The Critical Mass

Too Pig to Fail

After last weekend, I’m swearing off pork. Beer. And whiskey.

Until, oh, this weekend.

Too Pig to Fail: The Dopes get a call at the Roc City Rib Fest.

Too Pig to Fail: The Dopes get a call at the Roc City Rib Fest.

I suppose the physical toll exacted on my body over Memorial Day weekend at the Roc City Rib Fest was ultimately worth it. The Smokin’ Dopes – the most-photographed team in the history of barbecue competitions, judging by Facebook postings over the past few days – entered all 10 categories in the competition. We picked up a fifth place in “Bacon in a Box,” which is where you show off creative ways to cook bacon. We finished 10th in bacon dessert. Twelfth in ribs. That’s three calls, as they call it in the barbecue fest world. That’s three times that the Smokin’ Dopes – with 23 people, by far the largest team in the competition – got called to the stage. As our slogan promised, we were “Too Pig To Fail.”

At 6:30 Sunday morning, the sun was filtering through the trees, heating the chilled festival site at Ontario Beach Park on the edge of Lake Ontario. It was quiet, and quite beautiful. At the Smokin’ Dopes encampment, the ribs, pork shoulder and brisket were tucked away in our collection of dented Weber grills and rusting old smokers, including Hogzilla, welded out of a 55-gallon drum. Our life-size paper mache pig mascot, Porcina, relined in her chair. The merchandise table was restocked with official Smokin’ Dopes aprons, T-shirts and baseball caps. A trash bag of empty beer cans leaned casually against a tent pole, waiting for the next homeless guy to pass by. With the blue smoke whirling out of the chimney pipes, the Smokin’ Dopes’ little corner of the world looked like a hillbilly homestead.

Smokin' Dopes mascot Porcina, left, and the writer at the Roc City Rib Fest. Photo by Porcina's mom, Claire Marziotti.

Smokin' Dopes mascot Porcina, left, and the writer at the Roc City Rib Fest. Photo by Porcina's mom, Claire Marziotti.

I took a walk around the park, checking out the team names on the banners at the front of each site. Hollywood Butt Doubles. Up In Smoke. Not So Famous BBQ. Notorious P.I.G. Big RVs with satellite dishes. Smoking rigs that cost thousands of dollars. These pros must chuckle when they walk past the Smokin’ Dopes and see our rattlebang equipment.  Some of these teams come from out of state. They spend their summers bopping from one barbecue event to the next. There were 124 teams at the 2013 Roc City Rib Fest. Most didn’t get a call at awards time. The Smokin’ Dopes were very fortunate, indeed.

Huh? What’s this? A team called The John Gault BBQ Company? Is that a misspelled reference to John Galt, the main character in novelist Ayn Rand’s celebration of the 1 percenters, Atlas Shrugged? I continued my walk. Here was a bumper sticker on the back of a pick-up truck: “Ted Nugent for President.”

I figured we’d all be one red-meat world as we hovered over the temperature gauges of our smokers. Instead, I saw guys walking around in camo fashions and NRA shirts. Huge guys, who looked like they had cholesterol numbers somewhere along the lines of the readings you’d find on a thermostat sitting on the surface of the sun. This, apparently, is expected. Every team gets a little bag of goodies when they check in, including a Roc City Rib Fest T-shirt. It’s an XXL. That’s the one aspect of barbecue where the Smokin’ Dopes don’t measure up. We don’t have anyone on the team who fits that shirt.

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