The Oakhurst Community Center turned into an episode of "Hell's Kitchen" without the likes of Chef Ramsey last Saturday during the 13th Annual Rib Fest.
Five community service groups, including Sierra Oakhurst Kiwanis Club, Oakhurst Sierra Sunrise Rotary, Oakhurst Noon Rotary, Sierra Lions Club and Elks Lodge #2724 came together, each preparing more than 100 pounds of barbecue pork ribs in an effort to claim the honor of "Best Ribs," chosen by a panel of judges randomly selected from the audience.
This year's Rib Best crown went to the Oakhurst Elks Lodge #2724. This is the first win for the lodge with George Gardner as head chef and team members Sherry Hibdon, Grayden Barker, Gregg Mueller, Ken Beatty, Ed Buck and Jim Winney.
Lodge Exalted Ruler Dennis Huff said the Rib Fest was turned over to Gardener and primarily a group of lodge members with no experience in the event because so many of the club's normal participants were out of town.
"Our team looked at the event with fresh eyes and added their own twist and came up with an award winning recipe," Huff said. "Our rookie team will definitely invite all the clubs to our August barbecue so they will have the chance to taste our award-winning ribs again."
Gardner, who had never attended a rib fest, said he read some recipe books and went online to create the rub and sauce for the ribs.
"I think the secret ingredient that helped us win the title was the half bottle of Jack Daniels in the sauce," Gardner said.
The funds raised from the event, $14,500, will help with the maintenance and upkeep of the community center and grounds.
The competition was tough as the five barbecue teams prepared their secret sauces and spiced their ribs to perfection.
Lion's Club President Chris Baker used a new barbecue and smoker box which was made by two students in the Yosemite High School Ag Welding Class.
"The secret is to smoke them slow and on low heat," Baker said.
George Sitts, Oakhurst Community Center board member and member of the two-year reigning champs, Oakhurst Sierra Rotary, feels pretty confident and insists, "It's our special sauce, the preparation and the special rub. We have an unusual blend of flavors so it's not sour or sweet. Then we caramelize the ribs just right."
While there are those who take the competition to heart, other groups like the Oakhurst Sierra Sunrise Rotary are just having a great time making good old-fashioned barbecued pork ribs. Former Madera County Supervisor Gary Gilbert of the Sierra Sunrise Rotary Club said, "Our secret is the light seasoning ... it's that simple."
According to Dale Miller, president of the Oakhurst Community Center board of directors, "This is the only fundraiser we hold for the center and it brings in well over 200 people and raises more than $10,000 a year." But for Miller, it's more than just a fundraiser to help the center, it's a time to give back to the community and to do so in memory of his late wife Barbara, who also donated much of her time to help serve and better the community.
This is Dale's first year as OCC president, but he has volunteered over the years to keep the Oakhurst Community Center thriving and to assure the success of the annual event.
More than $8,000 in sponsorships were provided for the Rib Fest, including Diamond sponsor Sierra Tel, Gold sponsors Kiwanis, Oakhurst Sierra Rotary, Soroptimist International of the Sierras and Silver sponsors Sullivan's Tire Pros, Yosemite Bank and Claiborne & Associates.
Nora Hunting, community center treasurer, called the event a huge success adding "we appreciate all the support from the merchants and community."