Saturday, April 16, 2011

Suncoast BBQ Bash In Venice, Florida

I went to the Suncoast BBQ Bash at the Venice Airport Festival Grounds today. (Mom and Paul stayed home, as they were busy packing; it was just me and all the BBQ and chili I could eat.)

Entry was free. Then you went and traded in your dollars for "BBQ Bucks", which the exhibitors and competitors used as currency. Also you could buy a chili ticket that gave you 8 cups of chili for $5. (All proceeds went to the Suncoast Foundation, which helps handicapped children.) So I arrived, got 20 BBQ Bucks, and one Chili ticket, and started my way round the place.

My first stop was the chili competitors, of which there were about a dozen. They were off in one corner of the grounds.

To be honest, I didn't find any of the selections incredibly good. A couple were surprisingly quite bad. I was most surprised that one of the chilis tasted exactly like the chili that I cook, and I throw that stuff together in 20 minutes with Hunt's BBQ sauce, tomato paste, and cayenne.

In the end, after 8 bowls of chili, I gave my fully-punched ticket (the way that you vote for your preferred competitor) to the representative from The British Open Pub on Route 41. He had cooked a chili using all imported ingredients, and its base was bacon soaked in maple syrup. It wasn't a fantastic chili, but it was quite intriguing.

In addition, only one or two of the chilis was spicy in any way (which I prefer), only one or two of the chilis had beans (which I prefer). Heheh: I would even consider entering my own chili in the competition next year, but as you can see by the photos, unless you don't come with an entire stand, and a truckload of themed tchotchkes, you wouldn't fit in.

Lots of local businesses also had displays up. Apparently (and here is where I could get into the competition if I wanted) they pitch their business, plus enter their own BBQ and chili. I think the folks with the boats though: They just showed up and parked their stuff for people to look at.

After the chili, I stopped by the soda place. I saw the girl in front of me ordering and getting a 16-ounce soda for $2. I figured I could take two of those large sodas. I asked for two large Sprites. The lady comes back with two 32-ounce sodas and says, "That'll be eight BBQ Bucks." Doh. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd made a mistake, so almost half my BBQ bucks were gone in an instant.

That was almost okay though: I finished half of the first soda and threw the rest of it away so I would have a free hand. The other soda kept me hydrated and the rest went home with me. Then it was on to the main concourse where the BBQ competitors were. I'm a rib man myself so I stuck strictly with ribs and skipped the chicken and pulled pork. (You can only eat so much, you know.)

All of the competitors here were really serious about their BBQ, with their pavilions and trophies and motor homes and giant smokers. You could buy a single rib for 2 BBQ bucks, and each rib was pretty meaty. After 4 ribs, I really was full.

You know what? I am genuinely surprised to say this after having been to this place with all of the ribs (and several others before): Bob's BBQ in Pattaya Beach, Thailand still has the best ribs I have eaten. The size of Bob's ribs and amount of meat per rib may not be as good as these ribs today, but that's a matter of supply that Bob can't control. (But, in fairness, Bob was a champion on the Texas BBQ circuit — the world capital of BBQ — while the people at this competition were all mostly local Florida folks.)

Two of the rib samples I tried were tough and rubbery. One of the ribs I tried was greasy and gooey. The fourth that I sampled was the best, but was still not as tender and fall-of-the-bone simple to eat as Bob's. I was really surprised. The best ribs I have had since coming back to America are at Ivy's Steak House in Venice, but they were $18 per half rack, and essentially matched Bob's ribs in texture and taste. Rib City in Venice was second best... and better than Ivy's when you factor in the price of $9 for a half rack.

But it was still enjoyable to walk around the grounds and see all the people and smell the smells, listen to the live band, and look at all the equipment. (Check out the photo to the left: A crazy BBQ kitchen on a trailer.) I'll go back again next year, but I'll skip the chili, go straight for the ribs, and obviously only buy one soda at a time.

Oh: I still had 4 BBQ bucks when I left. They can't be traded back, so I gave them to the security people and parking guides working in the hot Florida afternoon sun. Good job to them and all the other people at the Suncoast Foundation who put on a very nicely organized and laid out event.

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