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RibFest brings back thrills on grills

The 3rd annual RibFest drops by the St. Albert Centre parking lot June 10 to 12

Whether meat is smoke-roasted, spice-rubbed, or marinade-soaked, it packs a wallop on the grill. And there’s nothing more flavourful than a good old-fashioned RibFest to bring out a cornucopia of flavours. 

We’re not talking about Uncle Frank’s Saturday night backyard barbecue. We are talking about master ribbers who spend years of their lives developing secret sauces to seduce the taste buds. 

For anyone who has ever left a barbecue craving more, despite a full meal, the third annual St. Albert RibFest, better described as a celebration of sizzle and smoke, returns June 10 to 12 at St. Albert Centre. 

Hosted by the St. Albert Rotary Club, three rib teams travel throughout Alberta on a 14-stop circuit. The award-winning crews are Billy Bones BBQ, Pistol Pete’s BBQ, and Blaze & Barbecue. In addition, Papa Jacks also returns with its deep-fried bloomin’ onions. 

“These are some of the best pit masters barbecuing in North America. These guys know how to cook, and they know all the secrets. Everyone has different sauces, rubs, and cooking techniques. But they are all the best,” said Andrew Reinhardt, spokesperson for Billy Bones grill master crew. 

Anyone who has attended previous years will recall doing a double take. Not because of the savoury ribs, chicken, beef, and pork browning on the grill. Or because you can smell the tantalizing aromas even before you see the three-metre grills. 

No. It’s seeing more than 2,000 polite drivers in vehicles lining up bumper-to-bumper to order yummy eats while watching master ribbers grill in what looks like a choreographed dance. 

“We’re hoping to hit 4,000 orders this year,” said Reinhardt who has arranged for a 16-metres reefer (refrigerated, temperature-sensitive container) filled with meat.  

“We’ll be selling brisket, beef, pork, and chicken. We’ll have corn bread, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and beans. We're hoping to cook the whole reefer,” Reinhardt said. 

The pit masters use open wood grills, and cherry is one of the more popular woods used to give the southern-styled meats an extra sweet smoky dimension. 

“We go through a bush cord a week per team. That's about 400 logs of firewood pieces a team. And the teams go through 400 gallons of barbecue sauce.” 

The ribbers also like to make recommendations, and they use Peace & Love, a boutique Edmonton-based barbecue sauce maker. 

“We love to promote their hot sauces. They have a great taste. It’s all homemade. They have a variety of sauces from sweet to hot. And every sauce is different. And they have unique flavours like raspberry.” 

RibFest is the St. Albert Rotary Club’s signature summer event and last year it attracted just shy of 3,000 orders, said club organizer Adrian Michelutti. RibFest will be set up in the St. Albert Centre parking lot on the corner of St. Albert Trail and Bellerose Drive. 

Vehicles turn into the parking lot through Bellerose Drive. Volunteers pass out paper menus and take orders. Once an order is selected, vehicles will be funnelled into a lineup to their respective team. Wait times range from five minutes to 20 minutes depending on the time of day. 

In the last few years, Rotary has relied heavily on large events such as RibFest to fund its programs. The organizations Rotary supports range from the St. Albert Food Bank and St. Albert & Sturgeon Hospice Association to Friends of St. Albert Housing Society and a hot meal program for both the public and Catholic school systems. 

In 2021, after the final RibFest loonies were counted, Rotary raised $29,000, said Michelutti. This year the club hopes to increase the intake. 

The club is also selling tickets for a Traeger smoker valued at $1,500. And for a $10 ticket, there is also the opportunity to win three meat packages valued between $250 and $1,000, Michelutti said.

He added: “Last year my family and I tried them all. It was a fantastic experience. Anyone who has been there has seen the ribbers put on a good show. They’re very energetic and it’s a fun atmosphere. Each team does things differently, but the food is all mouth-watering. If you like any type of barbecue, you can’t go wrong with this.”