Ottawa’s International Chicken-Rib Cook-Off is one of my favourite events. Each year, competitors set-up their grills and smokers on Sparks Street, and the wonderful smells waft all the way down to the busses on Albert and Slater streets.
This haunting, smoky aroma ruined my diet.
First, I should explain why I was on a diet at all. Two weeks before the wedding, I had a major freak out when I realized that I no longer fit in the dress I planned on wearing to a friend’s wedding. I decided to go on a small diet and start exercising for the remaining days.
I ate more vegetables, drank more water, cut down on salt, ate until I wasn’t hungry (and not until I felt completely full), took the stairs, and walked more. This was a big deal because I loooooooove eating stuff that is bad for me, and I have never even attempted watching what I eat before.
The Tuesday before the wedding, I tried the dress on again, and it fit! I was ecstatic! I knew that I just had to maintain my weight until the wedding. I figured it wouldn’t be difficult. I was so wrong.
Those lovely smells from Ribfest tempted me when I got off the bus in the morning. When I went out for a walk, all I could smell was smoky barbecue. Co-workers walking into the office after being outside brought some of the smell with them. By 11:00, I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to head over to Sparks.
I saw a promising line (a lot of excited people) at Bibb’s BBQ, so I joined the line. I waited about 20 minutes for my first taste of Ribfest.
I decided on a half-rack dinner for $17, which was a half-rack of ribs (duh), coleslaw, and beans.
The beans were creamy and rich. There was a sweet smokiness infused into the beans. Oh man, these beans taste NOTHING like Heinz canned beans, which I actually enjoy. There’s just no comparison there.
I actually hate mayo-based coleslaw, so I didn’t even plan on eating it. I briefly debated asking for a double serving of beans instead, but decided to keep an open mind. I ended up LOVING this coleslaw. Though it contained mayo, it was only there to temper the sweet vinegary tang.
Now onto the ribs themselves. When I first saw them, I knew that they weren’t going to be my favourite ribs. I prefer a saucier, sweeter rib, and these ribs looked pretty dry. They were a tad too salty, but they were still delicious. The dryness of the ribs allowed the flavour of the meat to shine through, which I appreciated. When I ate the crusty, dried bits of ribs, I was in heaven. The flavours were so concentrated in a single bite!
Then I ate all of it together, and it all made sense. The sweet beans, the salty and smoky ribs, and the tangy coleslaw harmonized in my mouth. I was sooooo happy!
And that was precisely the moment when I knew my diet was done.
The next day, I attempted to resist buying ribs again, but a distant memory of the perfect rib and sauce haunted me. Two years ago, I ate the best ribs EVER. They were slathered in a sweet and spicy red sauce. It was an eye-opening experience.
I walked down Sparks, driven by this urge to eat those ribs again. I checked out some of the other vendors, but none of their ribs looked the same as those from two years ago.
I ended up joining the line for Silver Bullet BBQ because their ribs had a red sauce. The line was ridiculously long, much longer than the day before. This must be because I went to Sparks around 12:30, lunch rush hour.
I thought it was neat that they had put a sticker on the takeout box. I don’t think any other places did that. Good marketing idea.
I meant to order the half-rack dinner, but I ended up saying “half-rack combo” instead. It was too late. I had accidentally ordered the chicken and rib combo. This cost $15.
At first bite, I thought I had found the vendor that had that elusive sauce. I even wrote “Spicy! I think I found it!” in my notes. It was sweet and spicy, but it didn’t have the write background flavours to it. I definitely jumped the gun on that one, so I crossed it out.
The ribs themselves were gross. There was way too much connective tissue and cartilage to navigate in order to get to the meat. I was disgusted by how much cartilage I crunched into. There was actually more cartilage than bone! Gross.
The only saving grace was the dried, hardened, crusty bits. They were so dry and packed with flavour, it was like eating jerky!
As for the chicken, I didn’t like it at all. It was too dry, so the meat was mealy and dissolved in my mouth. The skin was delicious, of course, but I ate through the skin too quickly and was left with a bunch of dry meat. I couldn’t finish it.
Thursday’s lunch was definitely disappointing. The dry chicken and cartilage-y ribs DID prevent me from overstuffing my tummy that day, so I guess it was a good thing.
Oh, and you’ll be happy to know that I fit into my dress on Saturday. Woot!
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International Chicken-Rib Cook-Off
Annually held in late June
Sparks Street Pedestrian Mall