Annual Rib Festival at Heinz Field promises plentiful good food, music
If Chris Verosky has his way, Pittsburgh's culinary credentials will include more than pierogies and sandwiches piled high with coleslaw and french fries.
“When you think of Memphis, the Carolinas and Kansas City, you think of barbecue. We want people to think of Pittsburgh as a barbecue mecca,” says Verosky of Elizabeth Township, whose Swhinery will be one of 14 rib vendors at this year's Coors Light Kickoff and Rib Festival from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1 at Heinz Field.
The festival celebrates the upcoming football season at Heinz Field, with the Steelers playing their final preseason game at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 against the Carolina Panthers, and the Pitt Panthers opening their season at noon Aug. 30 against Delaware.
Verosky says his team, which includes his brother Shawn, and their father, Leonard Verosky, a former chef at South Hills Country Club, should be the hometown favorite among a large group of top-notch ribbers from all over the country.
“We're the local boys. We represent Pittsburgh,” Chris says.
The Swhinery has competed in and won trophies in several rib festivals on the East Coast, but its participation has been limited this year to a few big events because of the opening of its restaurant, the Swhinery Smokehouse Bar & Grill in Dormont, in March. They won the People's Choice Award last summer at Heinz Field.
Chris says they plan on bringing 200 cases of St. Louis and baby back ribs (15 racks per case) to feed the hungry festival crowd. They offer three sauces — hot, sweet and honey jalapeno — but Chris says Pittsburghers typically prefer more of a sweet flavor.
Joe Jackson, owner of Smokin Joe's Ribs from Columbus, Ohio, is sure to give the Swhinery team some tough competition. Jackson says he's been coming to Pittsburgh for rib festivals since they were held at the former Three Rivers Stadium. He also has many trophies and awards for his ribs, including last year's Best Ribs winner at Heinz Field.
“The people in Pittsburgh like a sweet, tangy sauce,” Jackson says. “The sauce is the boss at Smokin Joe's. It's different than all the others. Mine is a thin sauce, not thick like ketchup, so you can taste the meat and rub. It's more than a barbecue sauce.”
Jackson says the secret to his award-winning ribs is in the “magic” rub he uses and the long cooking process of 2 1⁄2 hours in a smoker, adding that “we serve no swine before its time.”
Traveling from Willis, Texas, for the Labor Day weekend event in Pittsburgh will be Ron Conway and his Texas Pit Barbecue, the third-place winner last year for best ribs. He'll bring more than 100 cases of ribs, which will be smoked for a minimum of five hours.
Conway has been in the ribs business for 22 years, traveling to 17 festivals during the festival season. He says Pittsburgh is one of his biggest shows.
In addition to plenty of tasty ribs and other foods and refreshments, the Kickoff and Rib Festival will feature free concerts by The Clarks, Maggie Rose, the Eli Young Band and Thomas Rhett, along with rides and games for all ages.
Those attending the concerts may bring blankets and lawn chairs but no coolers or outside food and beverages.
Labor Day Monday, an annual Steelers 5K Run co-chaired by members of the Super Bowl IX 40th anniversary team will take place at 9 a.m. and a free Steelers Youth Clinic will be at 2 p.m.
Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.