Pulled pork-alicious at Old Carolina Barbecue Co.
Those lucky Massillonians. They've got a new restaurant called the Old Carolina Barbecue Co. serving up noteworthy pulled pork and ribs, as well as the best hush puppies I've had north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
If the name sounds familiar, it's because Old Carolina Barbecue won the unofficial taste test by fellow food writer Jennifer Mastroianni and me at last summer's Hall of Fame Ribfest.
Three Timken High School alumni — Brian Bailey, Tim Hug and Kevin Handlin — opened the restaurant in May. They are continuing to enter rib contests, and according to the competition team manager, Jason Beatty, they've won every event they've entered this year.
The restaurant, located in Massillon Commons, a plaza at 2482 Lincolnway East is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Burnoff vendors work to attract customers
CANTON — A ribs burnoff competition is supposed to be about the food.
The competitors guard their recipes, cook the ribs and make their sales pitch.
Sometimes a friendly greeting or a specialized yell might be used to catch a customer's attention. Vendors also plaster banners bragging of awards at other ribs burnoffs. They give customers stickers. They pile trophies on tables.
And sometimes vendors use a few other tricks to sell their ribs.
Today, for example, visitors to Hog Heaven's slot among the ribs vendors will get to meet the leather-clad V-twin women and a couple of very hot motorcycles.
"Food is the main course," said Demetrius Atkins of Hog Heaven, which operates a restaurant at 2730 Cleveland Ave. NW.
But sometimes you have to do some things to make certain that potential customers stop to look.
Two motorcycles and three pretty women will attract attention. "Most definitely," said Sharon Ballard, who worked the Hog Heaven booth with Atkins on Friday.
D.D. Stutz has been part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival Ribs Burnoff since the event started in the 1980s. David Amstutz added his first special promotion in the 1990s when he teamed with the makers of Jack Daniels to add the whiskey as an ingredient for his ribs.
This year, his daughter, Amber, and several of her friends are working the booth while wearing skimpy, low-slung shorts and low-neck tank tops over Wonder bras. The outfits are drawing customers, he said.
Amstutz figures potential customers spend only a few seconds checking banners and signs. He hopes the girls look upbeat and catch the customer's eye.
"It looks like we've got energy here," he said.
On the other hand, Brian Bailey of Old Carolina Barbeque Co. has taken a different approach at drawing a crowd. He's talking to folks about cooking ribs.
Three times a day, Bailey puts on a microphone and talks about ribs. He has tips on selecting meat, seasoning and the type of cooker to use. Bailey and his partners are passionate about what they do and "want to show it off."
Old Carolina's team has been on the ribs burnoff circuit in Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of New York and Pennsylvania since 2003. They've never seen anyone else give a cooking class, Bailey said.
He figures if customers hear about cooking good ribs, they'll come back. "We want them to appreciate a good smoked rib."
Winners in the 2005 Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival Ribs Burnoff
- First Place, Most Outstanding Ribs: Damon's Grill, Jackson Township
- Second Place, Mayor's Award: PigFoot BBQ Co., West Salem
- General Chairman's award for Best Sauce: Smokin' Joe's Hog Wild Barbeque, Mansfield
- People's Choice Award: Old Carolina Barbeque Co., Canton
Burnoff judging: Sauce on the bone
CANTON — What's the best part of the Hall of Fame Festival? Two words: Ribs Burnoff.
Judging every year is the sauce on the bone, so to speak. Why? Two words: Free ribs.
Unfortunately, judges only get to rate seven ribs. Two words: Want more.
I schemed up a plan.
"Saimi, how about we do our own judging this year? We'll go to the burnoff and taste all the ribs."
"All? As in, all 15?" she asked incredulously.
Two words: Rib rookie.
Me? Rib pro. A rack is an appetizer for me.
She relented. We sampled bone after bone. Some we devoured. Some we nibbled. Two we spat out.
"Do you think we just got poisoned?" Saimi wondered after one rotten-tasting rib.
Two words: Quite possibly.
One rib was so dry and chewy it was darn near beef jerky. Another was so swiney, I thought it might oink.
At 12 vendors down and three to go, Saimi looked at me, her face flecked with sauce, and whined, "This isn't fun anymore."
"Sure it is," I reassured her, sprinting off to get more samples. After No. 15, she let out a huge sigh of relief. Or maybe it was a belch.
Two words: Not done.
I went and got seconds from three vendors.
"Better try these guys again," I said, "just to be sure."
Two words: Saimi, bloated.
Me, not. It was awesome. I have to admit though, after eating 18 different rib samples in blazing 93-degree heat, I was ready to wrap it up. As I headed to the car, I could think of only two words: Pepto Bismol.
- Best overall: Old Carolina Barbecue Company of Canton. Owned by three buddies from the Timken High School class of 1988: Brian Bailey, Tim Hug and Kevin Handlin. Generous bones with tender meat and sauce with lots of depth and flavor. Five sauce flavors available for slathering on yourself: Vinegar, Sweet, Mustard, Screaming Beaver (hot) and Tangy.
- Best meat: Damon's. Meaty bones, unbelievably tender.
- Best sauce: D.D. Stutz's Jack Daniel's Sauce. Ribs get spritzed with Jack Daniel's before being served.
15 ribs at a sitting: Wear loose jeans
CANTON — When Jenny proposed the idea, I was dubious. Eat 15 ribs at one sitting? I'd never eaten more than four. Then Jenny — a tiny thing, not much wider than a rib herself — bullied me with, "Oh, come on, I've eaten a whole rack by myself."
So Thursday there I was, wearing my loosest-fitting jeans, ready to taste every blessed rib at the opening day of the Hall of Fame Festival Ribs Burnoff.
I envisioned eating two or three ribs, then taking a walk, perhaps having a lemonade, then sampling two or three more ribs. But Jenny was the hare to my tortoise. After each rib she'd tap impatiently while I finished writing, then, "OK, that's done, next one, ready, I'll buy," and off she'd go.
But even little Miss Eats-a-Rack slowed down after about eight samples, but not because she was full. We lost our enthusiasm because the ribs were disappointing. Where were the great ribs with tender meat and sweet hot sauce that make you push aside the napkins to lick your fingers clean?
Several sauces were sour, others flat. The meat on one rib tasted like refrigerator. Another had meat so dry you risked dental damage to chew it. Two had an overpowering smoky taste like they had been abandoned on a campfire. Several samples had a barnyard or "piggy" flavor. One tasted flat-out spoiled.
But we persevered and found three favorites worth recommending.
- Best overall: Old Carolina Barbecue Company of Canton. They mastered the art of dry rubbing a meaty rib, smoking it for five hours, then finishing it on the grill with a balanced sweet and spicy sauce. Good news — the three local owners are currently seeking a spot to open a BBQ restaurant in Canton. We'll keep you posted.
- Best meat: I liked the meaty ribs from Texas Pit BBQ. No piggy flavor, and not greasy. The dark red sauce was delicious. These got second place from me after Old Carolina.
- Best sauce: Four or five spritzes of Jack Daniel's whiskey combined with a complex sauce with a spicy kick created a pleasing flavor profile for D.D. Stutz's sauce.