Hudson Valley RibFest 2013 at Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz

Smoked out: New Paltz becomes a mecca for barbecue. PLUS: Recipes for Skillet Smoked Jalapeño Cheese Potatoes and Raspberry Skirt Steak Sandwiches

To paraphrase the Certs breath mints advertising campaign, the Hudson Valley RibFest is “two, two, two fests in one.” Held this month in New Paltz, RibFest is both a traditional food festival (think burgers and dogs, roasted sweet corn, jerk shrimp — and yes, barbecued chicken and ribs) as well as a good-natured, but nonetheless fiercely competitive, barbecue competition.

Approximately 50 teams from throughout the Northeast and beyond are expected to set up their smokers in the “contest village,” says Claire Constantino of the Highland Rotary (the RibFest sponsor). They will compete in the New England Society’s grilling contest on Saturday — preparing variety of different foods, including an apple dessert — and the Kansas City Barbeque Society competition on Sunday. “Some of the rigs are really outrageous, and some teams dress up in funny costumes,” Constantino says. “But they get serious when it’s their turn to bring food to the judges.”

Stephen Marx is a member of Tell You What BBQ, a Sloatsburg-based team that will compete at RibFest. He and his six buddies, all high school teachers, got into competitive barbecueing “by necessity. We all love NASCAR. In 2007 we went to a race, and our tailgating situation was just dreadful — rotten hot dogs on a little camp stove. We knew we had to step up our game, so we all started buying smokers.” Although some of his pals spent upwards of $2,000 on their equipment, Marx uses a smoker “made out of a garbage can for $30.”

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The secret to good ’cue has little to do with rubs and sauces, Marx believes. “They’re nice, but they are pretty much all the same. All that stuff is extra.” It’s the quality of the meat and temperature control that make the difference. “The real problem with backyard BBQ is that home smokers don’t hold the temperature very well. You need to cook the meat at 250-275 degrees for as long as possible.” In order to get his brisket just right for the judges on Sunday afternoon, Marx expects to be manning his smoker — “and drinking the beer” — beginning somewhere between midnight and three a.m.

It’s the quality of the meat and temperature control that make the difference


big guns bbq big guns bbq
big guns bbq

Clockwise from top left: The boys of Big Guns BBQ plating their food; some of Big Guns’ hearty creations

Pleasant Valley’s Sean Keever of Big Guns BBQ has been competing at RibFest for seven years. An army vet, he learned to cook as a member of a field artillery unit (thus the “Big Guns” name). He started taking part in barbecue competitions as a hobby: “They reminded me of how we would all sit around and cook something, and then talk smack about each other’s food.” Admittedly a competitive guy, this year he has already been in seven BBQ contests in six states, placing in the top 10 in four of them.

His secret: “We balance sweet heat with a savory flavor profile.” And it probably doesn’t hurt that he can be found cooking over a charcoal fire five nights a week, year-round. “My wife will tell you, we can have a foot and a half of snow, and there’ll be a path shoveled to my grill.”

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Besides bragging rights, there’s a lot on the line for Marx, Keever, and the other contestants: RibFest winners share $8,500 in prize money. Marx, at least, seems confident in his chances. “What do my friends think of my food? When it hits their mouth, I’ll tell you what, they say it’s the best they’ve ever tasted.”

Hudson Valley RibFest. Aug. 16-18 at the Ulster County Fairgrounds, 249 Libertyville Rd., New Paltz. $5, under 12 free. 845-306-4381 or

Here are two favorite recipes from Tell You What BBQ:

Skillet Smoked Jalapeño Cheese Potatoes

  • 5 Idaho potatoes
  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • Ham slice
  • Shredded Mexican-blend cheese
  • 2-4 jalapeño peppers (medium sized)
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Rib rub (Dizzy Pig BBQ Swamp Venom)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Wash and cube potatoes. Boil for five to 10 minutes until sweet potatoes are soft.
  2. Remove seeds and finely chop jalapeño peppers.
  3. Dice ham slice into small cubes.
  4. Transfer potatoes, peppers, and ham to skillet.
  5. Mix in entire packet of shredded cheese.
  6. Mix in one teaspoon each of salt and black pepper, and a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Add approximately one and a half teaspoon to taste of your rib rub. Mix thoroughly with spatula.
  7. Put skillet in the smoker for one hour at 300 degrees. Mix every 15 minutes.

You can substitute a grill for the smoker. The dish will probably be done in half the time under the lowest heat. Let sit for five minutes and serve. This is a spicy dish, so adjust the jalapeño peppers and cayenne according to your personal taste.

Raspberry Skirt Steak Sandwiches

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  • 2 skirt steaks, trimmed
  • 1 bottle raspberry vinaigrette
  • 2 tomatoes, cored and cubed
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 box sea salt
  • 2 baguettes or hoagie rolls
  1. Cover both sides of each steak with a liberal coating of sea salt. Place in the refrigerator for five to 10 minutes
  2. Rinse salt off the meat. Place steaks in Ziploc bag with half a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette. Marinade overnight.
  3. Mix tomatoes, onion, and remaining vinaigrette dressing into a bowl. Cover with foil and refrigerate.
  4. Heat grill to medium. Cook steaks to medium-rare. Skirt steaks cook fast, so allow approximately three minutes on each side.
  5. Slice rolls and serve steak with vinaigrette sauce from the refrigerator.

» More recipes


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