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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Lavera Linker, left, and her daughter Brenda Linker enjoy their ribs during a visit to the final day of the 20th annual BBQ Ribfest at Headwaters Park on Sunday.

  • Flames shoot up from his grill as Jarek Adams adds sauce to his ribs at the Pig Foot booth. Pig Foot came to the festival from West Salem, Ohio.

Monday, June 19, 2017 1:00 am

Finger-lickin' good barbecue

Ribfest is still smoking

Popular event wraps up 20th year

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Dave Hart remembers feeling out of his league at BBQ Ribfest.

His participation in the annual Fort Wayne event began about eight years ago with little more than a grill and a tent, competing “against this,” he said Sunday, looking down a row of ribmasters boasting numerous trophies and titles.

But, he said, his business Low N Slow made money, and it's grown every year since. He bought and converted an old livestock trailer to use and just last year, he purchased a commercial competition grill, he said.

On Sunday, Ribfest founder Mark Chappuis rewarded Hart with another trophy – a People's Choice Award. Other award winners included Timmy's BBQ of Garrett and Jack on the Bone of Massillon, Ohio.

As another band began to play for a crowded Headwaters Park, Chappuis reflected on the festival's 20-year history and family-friendly atmosphere. The event, which is held Father's Day weekend, has become a tradition for many, he said, adding those who attended as children have begun bringing their families.

Admission Sunday was free for fathers. “Get dad off the grill for once,” Chappuis said.

The four-day festival draws about 35,000 to 40,000 people, many of whom travel from out of town, Chappuis said.

This year, Ribfest was “absolutely blessed with the weather,” Chappuis said. He noted the event “barely got a drop the entire weekend” despite threats of rain.

For Tim Johnson, owner of Timmy's BBQ, the festival is a return to his hometown. The 1981 North Side High School grad said he usually sees former classmates and other familiar faces.

“This is really my neighborhood,” he said.

Ribfest is one of about 16 shows Johnson participates in throughout the summer, he said, noting he returns to Fort Wayne for the Three Rivers Festival. In addition to being profitable, he said, the shows can benefit his catering and restaurant businesses.

His food not only has a “really good sauce,” Johnson said, but is also fresh; the food he sold Sunday was cooked Sunday. The menu includes chicken feet, pulled pork and – the big seller at Ribfest – ribs, obviously, he said.

Those who don't eat beef or pork, like Corey Wilson from Chicago, also had options.

Wilson, who was in town visiting his father, stood in the shade late Sunday afternoon, a container of cheese curds in his hands.

He might, he said, get an elephant ear later.

asloboda@jg.net