect smoker to cook ribs for the particular flavor for which they strive.
“Just look at our lines,” said Perez. “It wraps around the whole park. The people know where to go.”
The friendly competition was fierce but when the smoke settled one rose to the top and for 2018 it was Merry Sunshine Ribs taking home the championship $1,000 prize.
A M Desert Storm Concrete captured second and Big Al’s Paradise Café claimed third. Best booth went to Imperial County Planning and Building Department. Best side dish was earned by Lucky Supermarket for their fish tacos.
Meanwhile, Los Compadres won best hospitality, with Imperial County Sheriff’s Office winning best performance and Maxine Bonneau taking top honors for the best pie.
The Pinnacle Award for most ticket sales went to Merry Sunshine, Bobby Ortiz won Hall of Flame award and a special recognition went out to David Tirado for his special chicken dish.