FRANKFORT – It has a little kick to it.
That’s how John Tobias of Indiana described the ribs he prepares with his rib-making partner – Tim Cavlovic of Plainfield – under their joint name of Jack the Ribber. It’s the third year they’ve competed in rib cook-offs, partly because Tobias puts his faith in Cavlovic’s special rub.
“Most people like it,” Tobias said.
On Aug. 2, for the sixth year in a row, the village of Frankfort partnered with the Frankfort Area Jaycees and the Frankfort Lions Club to raise money for charity, said Mary Canino, manager of community relations for the village. Hosting such an event made perfect sense to Canino.
“Denise [Lenz] from the Jaycees had been involved with other rib fests, and they had been successful,” Canino said. “So I thought, ‘Why not?’ ”
The Jaycees coordinate the contestants; the Lions sell beverages, Canino said. Steve Juveland, president of the Frankfort Lions, said the organization raises several hundred dollars at the rib fest and hopes to raise close to $30,000 at its Frankfort Lions Wurst Festival on Aug. 28.
Proceeds from both events help support local food pantries; scholarships for community-minded, financially disadvantaged students; and local hearing and visually impaired individuals.
“We’re always trying to find ways to help more people in our community,” Juveland said.
On event day, 19 contestants set up their booths starting at 6 a.m. Each received 15 slabs they prepared on-site. Judging began at 12:30 p.m., and the public was allowed to buy samples starting at 1 p.m. Winners were not announced until 3 p.m.
Within an hour, most of the ribs had been sold, Canino said. About 700 people attended. By the end of the day, Canino said the Jaycees had raised about $2,000, and the Lions had raised close to $500.
“We probably had 500 to 600 people here at the peak,” Canino said.
Winners were Blue Island BBQ Co. (first place), 9 Piggies BBQ (Frankfort, second place) and Full Slabs (New Lenox, third place). South Side Pit Men from Oak Forest earned "Crowd Pleaser." Judges hailed from three Frankfort eateries: Jim Garofalo, owner of Kup a Joe Café; Matt Grisetta, chef from White St. Café; and Vicky Shaulk, manager from Durbin’s. Local blues artist Marty “Big Dog” Mercer provided live entertainment.
Jason Werner of Frankfort and his 9 Piggies BBQ won first place last year, Canino said. That had been the first time he had competed, and Werner said he owes his success to his wife, Mary Trent of Frankfort, for starting the process in a roundabout way.
Trent had tried chicken cooked on a Big Green Egg grill and felt she just had to get one, Werner said. When Trent did, Werner experimented and then began competing against his cousin, who lives down the street, in friendly rib cook-off competitions, with the neighbors as taste-testers.
Strangely, the recipe for the sauce that earned him first place mysteriously disappeared, so Werner had to create a new one, he said. Last year, Werner said he received few comments from the crowd and won. This year, he quickly sold out.
“As soon as people left, more showed up,” he said.
Many other contestants also ran out of ribs, but that’s why the Jaycees also pitch a cooking tent. They not only sold 60 slabs of ribs but also rib tips, pulled pork, corn and hot dogs for the kids, said Paige Lenz, president and Denise Lenz’s daughter, who chairs the event.
The fun of an amateur rib cook-off is that contestants can show off their special recipes and attendees can sample many different varieties of ribs, Paige said.
“Some people smoke them, others deep fry them, and some grill them,” Paige said. “Some use rubs; some add rubs and sauces after they smoke them.”
The Jaycees never prepare ribs the same way twice, Paige said. This year, the organization used a jalapeno jelly sauce from member Jen Roney. Some of its ingredients included three commercial sauces – Sweet Baby Rays, Open Pit and the Sam’s Club brand – along with the jalapeno jelly, honey, brown sugar and peppers.
“We used it on the slabs, rib tips and pulled pork,” she said.
Fred Klaus of Tinley Park, back for the fourth time, said he only competes in the Frankfort Amateur Rib Cook-Off. He doesn’t enter for the competition, Klaus said, but to spend time with his family, because they all come out and help that day.
Along with the ribs, Klaus also offered homemade pulled pork, jardinière and lemonade. His granddaughter Olivia Vanegas, 10, was there with her parents, Neil and Kathy Vanegas, helping serve. Olivia said her grandfather cooks good food all the time.
Still, Kathy said, Olivia’s favorite entrée is Klaus’ ribs.
“She stayed at his house all last week,” Kathy said, “and he made them for her.”