Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Ribstock 2013: A whole lotta BBQ! We aren't in Kansas anymore.

Now from the title of my blog and if you follow me on twitter, the types of pictures I regularly post, I am a big meat eater. 800g steak, no problem. Rack of ribs and a side of brisket, done. Steaks, pork belly, lamb chops - anything with a heartbeat. I am always drawn the the slow cooked meaty ragu, off-cuts or big, bold meaty dishes in any menu. Naturally then BBQ is a deep abiding love of mine. It hits all the notes that satisfy my cravings, eating truly great BBQ with its flame licked crisp edges, succulent meat and lashings of sauce dripping down your chin, it's as close to a sensual experience with your clothes still on. Plus what sad bastards cook only veggies on a BBQ? Veggie-free zone. Heaven.

When Ribstock 2012 popped up I was only just getting involved with the whole London foodie scene and sadly I was out of London so missed it. This year I was determined to make it but when it was announced I was a little shocked by the price and more so by the fact it was double last year. That said, Tweat-up were upfront and honest with their reasons and we as customers have to respect that ultimately, this is a business. No one likes hosting backyard BBQs for friends only for them to show up with no alcohol and leaving you out of pocket and all the washing up.

Ribstock Crews (Pic courtesy of Mulia)

This year the venue was Haggerston's Merchant Yard, already well known to you if you have been to recent StreetFeasts. It a great space that has a lot of atmosphere and character. Tweat-up provided a huge marquee given the weather forecast - thoughtful. The BBQ teams were lined up along the wall at the back each with their own custom piggy signs to help guide our drooling faces. I met a few familiar twitter faces there and spent most of the day with the lovely Mulia who was taking stills for the event. I acted like her hand model as she fought to stop me from scoffing each rib as soon as I was handed it. To see in detail what we ate below see this.

BBQ, Marquee and Happy Faces (Pic courtesy of Mulia)

1. The Ribman as played by Mark Gevaux
We got our voting cards and a pen and away we went. I was dreadfully hungover and as is customary on #SundayisRibday at Brick Lane, I had a craving for his ribs which led me to coin #SundaysRibsCureHangovers. I hadn't tried the new rib tacos he launched at Tacowars and I have to say I was really surprised by them. A soft lightly charred tortilla with Mark's signature super soft and tender rib meat. The difference was that he has added some contrastingly sharp julienne apple on top which helped lift the flavours. Then of course the Holy Fuck hit me and I knew my day had well and truly begun. A great effort from Mark. I'd love for him to do these regularly on his stalls - three of these for lunch and a cider? You'd be laughing. They didn't hit all the notes I was looking for though as there was no lovely crust and no bone to gnarl (although some were provided to suck on ha!)

The Ribman's Holy Fuck Rib Taco

Next up was Red Dog Saloon. I've heard hugely contradictory things about their BBQ and so was interested to see what they had got for me. The rib was more authentic looking and was dry-rubbed and then smoked over hickory. The dry rub was warming and had a good spice to it and the sauce was an more than passable version of Kansas BBQ sauce. Overall the ribs were tasty but they just didn't blow me away. It was like listening to an opera with ear muffs on. Good, just not great and there was definitely no fat lady singing.

Red Dog Saloon
I confess I saw a picture they had tweeted earlier that day and was already excited to try this. I've been to BWB before and their wings and burger were great. They clearly know what they are doing and weren't just here to make up numbers. We found them over in the corner looking like the busiest and hottest crew there. They were flinging chunks of 24 hour smoked beef ribs into the grill, the flames roaring and licking the edges of the meat as chef carefully dabbed each one with its necessary bath of Q sauce. They came with a simple side of pickled veg. Guys, they were fantastic. Big and beefy with a great smokiness. The sauce was thick and sugary and acidic and tangy. Beautiful BBQ'ing and exactly what I came here for. They also gave a bourbon Bloody Mary spiced up with homemade chili and beef stock. Best Mary I've ever had, I suggest you tweet them for the recipe for your own summer BBQs. These ribs are on the menu at Wargrave Arms - go. Go now.


These were a big disappointment. The first of the two ribs was pretty tasty. Succulent meat, smothered in plenty of tasty zingy-tangy sauce (actually the first rib to have what I would call 'enough' sauce). The second however was incredibly tough and chewy. Tasted like it had been boiled to death. Others I spoke to had a different experience but I can only comment on mine. They did seem to know their way around a Q so I'd definitely go and pop my head through their doors in St James'. They also win the award for the best marketers with free boar masks that everyone seemed to be wearing and a free dry rub.

Blue Boar Smokehouse

I love Carl's food, especially what he creates with big hunks of meat. He sometimes  goes a little OTT with extra flavours on the plate which can lead to a little over complication in the mouth, but for those of you that have had his Quack Fiend - you know he can create some very special things. The rib was huge and visually one of the most inviting. The crust was aerated pig crackling, sesame and seaweed and chili praline. The ribs were incredibly tender, melt in your mouth stuff. The sauce spicy with an Asian twang. This was the most addictive and the only one I really wanted seconds of even after I finished all 10. The toppings - which I would usually say is redundant if you've got a great BBQ rib and sauce - was actually the key. Umami at every turn and the praline was a killer blow. Stunning food and an example of the food Rotary Bar is serving. Again - go visit them in Old Street!

