It Happened to Me

Pigging Out at Toronto Ribfest 2010

Joey deVilla on a pig ride

The Missus and I have started a tradition of going to Ribfest during the Canada Day weekend. A number of barbecuers – a half-dozen to a dozen of them, some from Canada, some from the States as far down as Florida, come to Centennial Park every year to serve the magical meat known as pork and compete for prizes.

Ribbers preparing ribs on the grill at Kentucky Smokehouse

Ribfest can get very crowded, but if you time your visit right, you can hit the park when few people are around. We decided to visit on Friday for lunch – the day after Canada Day, but still a working day for many people. The crowds were pretty light, but anticipating that, so was the staffing at all the smokehouses, which meant that we waited for our food for about as long as we would’ve waited for it if the place were crowded. Still, we were pleased to get our hands on some pork ribs.

Ribbers preparing ribs on the grill at Kentucky Smokehouse

We generally hop from stall to stall, ordering a half rack from the more enticing ones. Our first stop was Kentucky Smokehouse, who were probably the friendliest crew of the lot and made a tasty half rack.

Kentucky Smokehouse's display signs

I enjoyed the ribs at Billy Bones last year, but we didn’t have any this time ‘round. We gave the American ones higher priority, as they seem to “get” barbecue in the way that we just can’t. It’s odd that in Toronto, we’re very good at doing food from the opposite side of the globe, but just don’t have the knack for making barbecue, the food from the country next door.

Billy Bones BBQ's display signs

Aside from last year, when I grabbed barbecue to go from the Ribfest one rainy weekday afternoon, I’ve never seen crowds so light here:

A relatively small line and uncrowded spaces at Ribfest

Camp 31's display signs

Our next stop was Camp 31, who boasted of having “Alabama’s Finest BBQ Ribs”. We waited in line for 15 minutes and it didn’t budge an inch.

Camp 31's display signs

We looked over at the stall to our left, Bad Wolf, who make great ribs. We decided to leave the Camp 31 line and line up there instead.

A short line of people for Bad Wolf

Bad Wolf make ribs Kansas City style, and they’re quite tasty. They also make a very cake-y cornbread which is fluffy and sweet enough to qualify as a dessert.

Bad Wolf Barbecue's display signs

Of the three places whose food we tried, Bad Wolf was our favourite this year. Nice meaty racks of ribs, and they were generous with their sauce, which was delicious and had a nice tangy bite to it.

Bad Wolf's wolf statue and trophies

Every stall offered a three-meat-combo featuring ribs, pulled pork and chicken, but Camp 31 had the best name for it: 

Sign: "Tree Huggers Special: 3 meat combo (chicken - rubs - pulled pork) $22.00"

The line at Camp 31 finally started moving, so we lined up for their ribs/pulled pork combo platter, which came with beans and very creamy coleslaw. While the meat was good, we thought that Bad Wolf edged them out for our vote as our favourite for 2010.

Camp 31's display signs

You’ve got a couple more days to hit Ribfest – it’s open today and tomorrow (July 3rd and 4th) from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at Centennial Park in Etobicoke:

Map picture

Not only is Ribfest good fun, it’s also for a good cause. It’s run by the Rotary Club and raises money to support local charities and community organizations, including:

  • Trillium Hospital (Formerly Queensway/Mississauga Hospital)
  • Habitat For Humanity
  • The Gatehouse
  • Guide Dogs of Canada
  • Rotary Camp Enterprise (Youth Program)
  • Women’s Habitat
  • Worldwide Polio Immunization & Eradication
  • The Dorothy Ley Hospice
  • Humber River Regional Hospital
  • Toronto Fire Dept. Defibrillator
  • Snoezelen Room at Seneca School
  • P.A.C.T. (Youth Crime Reduction Program)
  • Lakeshore Santa Claus Parade
  • Lakeshore Arts
  • Salvation Army
  • Lori’s Room at St. Joseph’s Hospital
  • Rotary Youth Scholarships
  • Lakeshore Community Policing Station
  • The Troup Program (Toronto Outreach Program for Youth)

Here’s how they raise that money:

  • “Ribbers” and vendors pay to participate in Ribfest.
  • Ribfest also has sponsors.
  • They take onsite donations to "Tubby”, a giant piggy bank at the entrance.
  • Profits from drinks sold on the site go to the charities and organizations.

Have some ribs and a good time, and help out the community!