The cooks and their 'cue

These professionals follow the circuit to Ribfest to market their sauces and rubs.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published November 10, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Solomon Williams was raised on the mouthwatering taste of smoked pork in barbecue sauce.

But when Williams moved from his boyhood home in Georgetown, S.C., upstate to Spartanburg, he discovered that it was not easy to find the type of barbecue he liked.

He thought, "I need to do what I did at home up here."

Williams got his chance when a friend wanted to get rid of an oil barrel. Williams turned it into a mobile grill.

Eventually, a friend invited him to compete in a barbecue contest in Cleveland, Ohio. Although he'd had a restaurant and cooked for people in the South, Williams worried whether his Southern barbecue would be accepted in the North.

He needn't have worried.

"I won the greatest sauce in America the first time out," Williams said Friday.

He kept competing and kept winning. Now, he sells his Carolina Rib King sauce in specialty stores and is readying a rub to go with it. Williams also wanted to come to St. Petersburg's Ribfest, but he kept getting shut out. This year, he finallymade it.

Williams is one of 13 barbecue experts competing at Ribfest, which began Friday and continues today and Sunday.

"It started from a street corner at a night club. It ended out here on the midway," Williams said. When he started, he had his 5-foot barrel and a little truck to carry it. "Now, I need an 18-wheeler to haul this stuff."

The contestants this year are all professionals who use events like Ribfest as public relations machines to create a following for their sauces and rubs, said Paul Mackay, of Aussom Aussie. Mackay sells his sauces on the Internet.

The beauty of shows like Ribfest is the ability to showcase a sauce the way it should be cooked, Mackay said.

"This goes beyond the food demo in the grocery store," Mackay said.

Mackay is a native of Sydney, Australia. He spends about 10 months of the year in the United States. He is based out of Pittsburgh where he has a warehouse for his mail order sauce business. He's won ribfests in Canada and England as well as in this country.

Mackay's sauces are based on Australian, fruit-based barbecue flavorings. But recently, Mackay's been experimenting with some heat. He has such flavors as Raspberry Chipotle as well as the sauces his regulars are used to seeing.

The event benefits All Children's Hospital, child abuse prevention programs, college scholarships and other child-related charities. Even though it's a business, Mackay said, he and many others rarely enter contests that are not for a good cause.

If you go


The event continues today at Vinoy Park, Fifth Avenue NE on North Shore Drive, St. Petersburg. Gates open at 11 a.m. daily. The festival closes each day at the conclusion of the final music act. Tickets are $15 at the gate. Children age 12 and younger get in free with a paying adult. No coolers, pets or outside food or beverage allowed. Blankets and small lawn chairs are permitted. See www.ribfest.org or call (727) 528-3828.