There is a thing called Tweat Up - a twitter feed for London foodies that hosts events in London. One of these, started last year, is Ribstock: a BBQ festival in Hackney where 10 top BBQ chefs compete for a £3,000 prize and the votes of the 800 ticket holders.
Last year tickets sold out within 5 minutes of going on sale. This year, they did not, and my amazing brother and my sister-in-law elect got me a ticket to go with them as a belated birthday gift. It may be one of the best presents I’ve ever had.
But even if I wasn’t getting in free, this would be phenomenal value. The £50 ticket entitles you to a rib from each of the 10 stands, two pints of beer and a generous cocktail. On top of this, 7 of the 10 rib stands gave out a free accompanying shot with their ribs: whiskey, rum, all sorts. If you assume £4 for each pint and £6 for the cocktail, and that the venue and prize fund costs nothing, that’s just £3.50 per rib. And as you’re about to see, the portions were generous. I may not eat again.
One small thing: as we voted for our favourite at the end, I have a feeling ‘Eurovision syndrome’ may set in a bit here - surely the early ones you eat/watch while still ravenous for meat/cheesy dance anthems would fare better? In any case, here’s the guide to each in the order we munched them…
Red Dog Saloon - St. Louis pork ribs with a special dry rub, smoked low & slow over hickory wood and glazed with house made Kansas City BBQ sauce.
This was our starting point. It came with a shot of bourbon, not pictured as mine had been downed rather than sipped while we waited. The oil drum backdrop was our home for the first rib before we learned that if you move to collect your portion you will lose your base, no matter how insalubrious.
Anyway, the rib itself: The meat fell off the bone really nicely, and you could tell that it had indeed been slow-cooked for 8 hours, but my tasting colleagues weren’t as impressed, thinking these ones were a bit fatty. We all agreed the BBQ sauce was perfect though - not too sweet, and very moreish. They don’t sell it in bottles, but apparently they would whip up a batch for us if we dropped by. Nice guys.
Roti Chai Street Kitchen - 'Plantation Pigs’ British belly ribs, tandoor-smoked and slow-cooked, with pineapple & red Naga 'ghost pepper’ chilli marinade.
By this point we had a system in place: two of us heading up to grab the food, and one guarding our precious spot. This is clearly how gang wars break out in the middle class world of gourmet street food.
Anyway, peaking a little early, this one was both my and my sister-in-law-elect’s favourite. Meaty, sticky glaze with the right amount of spice and the weird rice-crispy/bombay mix style side really complimented it well. The shot in picture is a whiskey/cointreau/cinnamon blend which accompanied the smokey flavours perfectly.
Blue Boar Smokehouse - Chunky and juicy baby backs with a fiery Blue Boar dry rub. Slowly smoked then slathered in a zingy barbecue marinade.
I got allocated a particularly massive rib here for being “very tall”: finally, my height pays dividends! And the rib itself did not disappoint, very meaty with an amazing dry rub (which we got a free pot of for filling in a contact form, so PRISM can watch over our future BBQ discussions). We weren’t crazy about the shot here, which was quite icy and with a marshmellow and Turkish Delight style thing included for presentation. The rib though? Top notch, probably my second favourite of the day.
Cattle Grid - Thick cut baby backs slow-cooked and fast-finished with Cattle Grid sauce.
I knew Cattle Grid going into this, so knew what to expect: phenomenally meaty ribs. The problem is that with so much meat the flavour just dosn’t marinate all the way through and while this would be fantastic anywhere else, it became just an also-ran here. The creme fraiche coleslaw was a really nice side though, although the lack of fork something of an oversight.
Unbelievably though, these were the only guys to provide a wet-wipe. A generous one too, lasting a couple of rounds. We briefly considered literally and symbolically cleaning up by purchasing some paper towels at the nearby Tesco and selling each sheet for 10p…
It’s at this point we broke for our free cocktails. I got a photo, but some jerk photobombed me. My sister-in-law-elect, to be precise:
…and from that refreshment straight on to:
Carl Clarke/Rotary - Smoked Oxford Sandy belly ribs, seaweed & sesame crunch, ‘next level slaw’, chilli peanut praline.
