DALLAS — Texas repeated this past weekend as winner of the second annual Red River BBQ Shootout, topping Oklahoma pitmaster Russ Garrett of Coach's Restaurant in Bricktown.
The Oklahoma champion put his best foot forward, but it wasn't enough to win over the crowd vote and beat returning champion Cliff Payne from Cousin's Barbecue of Fort Worth, Texas.
Also for the second year in a row, the result of the barbecue competition was in stark contrast to the outcome of the football game that's responsible for the large downtown crowds.
The event, hosted by DRG Concepts and Downtown Dallas Inc., was Thursday and Friday night at the Main Street Garden in downtown Dallas. In the shoot-out, four pitmasters from Oklahoma and four pitmasters from Texas competed to settle who could cook the best barbecued spare ribs.
Judges took part in a blind taste test to determine an Oklahoma champion and Texas champion. The two champions then competed head-to-head the following day; the winner determined by a public vote.
The public, which also tasted the ribs blind, clearly had a different view than the judges. Not only did Garrett score the highest total of all the judges, which were mostly from Texas, but no one else's ribs came close in point totals.
In addition, Oklahoma pitmasters had three of the top four highest scores in the judges' taste test.
Garrett's ribs were a deep, rich Oklahoma red, created with a combination of smoke, dry rub seasoning, and a sweet glaze. The rib was incredibly juicy. The meat was tender enough to pull away from the bone with ease but had enough bite to know it was a spare rib.
Garrett said the key to creating that texture, in addition to time and temperature, is to push the ribs together like an accordion in the smoker. This keeps the meat plump and the bones close together so the ribs don't dry out.
A blend of smoke from three different types of wood married with Garrett's spice rub, a recipe he perfected over many years, to give the ribs an incredible depth of flavor. The ribs were finished with a sweet sticky glaze, which created a complexity of tastes and textures.
These are the kind of ribs that come from someone with years of experience and patience to find barbecue nirvana.
“I am not a chef,” said Garrett. “I am a pitmaster. It's not a hobby, it's an addiction. I have my blood transfused with barbecue sauce.”
Feeling confident after a successful showing for the judges, Garrett began the next day cooking more than 150 slabs of pork spare ribs.
“The first day was friendly and everyone helping everyone,” said Garrett on Friday. “Today, the smack talk has started.”
Garrett has been with Coach's restaurants since March, after retiring from careers with the military and Hewlett-Packard. When Emerging Brands Inc. bought Coach's Restaurant, they wanted to install a true barbecue pitmaster. While the other locations have been sold, the Bricktown location is where you can get Garrett's food.
“I now get to do what I love,” Garrett said.
Garrett beat out fellow Oklahomans Robby Corcoran of Burn Co. BBQ in Tulsa, Terel McNac of Steve's Ribs in Edmond, and Bill Ritter of Mud Creek BBQ in Ringling.
You can try Garrett's championship ribs at Coach's in Bricktown, 20 South Mickey Mantle Dr., seven days a week. On weekends, if you're lucky, Garrett sometimes serves burnt ends.