Carl Clarke
Close up - stop drooling..
Starting to get a little full by this point so in case I was done for I thought I'd hit up a pre-event favourite before I started swelling up. Neil used to be behind the grills at Pitt Cue so is automatically a food hero of mine. He also was on the wackier end of the 'Q scale with a confited spare rib bread crumbed and fried in chicken fat. The sauce was a Korean buffalo sauce and I have to say - I was a big fan although it may have been a tad too thin. This was one of the most satisfying ribs I had. The crumb was so crispy and had a great flavour to it. I always thought chicken fried anything was a bit of a novelty but it really did pay off here. The meat was intensely rich and packed a porky punch from the confit'ing It was so soft that the bone fell out without me even touching it. A light dish this was not, it alone could have easily done for sometimes main course. Innovative and great, incredibly big flavours. Was a top contender in my book. He is leaving John Salt soon and rumoured to be popping up somewhere not too far away so keep an eye out. Go and order the biggest hunk of meat they serve and be very, very happy.

Neil Rankin
Still drooling?

I was getting rather full by this point. I had no one to share my ribs, and as a pig naturally does, I was finishing ever plate and sucking the bones dry. I couldn't give up now though and waddled over to Tim who kindly gave me T-Rex's chew toy (bastard!). Unfortunately I'd have to say I wasn't a huge fan of Tim rib. The meat lacked that depth of porkyness that I was looking for and the sauce was overly complicated and, being honest, overly Japanese. It tasted a bit like a watery katsu/Bulldog sauce with a little kick at the end.

Tim Anderson Stole T-rex's Chew Toy
Different angle

8. Prairie Fire BBQ
Walking up to these guys my spirits lifted to hear a proper southern American accent (Yes, I'm aware Tim is also American). These guys KNEW BBQ surely? They could take me back to sweet home Alabama? Sadly not. The rib was cold, and I mean cold cold, not just lukewarm. Others said the same thing and I think that that is pretty unforgivable considering you have a BBQ right behind you. The rib was simply very average and quite tough. It was also incredibly small and so there wasn't much meat to taste. Small portions make Ug unhappy. The cornbread that it came with initially looked inviting but on closer inspection (with my face hole) it proved to be a bit stodgy and claggy. The savior was the 'Q beans which were actually rather delicious. Must try harder I'm afraid.

Prairie Fire BBQ

9. Roti Chai Street Kitchen
Roti just about beat Carl and Neil for most generous portion size. Roti's rib was great in that apart from HolyFuck, it was the only one that was actually properly spicy. This had background warmth that built to a genuine kick by the end. So tender we ripped it with our fingers this was quality offering. The sauce was interesting as a few people described it as slightly Chinese tasty and I would agree. I think it comes from the pineapple they used which echos similar flavours in sweet and sour or a Chairman Mao's ribs. The puffed rice side was great, a nice crisp contrast. They were unlucky to be so late in the proceedings as I was a little full to properly appreciate it, but it was a damn fine rib.

Roti Chai

The final one. #10. Cattlegrid
I was pretty surprised to see these guys come in at 2nd place as I wasn't that impressed. The rib itself was well cooked, tender but not falling apart like some others. They say you should see the rack bend and have slight cracks when you hold them with tongs if smoked correctly, not fall apart. However the issue I had with these was that the sauce was overly syrupy and overly sweet. It tasted like the honey, soy, Worcestershire sauce and ketchup style standard I make at home but with a ton load more honey/sugar. It was likely more complicated  than that but that's what it tasted like. It was overly reduced and more of a glaze more than a sauce and it clung to the corners of my mouth as I ate. For me it was one of my less enjoyable ribs but hey, what do I know?

Cattle Grid Rib (Pic courtesy of Mulia)

Close-up (Pic courtesy of Mulia)

11th, yes, ELEVENTH rib: Redhook
As I said before, I missed Ribstock 2012 so when last year's winners were there I naturally had to try them. The fact I was dry heaving at the thought of more ribs was totally irrelevant. I can't say much as I only had a tiny bite and Mulia had the rest but it was a damn tasty rib. Better than BBQWhskey, Carl and Neil? I don't think they wouldn't have gotten my vote this year. The slaw was incredible though. I am pretty confident in saying I was the only person to have every rib on offer - but that's not something I am particularly proud about. And neither is the fact that I went to The Diner for dinner with friends and shared a hotdog and a stack of pancakes. I'm a 25 stone man trapped in a 12 stone body.
Sexy close up

Overall it was a great event. Really great. Yes it was expensive but to be honest you could split the ribs between two leaving you less full and more room and money for Frontier beers and Rotary cocktails. Plus it's the same price as BurgerBash so stop complaining. Tweat-up really know how to publicise and how to cater a damn fine party. No one ran out of ribs, no one ran out of drinks and there was no #Sauncegate (Ribman deservedly won). Live band, DJ, some great BBQ crews and plenty of seating, what more can you ask for from a great foodie event (turned up to 11)?

Who did I personally vote for? I actually beat myself up between BBQWhiskey and Carl. I ended up plumping for Carl but to be honest it was pretty much a coin flip and I was more than happy to hear the Whiskey boys won. Congrats to them and I hope to visit very, very soon. Although, maybe no ribs.


Close-up (Pic courtesy of Mulia)


  1. This pretty much matches my experience exactly.
    Prairie Fire BBQ was indeed cold and cattle grid tasted like something I'd be fairly happy with if I'd cooked at home but nothing more.. coleslaw was rubbish too, completely baffled by 2nd place.

    Unfortunately it looks like I got a bad rib from BBQWhiskeyBeer. After hearing load of chat about how good it was, mine was super small (compared to the others I'd seen go out) and incredibly tough. Shame as the taste was there, but this was verging on inedible.

    Carl Clarke the definite winner for me, with Roti and Neil Rankin probably the next best.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I've had a peek at some other blogs and it seems some of the quality depends when you went. Pics from people who had Cattle Grid early on look better than mine. Equally I had a BBQ whiskey early on and near the end I saw they only had some rather small chunks left.

      Bummer though as they were great. Maybe head down to see them in Marylebone as they have them on their menu.