Woodstock’s BBQ King Smokehouse, 125 E. Calhoun St., defeated 12 competitors and took home the grand prize for best ribs for the second consecutive year at Chicago’s Ribfest.
Owner Jason Szmurlo has hauled his smoker to the annual competition, hosted June 8 to 10 in Chicago, for the past four years. In 2016, the BBQ King crew attended six competitions. In 2017, the team is set to enter 13 competitions all over the country.
After claiming the Chicago Ribfest trophy in 2016, Szmurlo said his strategy remained the same for this year’s event.
This year, the crew from BBQ King faced 12 competitors. Chef Shaun O’Neale was one of six celebrity judges who scored the competition. O’Neale, who gave BBQ King’s ribs high praise, won season 7 of the FOX reality series “MasterChef.”
“Shaun is a very well-known chef. Anytime we get judges that are food critics or chefs, we score very well because they appreciate what we do and the flavor that we have,” Szmurlo said.
“He told us we blew everyone out of the water, and it wasn’t even close.”
The preparation and technique of the St. Louis-style ribs is done the same at BBQ King or when the team is on the road competing. The ribs are graded on appearance, taste and tenderness.
“I like going to the competitions to show people that can’t get to our restaurant that we can bring the restaurant to them. We do everything the hard way,” Szmurlo said. “I like going to these festivals. It shows people who eat with us on a weekly basis that they are making a good choice, the people that believe in us.”
Szmurlo said watching his mom cook at home lended him inspiration to pursue a career in the food industry.
“My mom was a great cook,” he said. “I am a firm believer that if you have very good customer service and phenomenal food, everything else just falls into place.”
Up next for BBQ King is Lake in the Hills Rockin’ Ribfest Thursday to Sunday, July 6 to 9, and a national competition at the Walworth County Fair beginning Aug. 30 in Elkhorn, Wis. The longest trek for a competition planned this year is to North Carolina in November.