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Food Fight: Pork Ribs

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I recently organized a rib crawl that consisted of 11 people feasting on ribs from five restaurants in one afternoon. We covered Pierson & Company Bar-B-Q, Burns BBQ, Gatlin's BBQ, Gabby's Barbeque, and Pizzatola's Bar-B-Cue--in that order. Ribs were ranked on a scale of 1-5, with five being the best. Final scores are averages of the 11 participants. Here's a recap and results of the festivities, listed from best-tasting rib of the day to least favorite.

Gatlin's BBQ Price: $22.50/slab Consensus: Elite ribs Score: 4.56 My take: I know we usually hold the winner to very end of Food Fight, but not this time around. Gatlin's was simply outstanding in just about every aspect--peppery seasoning, nice bark, and tender, almost fall-off-the-bone ribs. They were lean, but not dry, and had no need for sauce. That's a good thing because the sweet sauce, although good, didn't add anything to the taste of the meat. Mike's take: "Awesome flavor, very tender. Sauce is the best so far. Smoky, yet smooth flavor. Excellent bark."

Pierson & Company Bar-B-Q Price: $22.50/slab Score: 4.43 Consensus: Elite ribs My take: The ribs at Pierson's were top-notch, and given the close proximity to my house, the good people over there have not seen the last of me. If you're a fan of bark, this was the best of the day, and I'm guessing the best in the city. Pierson's is yet another example of a rib that needs no sauce. To me, this is the ultimate barbecue compliment. Blake's take: "The meat was very tender and fell off the bone. Nice streaks of fat kept things juicy. The sauce was mildly spicy and tasty."

Pizzatola's Bar-B-Cue Price: $19.95/slab Score: 3.6 Consensus: Very solid My take: I definitely echoed the group's opinion on Pizzatola's ribs--very solid. I did find them a bit too salty, but overall, a nice showing. The ribs were less moist than some of the competitors. Addie's take: "Sauce was a lot like Campbell's Tomato Soup. The ribs were a bit dry, and the meat did not come off the bone very well. Still, they were pretty good."

Gabby's Barbeque Price: Spare ribs: $18.99/slab, baby back ribs: $18.99/slab Score: 3.2 Consensus: Surprisingly good My take: Gabby's was the only chain place on the crawl, and I think each member probably walked into the restaurant with a few preconceived notions. I was pleasantly surprised with these ribs. We ordered a rack of the spare ribs and baby back ribs. Both slabs looked the part, but certainly didn't have that long-cooked look, nor the smoky flavor. The spare ribs were better than the baby-backs. Brent's take: "Short ribs bad. Long ribs good. Best ceiling so far." Note: He was referring to the restaurant's actual ceiling. Random, but accurate.

Burns BBQ Price: $25/slab Score: 2.27 Consensus: Disappointing My take: Going into this competition, I had Burns as my dark-horse pick. They just didn't bring their A-game, and from the looks of the other scores, most everyone agreed with me. The meat was flavorful, but a bit too chewy, and lacked that classic bark that I so desire. Casey's take: "Not falling off the bone. Not smoky enough. Meh!"

In conclusion: It needs to be noted that not one rib we ate the entire day was bad. In fact, I'd say every place was better than average. Given the high expectations, Burns was the biggest disappointment (and the highest priced ribs). But their ribs were better than about 80 percent of other ribs out there. I think what really took the participants off-guard was the exceptional service from three of the places--Gatlin's, Pierson's and Pizzatola's. At Pierson's, for example, Clarence was even nice enough to show the entire group his smoker--classy move.

Finally, this competition proved to be a two-horse race--Pierson's and Gatlin's. Both places produced just about the finest product imaginable, and it was very easy to tell they loved doing it.

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