James Lee smokes ribs at the 2017 Elkhorn Ribfest. This year’s event opened yesterday and runs through Sunday on the Walworth County Fairgrounds, will feature rib-smokers for votes, a variety of other food options, a carnival and live music. In addition to an extra day on the schedule, this year’s event will include the Ribfest Rib Run, a free, open bike show Thursday. (Aaron Gottschalk photo)

Ribfest beefs up the music for this weekend’s run

By Heather Ruenz

SLN Staff

Though it began as something organizers hoped would grow into an annual event, Elkhorn Ribfest, a national rib competition now entering its third year has expanded into a smokin’ sweet festival that attracts thousands of people.

This year Ribfest will span four days, kicking off on Thursday, July 12 and going through Sunday, July 15.

The reason for that growth is simple, according to one of the organizers.

“Everyone loves barbecue,” said Larry Gaffey, who also manages the Walworth County Fairgrounds, where Ribfest is held.

The friendliness of the rib-cooking pros is also a draw for many people.

“One of the great things about Ribfest is that you can ask the pitmasters face-to-face. Most won’t divulge their most secret of secrets… but you’ll be surprised at how open and approachable the cooks are,” a blog on the event website states. “Most home grillers are tempted to try a different rub, sauce and wood combo for cooking each meat. The pros don’t. They find one flavor profile that works with all the meats they cook.”

Options abound

By bringing in numerous pitmasters, there are plenty of options for attendees to try, including ribs, chicken, brisket and pulled pork, along with a variety of side dishes. There is also a beer tent, which will be larger this year than in past years.

Ribfest will again feature a competition among top rib-cookers from all throughout the country, including a few locals, and visitors have the chance to taste-test all the delicious smoked items.

In addition to the professional pitmasters, there is a community division on Sunday, July 15 with the cooking starting at 11 a.m., with judging from 5 to 6 p.m. and the award presentation to follow.

The community division features up to 25 teams of amateurs, each consisting of a chief cook and up to three assistants. They must prepare and cook all of the food in their designated area and must cook at least one rack of ribs. A team of four judges will score in the areas of appearance, taste, and tenderness and texture.

Prizes for the community division are $150 and a trophy for first place, $75 for second place, and $35 for third place. For complete rules visit the website, wisconsinribfest.com, click on “vendors” followed by “community division.”

The event is suitable for the whole family with a carnival and other activities, including helicopter rides.

Music lineup expanded

One of the main attractions at Ribfest is the live music, which was expanded over all three days of last year’s event, a trend that will continue as this year. Twenty bands are set to perform over the span of all four days, offering as much variety as the food that will be available for purchase.

On July 12, featured bands will include Bella Cain, Back in Black, Chasin’ Mason, Acoustic and Jason Kent’s Blues Trip. Friday will feature Cherry Pie, Saving Savannah, Hobie & The Leftovers, The Amazing Farm Boys, Wise Jennings and The Throwbacks.

On Saturday, July 14, Arch Allies, Hillbilly Rockstarz, Kashmir, the Eddie Butts Band, The House of Music and There Goes The Neighborhood will provide entertainment.

The final day of Ribfest, Sunday, July 15, will feature Walworth County Idol, the Triple D Band and Rockstar Rodeo.

For the motorcycle enthusiasts out there, a new addition will be the Ribfest Rib Run, a special invite for bikers to the Thursday night festivities in which they’ll receive food discounts and special parking, and prizes will be awarded in a variety of categories.

And if food, the carnival, kids activities and live music aren’t enough to satisfy your taste buds, the event will also boast a juried fine arts and crafts exhibition called Artisan Vendor Alley that will feature handmade items.

Popularity grows

Social media, one of the keys to the event’s success according to Gaffey, is again seeing a positive response.

As of mid-June, nearly a month prior to the July 12 kickoff, the event post for this year’s Ribfest on Facebook shows 47,000-plus people are interested in attending.

Gaffey said the event has evolved because it caters to what people enjoy, from good food to a family-friendly atmosphere, to live entertainment.

“As Wisconsinites, we all love festivals,” Gaffey said.

There is no admission fee or charge to park at Ribfest. Because of limited seating however, people are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs.

Ribfest returns to the Walworth County Fairgrounds, 411 E. Court St., Elkhorn, from July 12 to 15. The hours are 3 to 10 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday.

The event benefits the fairgrounds, the Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, and the Elkhorn Rotary Club. Major sponsors are Coors Light, Frank’s Piggly Wiggly, Kunes Country Auto Group and Miller Brewing.

For more information visit wisconsinribfest.com or call the fair office at 262-723-3228.


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