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Eating ribs and brisket — Michigan style

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Pork ribs and a beer at Darkhorse’s Spring Smoke Off

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

It’s everywhere, an undeniably growing culinary and tourism phenomenon — barbecue.

This moment of clarity occurred as I walked through the Dark Horse Brewing Co.’s 6th annual Smokefest last weekend in Marshall, where I munched on a dazzling array of ribs, brisket and smoked butt while sampling Dark Horse’s brews. I marveled at the diversity and sheer number of barbecue “pitmasters” at the Smokefest. These folks arrived early Friday with portable tents, and barbecue equipment, settling in to feed a packed crowd. Thousands of dollars were raised for charity, and a lot of napkins were dispensed to satisfied BBQ enthusiasts.

Barbecue events are increasingly popular everywhere, and it turns out you don’t have to wait an entire year for another opportunity to lose yourself in an orgy of pork ribs and beef brisket — Michigan style. People who are serious about this food category travel a sauce-soaked circuit of sorts, sponsored by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

The KCBS sanctions more than 450 barbecue contests worldwide and requires participating teams to cook four meats: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and beef brisket. Teams on the circuit are also angling for a spot at the fall Jack Daniels Invitational World Championship in Lynchburg, Tenn.

Throughout the summer and beyond, people (like my husband) who adore barbecue can spend entire weekends following amateurs and pros while debating the fine points of sauce.

It turns out the sauce is crucial, and all real barbecue aficionados seem to have a favorite style — Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas. The styles dovetail with the self-proclaimed barbecue meccas, but you don’t have to be in any of those locations to experience great meat.

To start your barbecue odyssey in Michigan, how about a visit to Pork in the Park on Friday, May 20, in Wyandotte, a small town south of Detroit? You can grill with the mayor.

That same weekend, on the other side of the state, St. Joseph hosts BBQ, Blues and Bluegrass: A Taste of Michigan, where you can spread a blanket and listen to music while sampling a collection of local barbecue, craft beer and Michigan wine.

Three weekends of barbecue begin on June 10, when you visit the lovely village of Clio in Genesee County for the first-ever Elf Khurafeh Shrine BBQ Competition, Music Festival and Mud Bog (think a monster truck rally with mud).

On June 18, the Detroit suburb of Lathrup Village hosts its first Summer in the Park, with 30 rib-cooking teams competing while visitors sample arts and crafts and enjoy the ribs.

The next weekend, try a much larger event, the Auburn Hills Barbecue Cook-off. This event is part of the annual Auburn Hills Summerfest, a full festival with live music, a 5K run and a kid’s sidewalk art contest.

July 15-17, the action switches to the Big D (Detroit) for those who like their ribs with Rhythm and Blues. Local barbecue experts flock to this unique event in Hart Plaza downtown, where they can listen to talented R&B performers while noshing on ribs, brisket and chicken.

The following weekend, you can combine your ‘que with the blues in Birch Run at the Blues, Brews and Barbecue event. This one is for the biggest purse in Michigan — a cool $10,000 for the competing teams.

I’m sure I’ve missed as many events as I’ve discovered. One thing is certain, however. For a summer in barbecue heaven, Michiganders can indulge in finger-licking ribs plus the trimmings of your choice, be it mud-bogging or the blues, so don’t wait to stop and smell the smoke.

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