They get rubbed, they get sauced, they get smoked, they get judged, they get eaten. And then they’re ribs.

  1. Turning out a lip-smacking plate of barbecued ribs isn’t as hard as you’d think. All it takes is a little know-how, nerves of steel, and a very special recipe.

    Slowly, my heart sinking, we inched past BAD BRYAN’S BUTT RUB, BUBBA’S GOT A TOP SECRET, THE DUCK STOPS HERE, tim & todd’s we smoke but we don’t inhale, and so good you’ll think you died and went to texas. My eyes skittered from the signs to the hardware. One cooker must’ve been five feet high, in the shape of a Jack Daniel’s bottle. Another was as big as a Civil War cannon and painted in flames. A third was wide enough to swallow a four-foot pig splayed out like Grandpa’s overalls on a backyard clothesline. Many were so large you’d mistake them for trailers if you passed them on the highway. We braked at a grassy rectangle next to a lady wearing a shirt that read: i didn’t claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables.

    “Looks like as good a place as any,” I said to my father, “for Custer’s Last Stand.”

    Above was a pure blue Tennessee October sky … somewhere behind all that pure gray barbecue smoke. The meat inspectors walked among us like sheriffs, making sure no Quick Draws sneaked a head start on tomorrow’s showdown. Each of the fifty teams invited to the Super Bowl of barbecue, the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational, had won a state title or a certified competition during the year. Then there was me and Dad.

    I popped open the back door of the rental van. First things first: Stake the...

Originally published in Esquire, July 1999