On Friday morning, I had some fairly pressing errands that needed attending. One of those stops was my doctor’s office, and I used my time in the waiting room to my advantage – by doing a thorough scouting of the downtown ribfest teams to see where I’d be going to lunch today.
It was in my research that I’d discovered last year’s Ottawa winner of the event for ribs was Jack On The Bone. They’re a competition and catering group out of the sleepy town of Massillon, Ohio, about an hour south of Cleveland. North-Central Ohio isn’t exactly a BBQ mecca by any accounts I’ve ever known of, but that was part of the intrigue to me. How has a team from that part of the world been achieving success for 25 years on the circuit? After the so-so experience from the Kansas City team a day earlier, I was going to find out.
I arrived downtown just as the teams were getting started for the day; meaning I was treated to minimal lines, and even the lunchtime deluge of Millennials hitting up the City Hall Pokestops were in check. Jack On The Bone wasn’t hard to identify immediately – armed with their gargantuan staging, and placed dead centre of the event.
Most of the successful teams have some sort of gimmick to draw further attention, and Jack On The Bone is armed with plenty of party tricks. An assortment of beautiful, well-endowed ladies armed the cash, wearing tight tank tops that read “Check Out Our Racks”. Up front was a bottle of Jack Daniels, attached to a spray pump. Every customer was given the option to enhance their dish with a misting of whiskey. Those who accepted were given a cheer of “JACK ON THE BONE – WOOOOOOOO!”
As I stood in line, watching the show, I spied that they had brisket. Jackpot! I have been wanting for brisket since the summer started, but I haven’t invested the time to smoke a packer this year (which is usually around 15 pounds, and takes all day). I was going to get a mountain of meat, and no one was gonna stop me.
I decided to get the combination ribs and brisket, and then I added a pulled pork sandwich on top. I wanted to sample as much of their goods as possible – and as a positive side effect, I’d wind up getting 3 meals out of it. I was asked if I wanted to Jack my Bones. How is this even a question? While the ladies were enthusiastically Jacking up the ribs, I took my sandwich to the sauce table.
The pulled pork isn’t pre-sauced, giving you the option to choose which of their 3 signature sauces you want to go with. They have sweet and hot options, but I went with the original. It’s a standard tomato and vinegar based sauce, but it’s readily apparent it’s got something else going on. Yup, they Jacked their sauce. Brilliant.
I also enjoyed the fact that the pork wasn’t “pulled” in the traditional sense, but rather it looks like they took it off the smoker right before it reached the point of shredding it, and went with uneven slices and chunks instead; likely around 190 degrees. The benefit that they got out of this, is that the bigger pieces did a better job of maintaining its moisture – not relying on stewing in its own juices or needing a sauce bath to keep from drying out during the day. I actually enjoyed this technique so much I’m thinking about trying it the next time I set out to smoke a butt. Their pork was super flavorful, and it had a good mix of pieces from the middle of the hog, as well as outside bark which had been liberally rubbed down, giving me a nice crunchy, salty bite amongst the soft juicy pork. The picture doesn’t do justice to how big this was either – I had to eat a bunch of pork pieces individually just to make the sandwich small enough to close.
Next, I moved to the ribs and brisket. If you look at the picture, at the bottom right corner, you’ll see a little puddle. That’s not oil – that’s Jack Daniels. The ribs were succulent, having hit the right point, where a bite comes clean off the bone. The membrane was present, but I’ve reached the point where I realize that this is how it’s just on the competition circuit, just based on sheer volume. I don’t like it, and I honestly believe if you want to stand out from the crowd you need to eliminate this from the preparation. I really hope that in time, teams will make it standard practice to give their ribs the same high quality treatment they would inside a restaurant smokehouse, and remove the membrane.
Finally, the brisket. Brisket is a hard beast to keep moist, as it usually dries out as soon as its sliced. They decided to chop theirs, and let it sit in its own juices – which did a pretty excellent job. The pieces were beefy, salty, and delicious – like a smokey roast beef en jus. I was sorry I didn’t add more of their BBQ sauce to really enhance it, but the brisket did a fine job of standing its ground. If you’d served that up on a kaiser roll with a melty piece of Swiss cheese, I’d have died and gone to heaven.
Of the 6 rib vendors I’ve visited this summer, Jack On The Bone easily won me over as my favorite. It’s no wonder they’re given the royal treatment, with the biggest stage, the prime location, and the mountain of awards. They know their meat, they know their sauce … and yup, they know Jack.