Ron Belanger has a special personal strategy for Downtown Sudbury Ribfest.
“Wake up early, don't eat breakfast, try and get everybody in the car by 11, sample all the sauces, then decide which ribs we're going to eat,” Belanger said, speaking while waiting in line with wife Christine for some ribs.
Sudburians like Belanger have showed up in droves for the city's sixth annual Ribfest, which runs Aug. 30-Sept. 1 in the downtown core.
The free festival, organized by Downtown Sudbury, features six professional rib teams, other festival foods, a licensed tent, a classic car and motorcycle show, live music, children's activities and a vendors' village.
People are invited to vote for their favourite rib team. The team that gets the most votes will be awarded the People's Choice Award during the last hour of the festival, at 5 p.m. Sept. 1.
Judges will also hand out awards in categories such as best ribs, best sauce, best pulled pork and best chicken.
Downtown Sudbury executive director Maureen Luoma said the festival attracted more than 40,000 people last year.
She said Ribfest, which has become an extremely popular event, has exceeded Downtown Sudbury's expectations.
When asked if the festival attracts customers for downtown businesses, Luoma said even if they don't benefit on festival weekend, it's bringing people downtown so they what's available, and are more likely to return.
She said it would be great if there were more downtown festivals or special events, but said Downtown Sudbury simply doesn't have the capacity to organize anything else right now.
“But we've got a lot of experience, so we'd like to put the call out there,” Luoma said. “If there's other community groups who want to do special events, maybe there's some partnerships we can form.”
Proceeds go to the Sudbury branch of the Canadian Red Cross. Last year the organization received $9,000 as a result of Ribfest, but Luoma didn't want to hazard a guess as to how much the festival will raise this year.
Paul Guenette chatted with Northern Life while chowing down on some ribs with wife Lyne Lamarche and sons Xavier, 5, and Felix,
Beyond the food, which the he said they were enjoying, he said the family liked viewing the car show, and the children were looking forward to trying out the bouncy play structures.
Ribfest is “amazing,” he said. “Just looking at Elgin Street, it doesn't even look the same anymore,” Guenette said.
Ottawa resident Roger Lavictoire said he's made Downtown Sudbury Ribfest a yearly pilgrimage, combining the festival with a visit with his mother. “It's fun,” he said. “It's a nice place to meet people.”
Lavictoire said his Ribfest strategy is seeing which ribber has the biggest line, and then buying food there. “It should be the best one,” he said.
One of the ribbers, Crabby's BBQ Shack owner George Kefalidis, said his staff love coming to Sudbury because the rib festival has such strong community support.
“It's really good,” he said. “I believe you had about 40,000 or 50,000 people here last year. Yesterday I got surprised. We had rain all day, but still the people came out and supported us, and we really appreciate that.”
Kefalidis said his business attends more than 30 rib festivals each summer, and goes through 100 tonnes of meat each summer. When asked what makes good ribs, the London, Ont. business owner said it starts with good-quality meat. Kefalidis said he purchases all of his meat from Canadian farmers.
While many teams use a dry rub and smoke their ribs, Crabby's BBQ Shack has a different process.
“We marinate the ribs in a tomato base and Jack Daniels for 24 hours,” Kefalidis said.
“Then we bake it for five hours, slow, and after that put it on the grill and give it the natural smoked flavour from the fire. It's got to be cherry or apple wood.
“That's the technique that given us over 400 awards in the last 15 years, for every category.”
Ribfest continues until 10 p.m. Aug. 31 and is up and running again Sept. 1 from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
For more information about what Downtown Sudbury Ribfest has to offer, visit www.downtownsudbury.com.