The biggest barbecue gathering in this region happens every August at the Ulster County Fairgrounds, where the 15th annual Hudson Valley RibFest will be held Friday through Sunday, August 16-18. The event goes on rain or shine, and parking is plentiful and free.
The Highland Rotary Club puts on the three-day event, enlisting more than 300 volunteers, with IHeart Media and Hannaford supermarkets the major sponsors. RibFest proceeds enable the Rotary Club to support their many projects locally and promote humanitarian causes worldwide.
RibFest kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday, August 16 with “$5 Friday.” Tickets offer general admission until the fairgrounds close at 10 p.m. Live music begins at 5:15 p.m. with Thunder Ridge, followed by Williams Honor at 7:30 p.m.
Friday evening also brings the first of two “Best of the Fest” VIP experiences for those age 21 and over. The cost for Friday’s VIP event is $60, with just 100 tickets available. VIP ticketholders receive unlimited ribs, beer, wine and soda along with exclusive sampling from RibFest vendors and a wide variety of side dishes and desserts in a private tent close to the stage with roped-off access. The tent opens at 5 p.m. with food served from 6-9 p.m. Saturday’s VIP experience costs $70, which brings an additional hour of food and beverage service and is also available for just 100 ticketholders. No children are allowed in the tent. Tickets are available in advance online only.
Single-day general admission to RibFest on Saturday or Sunday costs $7 for adults, purchased online or at the gate. Admission for kids under age 12 is free. The cost includes entry to the festival, live music, kids’ activities, the demonstration tent and additional entertainment along with access to the contest area and same-day re-entry. The fairgrounds will open on Saturday, August 17 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday festival hours on August 18 are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Touch of Rhythm will kick off Saturday’s live music, performing from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., followed by Mister Kick from 2-4 p.m. Spinn takes the stage from 5:30-7 p.m., followed by headliner Nikki Briar at 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, live music begins at 11 a.m. with a short set by 14-year-old New Paltz native Laila Mach, who plays guitar, piano and ukulele and includes singing and songwriting among her talents. She’ll be followed by Jennie Angel from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Kolby Oakley takes center stage at 1 p.m., with Jordan Stoner closing out the festival from 3-5 p.m. The RibFest website contains detailed bios and information about all the performers.
Food vendors will include those offering items outside the realm of barbecue, including hot dogs, hamburgers and fries, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, sourdough pizza, jerk chicken, Jamaican food and authentic Polish cuisine. Look for vendors offering roasted sweet corn, pickles, ice cream and Italian ices — not all in one place, of course — and adults can engage in wine and spirits tastings at several vendors or avail themselves of the Highland Rotary Club’s beer tent conveniently located in the center of the festival, with a selection of beer and bottled cocktails available. IDs are checked once and wristbands issued for easy purchase on the second round. Tantillo’s Farm will have apple cider doughnuts and pies, as usual, and the local 4-H kids their “famous milkshakes.”
Barbecue vendors (as of press time) include Big Kev’s BBQ, Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ, Handsome Devil barbecue and Jack McDavid’s Down Home Diner. Each will have half and full racks of ribs available along with other barbecued meats and side dishes, and they sell bottles of their sauces and spice rubs, too.
Activities this year include the return of the mechanical bull (by popular demand). For kids, there will be craft-making and a “Family Fun Area” with inflatable bouncy houses.
The chef demo tent on Saturday and Sunday hosts all-day cooking demonstrations and tastings, including spirits tastings with Tuthilltown Distillery. Cookbook authors and professional chefs offer barbecue and grilling secrets along with a host of other culinary information. The last demo in the tent on Saturday begins at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
The marketplace area at the festival will be full of vendors offering a range of items from gourmet nuts, fudge and candy to clothing and cutlery. A complete list of vendors is on the event website.
The barbecue competition
RibFest also includes a barbecue competition. Sixty teams of competitors set up their grills in a “village” of sorts at the back of the fairgrounds, behind where the main action for visitors takes place. Hudson Valley RibFest is affiliated with the Empire State BBQ Championship Challenge, a statewide series of competitive events intended to promote the love of barbecue.
On Saturday, August 17, The New England Barbecue Society will sponsor a grilling contest that will include a category based on New York State’s premier agricultural product: apples. Contestants in the grilled apple category must use Hudson Valley apples as a main ingredient in their dish, not merely as a garnish.
Sunday’s competition, sponsored by the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS), will be all about the barbecued meats: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt/shoulder and beef brisket. Winners earn cash prizes and bragging rights.
The judges for the contest have all completed a KCBS-sanctioned rib-judging training program. Spots to act as judges at Hudson Valley RibFest are snapped up quickly each February when the word is put out to apply. The ribs cooked up by the competitive teams are strictly for judging, not for sale to the public, but some of the contest teams do act as “tailgate vendors,” selling sauces and t-shirts or other BBQ-related products. Competitors are also happy to chat with visitors who wander back to the contest area. For more information about the competition, visit www.empirestatebbqchampionship.com.
For more information about Hudson Valley RibFest or to purchase advance tickets, visit https://hudsonvalleyribfest.org/.