UPDATE: The Red River Barbecue Shootout is only a year old and it already has a dynasty - Cliff Payne won the People's Choice vote Friday night, making him two for two in the competition.
Being asked to judge a contest to determine the best ribs between expert pitmasters from Texas and Oklahoma is not an opportunity that comes up often. But that's exactly what football and barbecue fans get to do Friday night at the second annual Red River Barbecue Shootout, presented by DRG Concepts, at Main Street Garden in Dallas.
Last year's winner, Cliff Payne, from Cousin's in Fort Worth, and Russ Garrett, from Coach’s in Oklahoma City, are the two finalists cooking up their signature ribs for the masses. Payne's and Garrett's creations were selected via a "blind" judged competition Thursday night, by a panel that included yours truly, among other media members and barbecue experts.
The two finalists were narrowed down from a group of eight — four from Texas, four from Oklahoma — and you gain new appreciation for competitive eaters and Top Chef judges once you've had to work your way through eight different set of ribs, not to mention whatever side dishes a competitor decided to include.
In the end, there were two clear winners; the finalists came from the third and seventh plates the judges were served. Both sets of ribs were notable for their appealing crusts, smoky flavor and tenderness — the latter was, surprisingly, in short supply among the eight competitors.
Although it didn't win, bonus points go to the first plate the panel was served, as one of its sides was crispy, honey-glazed bacon. Even if the ribs didn't measure up, that bacon is hard to forget.
The organizers of the shootout are expecting more than 2,000 people at Friday night's competition. Just as in the judged panel, attendees won't know which ribs come from Texas or Oklahoma. You pick option A or B from the two plates you purchase for $7, and the winner is announced at the end of the night.
Proceeds from the night benefit Kidd's Kids, which works with chronically ill children and their families.