At the end of the day, the Best Ribs Around contest is all for a good cause, to benefit Housing and Community Services of Northern Virgina.
But it's really all about the ribs.
Four Kingstowne-area restaurants will bring pounds and pounds of the barbecue favorite, prepared with each establishment's secret recipe, in the hopes of winning over tasters and judges alike for the Best Ribs Around Contest on Saturday, Oct. 14 in the Kingstowne Shopping Center.
The winner of last year's Judge's Choice Award, Shooter McGee's, is looking to keep their title.
"We slow-roast our ribs for eight hours," said owner Stephen Mann, who laughed when asked to divulge his top-secret key to perfect ribs.
"There's a technique to this. Everything about it is an art," said Mann, who brought some of his hometown tricks with him from Kansas City when he came to Northern Virginia.
Using a brown sugar and molasses glaze, Mann is eager to impress tasters once again with a plate full of Danish baby back ribs.
"You can eat these ribs with a fork, they just fall off the bone," he said.
Passing over the chance to share his thoughts on his competition, Mann said his favorite part of the day is watching the families that flock to try out ribs from four restaurants.
"Everybody does a great job, we just all do it differently," he said. "But I'm pretty confident we're going to take first place again."
Not if Ribster's has anything to say about it.
For the first three years of the Best Ribs Around contest, Ribster's took home the Judge's Choice award.
"Our ribs are broiled and then put back on a live grill, so they have a smokey, charcoal flavor," said Ribster's general manager Omar Khalil. "There's a lot of flavor."
In addition, the Memphis-style baby back ribs are coated with a house barbecue sauce for a little extra kick.
"Memphis-style ribs are like spare-ribs, there's a little more meat on them than on baby back ribs," Kahlil said. "The flavor is completely different."
Ribster's will be cooking their ribs fresh on the day of the competition, Kahlil said.
"We'll let our ribs do the talking for us," he said. "It's all in the way we prepare them and how fresh they are that set us apart from others."
FOR THE PAST five years, Kingstowne's Own Red Hot and Blue have gone home empty handed, but managing partner Gray Hurd is confident things will change this year.
"We have the best stuff in town, it's that simple," Hurd said.
Despite not winning either the Judge's Choice or the highly coveted People's Choice award, Hurd said he's looking forward to the event, for which he's planning to prepare 150 slabs of St. Louis-style ribs.
"We have wet ribs and dry ribs," said Hurd. Wet ribs are coated with a mild barbecue sauce, while the dry ribs are coated with a dry rub seasoning, which makes them a bit spicier.
"All of the ribs are smoked in-house. By using St. Louis ribs, the sample is much bigger," he said. "Because the ribs are bigger, they taste a little different, their texture is a little different and the cooking time is different."
Year after year, King Street Blues has won the People's Choice award. Some say it's because the event is held in their parking lot, but those who work there swear it's the taste of their ribs.
"I think we have the best ribs, hands down," said Dinah Sanchez, an employee at King Street Blues. "But I'm not going to tell you our secret."
King Street Blues will begin smoking their ribs earlier in the week prior to the contest, making sure the samples are tender enough to fall off the bone.
"Our ribs have a smoky flavor," she said. "Some places put a lot of vinegar in their sauce but we don't."
Their biggest competition, Sanchez said, may come from Ribster's, but that doesn't mean King Street is ready to relinquish its crown.
"We've won the People's Choice award for the past five years," she said. "That should tell you something."
THE REAL WINNERS of the contest are the clients of Housing and Community Services of Northern Virginia, which raised over $13,000 in last year's competition.
"This is our signature event," said Michele Long, office manager for the Housing and Community Services of Northern Virgina. "It's a good time for the whole family without having to costing a lot. Plus, it raises awareness of homelessness and raises money for us to help people not become homeless."
Housing and Community Services of Northern Virgina provides financial aid to people at risk of losing their homes or who need help in paying for their utilities during an emergency financial situation, Long said.
In addition to trays and trays of ribs, Ben and Jerry's will be providing ice cream, and music from Meray Entertainment and face painting from Just Clowning Around will be available for children, Long said.
The idea for the rib contest came from a former Housing and Community Services of Northern Virgina board member, inspired by the popularity of chili cook-offs, said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, one of the event's sponsors.
"It's a great concept. People pay $5 to get in and buy tickets for rib samples," Manney said. "Typically, a sample is one or two ribs. Once people try ribs from the different places, they vote on whose they liked the best."
Manney said she's never been able to try all the samples, however she's often too full to continue eating.
"It's a lot of ribs," she laughed.
Voting for the People's Choice award can get complicated, and people often play favorites.
"I haven't had a single rib yet, but I know who I'm voting for," Manney confessed. "This is a restaurant that I go to often and I love their ribs, so I'm going to vote for them."
She declined, naturally, to disclose her favorite.
With up to 1,000 people expected to attend, Manney said the real winners are those helped by the Housing and Community Services of Northern Virgina.
"The more tickets we sell, the more money we'll make for HCSNV," she said.