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All Up in Their Grill

Ohio's best barbecue teams sizzle under the sun to sling some sauce at the Great American Cook-Off.


After 13 years in the catering business, Tiffin grillmeister Gary Stephens is convinced that he can out-smoke four other Ohio teams to score bragging rights as the Buckeye State's best barbecuer this weekend at The Great American Rib Cook-Off & Music Festival. With a corporate moniker like Sgt. Oink's BBQ Co. Ltd and his revered pulled-pork recipe, how can he not compete with the best? "I smoke it. I shred it. I put my pork seasoning on it. I absolutely, completely refuse to put any sauce on my pulled pork," says Stephens. "If they taste good enough with no sauce on them, that's like icing on the cake."The grill match is only half of the fun. Throughout the weekend, rock and disco kings like Seether, Dennis DeYoung of Styx, and K.C. & the Sunshine Band will work the stage at the Time Warner Cable Amphitheater. On the fairway, Marc's meat managers can teach you how to save money on ribs, beef, and chicken at the supermarket. And barbecue experts will show you the dos and don'ts of grilling near an open flame. Stephens will also hawk his line of three sauces, including the lip-smacking Dixie Sweet, the tangy Mild but Wild, and his new Sweet Chipotle. "I think it's going to do well for me," he says. "It caramelizes nice and sticks to the ribs. It's got an orange sweetness to it, and the chipotle kicks right in."Besides the Ohio-themed showdown, a national cook-off will pit the reigning champ, Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ of New Jersey, against nine teams from six states in the "greatest ribs" and "greatest sauce" competitions. But as for Stephens and crew, they'll zero in on their competition, from Salem's Pigfoot BBQ Company and Massillon's Jack on the Bone to Columbus' Smokin' Joe's Ribs and Cleveland's Bubba's Q World Famous Bar-B-Q & Catering. "If I can get third place or better, I'm doing well. If I'm in the hunt with the rest of them, I can do very well amongst these people," says Stephens. "When people try my food, I do better and better." The Great American Rib Cook-Off & Music Festival is from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today, noon to 11 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday, and noon to 8 p.m. Monday at the Time Warner Cable Amphitheater, 351 Canal Road. Admission is $7 (kids younger than 12 are free). Call 888-761-7469 or visit

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