My brother’s favourites, these. Good soft meat, extremely moist and the salad krispies once again worked really well with them. It also came with a Pickleback, but to be honest a pretty poor one which left us all feeling a bit rough afterwards.
For the uninitiated, a Pickleback is nothing to do with the band Nickleback, but sounds just as wrong in principal: it’s a shot of whiskey followed immediately by a shot of pickle brine. Unlike the band, it’s like nothing you’ve ever consumed before, and usually pretty life affirming: but not today.
The Rib Man - Freshly made tortillas filled with slow-cooked baby back rib meat, apple, balsa mela & Holy Fuck.
You may be wondering what 'Holy Fuck’ is? It’s an award winning hot sauce (indeed it won the day’s accompanying hot sauce taste off elsewhere), and the milder younger brother of 'Christ on a Bike’. What’s 'Christ on a Bike’? This:
Anyway, it’s a massively overpowering hot sauce which heats up your mouth for a few minutes, killing a few tastebuds its taken hostage in the process. Good if you like that kind of thing, which I do.
This one took a break from the bone gnawing, with the meat pulled from the bone and put into a soft taco in advance. They did toss us a couple of bones, dipped in the sauce, but it wasn’t the main event. Unfortunately the Holy Fuck sauce overpowered the flavour of the rib meat, and the taco was a bit on the heavy side. Meat taken out seperately was good though!
Nanban/Tim Anderson - Spare ribs rubbed with brown sugar, sansho, & shichimi mopped with soy sauce, rice vinegar, pickled ginger, awamori, & katsu sauce.
After the wide collection of bribes sides on the other plates, this one was pretty minimalist. Well, the plate was, as you can see from the list of ingredients they promised, the marinade was anything but:
The flavour was delicate, though the rice vinegar and soy was a bit too strong. The meat was incredibly soft though, and fell off the bone like Luis Suarez falling over in the penalty area: with next to no contact.
Prairie Fire BBQ - Apple & hickory wood smoked pork belly rib, fire kissed in a Kansas City sweet 'n’ smoky sauce.
By far the best sides of the day, as you can see in the picture not only did they give me TWO ribs, but they also threw in a jelly shot, a bit of cornbread and some BBQ beans with yet more meat tucked away inside.
Unfortunately, while the sides were fantastic, the actual ribs were a bit dull. They were pretty dry, and ours were also quite cold by the time we got them back. We were also probably, at this point 8 ribs down, beginning to come down with gout.
Still, no time for whining! Two more ribs to go…
Neil Rankin - Texas/Korean mash-up BBQ. Chicken fried pork spare ribs with Korean buffalo sauce and ginger & lime mayo.
Too salty! Waaaay too salty for us. None of us managed to finish this one, and we weren’t the only ones either, as some guys near us had offered us the rest of theirs earlier on. The deep frying was too much, leaving a taste that just wasn’t as fresh as the other. Maybe if we’d had this one earlier on in the day, but as the penultimate rib it was just too much. Free rum and coke though, which all of us managed to put away.
BBQWhiskyBeer – Mesquite-smoked black Angus beef rib with Texas rub & BBQWhiskyBeer sauce. Low & slow.
This one won the popular vote, and is for 2013 officially the best rib in London: a beef rib, controversially. Even the bourbon Bloody Mary served alongside it tasted quite meaty. We loved the burned on glaze on the outside, but found them a bit fatty, and again a bit too salty. Perhaps if it was the first one we’d tried, we’d have been more enthusiastic.
And there we go: 10 ribs, over the space of four hours. I’m writing this a good six hours later, and I’m still feeling full. I will be back next year, and you should go too.