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Checkered Pig team takes fifth at Nevada rib cook-off
Stephen Ascuaga (right) presents the 5th-place trophy to Tommy Houston (left), co-owner of Checkered Pig, and his 17-year-old son Hunter Houston at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off. (Contributed photo)
Thursday, September 6, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Tommy Houston of Henry County and the Checkered Pig team served up ribs and landed in fifth place in the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off.
The cook-off was held in Sparks, Nev., from Aug. 29 to Labor Day. Houston competed against 24 rib teams, which featured “some of the best rib cooks in the country,” he said, “so I was very pleased.”
Houston was “tickled to death” to get the trophy, he said, because last year, Checkered Pig placed 10th.
The finish was even more special because he got to share it with his 17-year-old son, Hunter, who came along for the second time, he said.
The ribs were blind-judged by chefs, food critics and food writers. Judging was based on appearance, taste and tenderness, Houston said.
Houston and his wife, Lisa, own Checkered Pig which operates the restaurants Checkered Pig in Danville and Pigs R Us in Martinsville, as well as the competitive team.
This was Checkered Pig’s 10th year competing in the Best in the West cook-off. The team won first place in 2004, followed by fourth in 2005, he said.
The competition is different than most in that the teams are allowed to sell what they cook including ribs, hushpuppies, pork, beans, slaw and brisket. In the six days of the cook-off, Houston sold 5,800 slabs of ribs and almost a half ton of hushpuppies, he said. About a half million people attended the cook-off, he added.
“We have quite a following out here in the West,” he said as he traveled through Arizona on his way home on Wednesday.
Houston takes credit for turning the western part of the country on to hushpuppies. “They didn’t know what hushpuppies were out here,” he said. That is, until Houston’s team came along, he said.
While the public did not judge the cook-off, Houston heard comments from people who tasted his ribs, like “they were best they ever had ... very tender ... unbelievable,” he said.
“We felt good about the ribs that we cooked” for the cook-off, he said. The product that was turned in for judging was the same product that the public got, he added.
To prepare for the cook-off, Houston simply tries to perfect the recipes that he has at both restaurants in Martinsville and Danville, he said. “I do the same thing out here as we do back home,” he added.
He said the event was “grueling ... it wears you down.” Some days, his team would be out in the heat for 15 to 16 hours at a time preparing ribs, cooking, and selling.
But “in the end, it’s worth it,” he added.
Houston competes in cook-offs about 10 to 12 times a year, he said. “I just love the thrill of competition and if we win, it brings notoriety to my business,” he added.
His next competition will be later this month in Salisbury, N.C., at the Biker Blues and BBQ Rally. In that event, he will be blind-judged on brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork and chicken, he said.
On Tommy Houston’s team were his wife; son Hunter; friends Charlie Babb of Nashville, Tenn., Vickie Morrison of Martinsville and Kell Phelps of Douglas, Ga.; restaurant employee Vanessa Lipscomb of Martinsville; former restaurant employees Jonas Farrar of Martinsville and Tony Wilson of Danville; restaurant employee Caitlin Emmons of Danville; former employee Erica Stump of northern Virginia; and employee Thomas Young of Martinsville.