Tasty BBQ & Live Music at 25th RibFest

The 25th annual BBQ RibFest is four days of food, fun and music, featuring mouth-watering BBQ served up by award-winning grill teams from across the country.

This year’s event will take place 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, June 16-19, at Headwaters Park in downtown Fort Wayne.

Co-producer Mark Chappuis says the family friendly event is one of Fort Wayne’s most popular summer festivals and people from all over the tri-state area look forward to it each year.

“As many as 40,000 BBQ lovers descend on downtown Fort Wayne to devour more than 25 tons of incredible BBQ,” he says. “RibFest, however, is not just about the ribs. It includes most anything BBQ like scrumptious pulled pork, sausage, slow smoked brisket, chicken, turkey legs, rib sandwiches, barbequed mushrooms and more.”

In addition to BBQ, RibFest offers favorite foods like macaroni and cheese, elephant ears, fried veggies, ice cream, lemonade shakeups and more.

Musical entertainment and a large bar will be located in a covered pavilion in the festival plaza.

“It’s a packed pig-out party with lots of smiles and great smells,” says Chappuis. “The formula is simple, provide great BBQ and they will come. What we do hasn’t changed much through the years because we put great BBQ on the table and amazing music onstage, all at a very affordable price, and people are happy campers! People just love getting together. What’s more fun than an outdoor BBQ with family and friends? It really doesn’t get much better than that.”

The event is always held during Father’s Day weekend and Chappuis says people thank him every year for having a great way to celebrate the day with Dad. In honor of fathers, all dads get in free on Sunday.

This year’s pitmasters include Desperado’s BBQ & Ribs of Hinckley, Ohio; Big-Boned Barbecue of Charleston, S.C.; Cowboys BBQ & Rib Co. of Fort Worth, Texas; McHyser BBQ of Columbia City, Ind.; Timmy’s BBQ of Garrett, Ind.; Carolina Rib King out of Georgetown, S.C, which is featured on the hit TV show BBQ Pitmasters; and Pigfoot BBQ & Rib Co. from West Salem, Ohio.

The idea for a Fort Wayne RibFest was planted in Chappuis’ mind when he was on a road trip to Toledo, Ohio and stopped at a similar event. He came home, began making calls to award-winning rib teams across the country and the tradition began.

Most pitmasters feature their own distinct flavors and spicy-heat levels that reflect their hometown regions. Some sauces are vinegar- based, others are mustard-based, and still others are laden with molasses or brown sugar. All of the rib teams have their own top-secret blend of spice rubs to flavor their meat.

“BBQ is really growing around the country and each region has its own distinct flavor and they’re all delicious. It has become a passion for many backyard enthusiasts, as well,” Chappuis says.

Gene Hyser and Jeff McCormick are co-owners of McHyser BBQ in Columbia City, Ind. They opened their business four years ago and are returning to RibFest for the second year as one of two local teams. Last year they won the People’s Choice Award for ribs. This year they’re hoping to win the Best Brisket award.

The longtime friends built their own woodfire smoker that’s 14 feet long, weighs 6,000 pounds and can cook up to 130 full slabs of ribs at one time, 260 pounds of pork and 40 half chickens. They use a variety of rubs to flavor meats.

McHyser BBQ is best known for its famous pulled pork sundae, made with smoked macaroni and cheese and tender pulled pork covered with BBQ sauce and topped with a scoop of cole slaw, served in a cup.

“This is our signature dish. We’ve sold as many as 800 servings in one day,” McCormick says. “We sell a lot wherever we go because there are lots of flavors and it’s easy to eat.

“We both have been cooking a lot of years and just decided to give this a try. No matter what we do, we totally throw ourselves into it. It’s been fun. We travel a lot and get to meet a lot of nice people.”

Musical entertainment on the Blackburn Romey Stage includes The Electric Gypsy Experience, a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, at 8:30 p.m. June 16 for 1970s night; Blues Artist Mark May, former guitarist and lead vocalist for Dicky Betts & Great Southern at 6:30 p.m. June 17, followed by Anthony Gomes at 9 p.m.; Set The Hook at 1 p.m., followed by The Ghost Town Blues Band, at 7:15 p.m., and an Eagles tribute band, Epic Eagles, plays all the hits at 8:45 p.m. On Sunday, June 19, two sets from the bluesmen of Black Cat Moan will begin at 1 p.m.

Admission is free until 5:30 p.m., when adult admission is $6. Festival guidebooks are available at most Cap n’ Cork and Lassus Handy Dandy stores. A portion of the proceeds raised each year go to local school programs. About $250,000 has gone to schools to date.

Learn more at bbqRibFest.com.