September 2, 2008
As Smoke Clears, My Notes Become Readable

IMGP3792_edited.JPGRandom notes from this weekend's 20th annual Best in the West Rib Cook-Off at John Ascuaga's Nugget Casino Hotel in Sparks, Nev.:

- Before the cook-off, judges aren't to eat any ribs, despite all the inviting aromas in the smoke churning over the cooking stalls of the competing 24 teams occupying Victorian Square behind the hotel. Thus, our best friend - as well as the best friend of any vegetarians in the crowd - is Josh Polon, a Reno caterer, shown here beside one of his cookers. Instead of ribs, the constantly turning trays of his oven are loaded solely with ears of corn. This was Polon's sixth year to corner the corn concession at the cook-off. Before it was over, he expected to sell 44,000 ears of corn at $3 a pop. To prepare the corn, he and his crew pull the fresh ears from their crates, line them up in their husks on the racks of the roaster and cook them for 20 minutes at 500 degrees. All the corn is a sweet white strain from Biglieri Farms of Clements in the San Joaquin Valley. After the ears are roasted, they're shucked, desilked, dipped in a canister of melted margarine, and wrapped in foil to be sold. Customers have the option of dousing them will all sorts of condiments, from Tabasco sauce to lemon-seasoned pepper, but one of the more popular choices, curiously, is mayonnaise. But not for this judge.

- Supermarket shelves don't lack for jars of barbecue sauce, but when one of the country's more enduring brands, Woody's, disappeared about three years ago, Richard Janos of Roseville was especially upset. An uncle had introducted him to Woody's Cook-in Sauce in the 1980s, and since then it's been an essential component of the rib-eye steaks Janos likes to prepare. When he went online to see if he could find any remaining jars, he discovered some selling for up to $25 each on eBay. At that price, he figured a lot more people must be as keen on the sauce as he was. "I believed in the sauce, I saw its following on the blogosphere, and I saw what it was selling for on eBay," says Janos in explaining why he subsequently intensified his search for the product. His hunt led him to Reily Foods Co. in New Orleans, which had run into distribution problems with the sauce in part because of the turmoil following Hurricane Katrina. One thing led to another, and a year ago, Janos acquired the rights to the Woody's sauces, which also include a Sweet 'n Sour version. Woody Morse came up with the original Cook-in Sauce around 1946, says Janos, who now lives in Reno, where he's relocated Woody's, though he continues to work as a test manager for Hewlett-Packard in Roseville. He was one of several vendors at the Cook-Off enticing the crowd with samples of the sauces. In addition to the two original Woody's sauces, Janos plans to expand the product line, starting with a sauce fiery with either habanero or chipotle chile peppers, which he hopes to introduce next spring. As to the two traditional sauces, he says he's using the original recipes. "I haven't changed a darn thing," says Janos. The sauces now once again are widely available in the Sacramento area, where Janos has family members helping him revive the business. Look for the sauces at Safeway, Raley's, SaveMart, Nugget and Butcher Boy markets, says Janos.

- Dale Heiskell and his brother Lee, who own Texas Brothers' Bar-B-Q in Dalhart, Texas, form one of just five teams to compete in Sparks each of the 20 years the cook-off has been held. They haven't won since 1993, however. Why the long drought? "We compete in jut one cook-off a year, this one. Maybe we don't practice as much as these other guys," says Dale Heiskell. "This is the Masters Golf Tournament of Ribs," adds Heiskell. He also notes that while Texas Brothers hasn't won first place in 15 years, it also has finished second, third, fourth and fifth over the past two decades. "That's a straight flush." Not bad at all in a gambling town.

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