Rock & ribs: Ribfest opens in Naperville at Knoch Park

Charles Robinson Sr. of Robinson's No. 1 Ribs tends a few slabs of his
top seller in the first hour of the Naperville Exchange Club's 2014
Ribfest Thursday afternoon. | Susan Frick Carlman~Sun-Times Media
Charles Robinson Sr. of Robinson's No. 1 Ribs tends a few slabs of his top seller in the first hour of the Naperville Exchange Club's 2014 Ribfest Thursday afternoon. | Susan Frick Carlman~Sun-Times Media
Susan Frick Carlman
scarlman@stmedianetwork.com | @scarlman
July 3 3:30 p.m.

Pull up Ribfest

Ribfest is embracing the digital age, developing an array of ways to stay in touch with rib lovers, music fans and general proponents of summer fun through social media. Use your laptop, tablet, smart phone or other electronic means — maybe download this year’s new app — to tap into more information about Naperville’s biggest July party.

ribfest.net/app

facebook.com/ribfestnaperville #NapervilleRibfest

instagram.com/napervilleribfest

Let the noshing begin.

An army of volunteers came together in Knoch Park Thursday morning to put the final preparations into place for the Naperville Exchange Club’s annual everyone’s-invited celebration of music, ’cue and summer fun. By noon, when the gates opened, the mobilization was under way for the crew’s shared mission: making Ribfest 2014 the best one yet by the time the final chords have faded from the two performance stages and the last bone has been gnawed clean Sunday evening.

Ribfest is open from noon to 10 p.m. through Sunday at Knoch Park in Naperville.

The ribbers were ready on Thursday, having been to the 27-year-old event before.

Donna Rice, who owns Desperado’s BBQ and Rib Co. in Hinckley, Ohio, has been coming to Ribfest every year since about 1991. She said her local suppliers are great to work with — ready to stock her mobile kitchen with as many beef and pork ribs and other food items as the booth might need for the four-day feeding frenzy.

“We just try to anticipate the crowds, and we order heavy,” Rice said.

So do many of her patrons. The top-selling item, Rice said, is the Desperado, a combo platter heaped with pulled pork, beef brisket, three ribs, beans and cole slaw.

“You get two, 2 1/2 pounds of meat,” she said.

She acknowledged that weather is a wild card some years, as it can sharply affect attendance at the open-air fest.

“We anticipate great weather,” Rice said. “Sometimes we take some (food) home, and other years we’re on the phone to our supplier, saying, ‘Hey, we need more brisket!’”

Thursday morning’s crystal-clear skies were a gift, as far as Joe Henderson was concerned.

“Everywhere we went so far we’ve had a little bit of rain, but it’s beautiful today,” said Henderson, owner of Hog Wild Barbeque in Olive Hill, Ken., who takes his food on the road every year, cooking up ribs and pulled pork at more than two dozen events each summer.

A Ribfest vendor since 2007, he was keeping busy mopping his secret sauce — a sweet and garlicky mixture accented with fruit juice — over a mound of freshly shredded pork. Ribs are always a crowd pleaser, he said, but the pulled pork, smoked for 14 hours before it’s seasoned and sauced, is a tender and tasty alternative.

For Charles Robinson Sr., owner of Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs, it was good to be back at Ribfest, for the past four years one of the many events where he and his ribber crew set up their traveling kitchen each summer.

“We’ve got big name recognition in the Chicago area,” said Robinson, whose ribs in 1982 were declared the best of some 400 entries in Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko’s own Ribfest.

The local Ribfest has developed a name for itself as well, now drawing up to 50,000 visitors each day of its duration. Don Emery, the event’s marketing and public relations chairman, was tooling about in a golf cart, headed toward The Barn to meet with Police Chief Bob Marshall as the event was getting under way. While most of the ribbers have become perennial fixtures at the fest, not everything has been done before, he said. Communication with law enforcement is key during an event of such magnitude.

“We’re trying some new things this year,” Emery said. “We just want to check in and make sure the police know what we have going on, so there aren’t surprises.”

Among the new attractions this time around is a bean bag toss championship, set for 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the north end of the park. Saturday also will be El Dia de los Hispanos, a day designed to attract the area’s Hispanic families with musical acts including Viaje, La Obra, Contrabanda Live and Del Castillo.

“We expect it to be families, a lot of kids,” said Emery, adding that dancing is also expected. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Tags:

Pull up Ribfest

Ribfest is embracing the digital age, developing an array of ways to stay in touch with rib lovers, music fans and general proponents of summer fun through social media. Use your laptop, tablet, smart phone or other electronic means — maybe download this year’s new app — to tap into more information about Naperville’s biggest July party.

ribfest.net/app

facebook.com/ribfestnaperville #NapervilleRibfest

instagram.com/napervilleribfest

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