For the fourth straight year, Norm Eggen and his talented crew from the Old Country Deli won top honors, "People's Choice," at the Fourth Annual San Luis Obispo Rib Cook-Off.
Barbecued ribs are big in San Luis Obispo. They are served by the thousands every Thursday night on Higuera Street when the street is blocked off between Osos and Nipomo. Local farmers bring in pickup loads of fresh produce and set up stalls along both sides of the street. Several restaurants set up open pit barbecues to cook and sell beef ribs, the specialty of the town.
There's a band on a flatbed truck outside McLintock's Bar and everyone comes to town for a good time and some good food.
Community Problem Solved
The whole affair started a few years ago as a creative solution to a community problem. San Luis Obispo is nestled between the mountains and the sea on the south central coast of California. It's a beautiful town. It's also a college town, home of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
A few years ago, the students began cruising Higuera Street on Thursday nights when the stores were open. That didn't set too well with the local merchants. They talked the city leaders into blocking off Higuera Street on that night of the week. That stopped the cruising, but it also brought business to a halt. To get things going again, they started a little Thursday night entertainment, a country Western band on a flatbed truck in front of McLintock's. That brought out enough folks to encourage some of the restaurants in town to cook ribs on the street.
Before long, some of the farmers started bringing in produce and setting up stalls. Things have grown to the point where folks come from miles around.
Honors Go to Old Country Deli
The rib cook-off has become one of the gastronomic highlights of the south central coast of California. It was my privilege to have been one of the judges at this year's competition. Top honors, once again and deservedly so, went to Eggen and the crew from the Old Country Deli.
In my opinion Eggen's beef ribs are incredible: tender, juicy, as meaty as imaginable and absolutely delicious. Their preparation, according to Eggen, is simple. You start with beef back ribs, not short ribs.
Eggen's secret, as is the case with most successful barbecue cooks, is the seasonings. Like most great barbecue cooks, he seasons his ribs before they go on the grill. He wouldn't give me the exact recipe for his mix; that's his award-winning secret. He will, however, be more than happy to sell you an eight-ounce package of his "Rib Round-Up Seasoning" for $2.50 plus 75 cents postage and handling. Write to Central Coast Seasonings, 731 Pacific St., Suite 20, San Luis Obispo 93401.
Many Spices in Barbecue Mix
Eggen did tell me what goes in the mix and how to use it. It's a combination of salt, paprika, sugar, white and black pepper, oregano, thyme, garlic powder with just a touch of MSG to bring out and enhance the flavor of the beef.
Some cooks in the competition precook the ribs before grilling. Eggen prefers to trim the fresh ribs well, season them and let them set for at least 30 minutes before they go on the grill to sizzle over hot coals on an open grill for about half an hour