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posted: 6/27/2012 3:06 PM

Ribfest cooks share their secrets and how they got started

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  • Alyson Lupinetti, Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ, said she has some big shoes to fill -- those of her father, pictured in 2009, who started the business and won more than 600 awards in his career.

    Alyson Lupinetti, Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ, said she has some big shoes to fill -- those of her father, pictured in 2009, who started the business and won more than 600 awards in his career.
    Courtesy of Alyson Lupinetti

By Annalisa Rodriguez

Every business started somewhere, and every business owner has a story of how he got from there to here.

That isn't any less true for the rib vendors at Naperville's Ribfest 2012, many of whom are repeat vendors.

Sixteen vendors from all over the country will participate in this year's Ribfest, serving up ribs cooked with special sauces and techniques. The annual gastronomical extravaganza opened Friday, June 29, and runs through Tuesday, July 3, in Knoch Park, Martin Avenue and West Street, Naperville. Hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday through Tuesday

Three of those vendors spoke with the Daily Herald and shared their stories, cooking techniques and success.

Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ

Alyson Lupinetti can attribute her business' start and success to an emotion felt by everyone at one point or another: boredom.

Lupinetti recently took over Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ after her father, Butch Lupinetti, passed away. She said it all started when her parents got bored one weekend and decided to drive to Virginia for a rib festival. Her father came home with a pig, and from there, he started going to other shows, meeting people in the industry and getting serious about barbecue.

"My dad's been doing it for as long as I can remember," Lupinetti said.

This will be Lupinetti's first year at Naperville's Ribfest since taking over the business, which she said has won more than 600 awards throughout her father's career.

"It was one of my dad's favorite shows because it's all about kids," she said. "He liked that the money went to help kids."

Butch's is based in New Jersey, but the business travels around the country.

Lupinetti said Butch's uses its own tomato-based sauce, which is sweeter and thicker in flavor, and New Jersey hickory wood to smoke all its meat.

"It just gives it a really unique flavor," she said. "We grow the trees on our property, so we feel it gives it a homegrown feel."

Butch's also cooks everything at lower temperatures for a longer period of time.

"It gives the meat a chance to cook all the way through without drying out," Lupinetti said.

Lupinetti said her dad was very personable with Ribfest attendees, giving them cooking tips and even pulling them behind the tent to tell them stories about the old days and growing up on a farm.

"It was a really big passion for him," she said. "He kind of touched everyone that he talked to. He was friends with everyone."

Hog Wild Barbeque

Prisons and festivals are two very different environments. But they do have one thing in common: Joe Henderson has worked the kitchens of both.

Henderson worked as a cook in the Ohio prison system for 30 years.

"We had 2,500 inmates and we fed them three times a day, so it was a massive organization," he said.

But at home, Henderson was getting a lesson in barbecue.

"I've always been a fan of barbecue," Henderson said. "My father-in-law taught me how to cook and appreciate ribs and the art of using different woods."

Henderson's father-in-law introduced him to Tennessee barbecue, and in 2002, Henderson and his wife opened their own traveling rib show, Hog Wild Barbecue, based in Mansfield, Ohio. Hog Wild has participated in Ribfest for the past five years.

"It's a unique situation where the goal is to benefit children, and you have a really good time doing it," Henderson said.

The rib vendor uses six different flavors of sauces with a vinegar base, ranging from mild all the way up to "too hot to handle." Spices are hand-rubbed into the meat.

Henderson uses different styles of mostly hickory wood, but other woods like cherry are sometimes used as well. Different woods have different assets, Henderson said, and those that are harder make for better ribs.

"We try to provide a really unique product," he said.

Henderson also serves other items at festivals, such as pulled pork, beef brisket and specialty baked beans that recently won an award in Michigan. Hog Wild has won roughly 100 awards in its 10 years and receives high praise from customers.

"We've won awards in just about every state we've gone to," Henderson said. "We have a lot of repeat customers who come back every year that look specifically for us."

Henderson believes ribs are so popular and make such a good festival item because of their difficulty to cook.

"Not everybody can cook a rib," he said. "Ribs are one of those unique items where you can't just put it on the grill."

Howling Coyote Southwest BBQ

Ribs more tender than a mother's love -- that's how Ed Latkowski describes Howling Coyote's barbecue.

Latkowski and his team of cooks have come to Naperville's Ribfest every year except the first.

"I like to eat barbecue, so I've been barbecuing all my life," he said. "I've been trying to perfect something I really like."

Latkowski said he would always cook for friends at his home, and they liked it so much they told him he should open his own restaurant.

Instead, he decided to open a traveling show.

"I like life on the road in the summer," Latkowski said.

The vendor has competed from coast to coast and won more than 50 awards, including first place ribs in Canada and Nebraska, best brisket, best pulled pork and first place at Naperville's Ribfest.

"We're the favorite of a lot of people all around the country," Latkowski said.

Latkowski slow-cooks his ribs for roughly 4 hours and puts a dry rub of more than 40 herbs and spices on the ribs to marinate them before cooking. Slow-cooking makes the ribs more tender, he said.

"The most important thing to remember about barbecue is you don't rush it," Latkowski said. "It takes time."

The cook prefers to use hickory, cherry or apple woods when cooking.

"They complement the meat," he said. "The smoke adds some flavor to the meat, but it doesn't overpower it."

Then Latkowski finishes up with the sauce. He uses three sauces in his cooking -- his original grilling sauce, which tenderizes the ribs; a molasses-based sweet and smoky dipping sauce; and a spicy, vinegar-based chipotle sauce.

Howling Coyote specializes in St. Louis-style pork spare ribs, which are spare ribs with the rib tips and brisket bone cut off. This leaves a thinner cut and a larger meaty portion on the ribs, Latkowski said. They can cook longer, so they are more tender.

The other items Howling Coyote will serve at Ribfest include pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken breast and handmade tamales smothered with pulled pork or beef brisket.

To Latkowski, nothing means more than seeing customers enjoy themselves.

"We love what we do, and when we put all that love into the product," he said, "we love to see the people happy when they eat the ribs."

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