Dozens of hungry Brummies have been taking on a meat feast of Man Vs Food proportions. Mary Griffin goes carnivore at the city’s latest food phenomenon, Rib Nights
The rumble gets louder as 70 hungry diners thump the tables in front of them.
As the dinner table drum-roll reaches a crescendo the whole room erupts in a collective roar: “Rib Nights!” to encourage their chefs on the roof above.
This room of strangers makes up the third round of a new event that’s taking the Midlands food scene by storm.
Rib Nights, the brainchild of event organiser Ahmed Kage, pits two specialist barbecue teams against one another to come up with their finest recipe and win over the crowd.
Sourcing different meat, making different sauces and employing different cooking techniques the two teams prepare and perfect their ribs out of sight of the diners who will each be presented with a plate piled high with two distinct set of ribs.
For the blind tasting, a cocktail stick in one set will carry the flag “Team A” and another, “Team B”.
After the feasting on the ribs, with side portions of corn bread and slaw, each diner must cast their vote, dipping a greasy thumb into the sauce of their preferred pile before planting a saucy finger print in the appropriate box on their ballot paper.
And only when the ribs are devoured and the votes are counted will the Rib King be crowned.
The event started as a one-off pop-up at Hockley food hub The Church Inn, with the barbecue teams cooking up a storm on the roof terrace while the back room beneath came alive with cocktails, music and magic.
But December’s debut was such a success that the ribs returned for second helping.
And when tickets for round two sold like hot cakes, round three was extended to two sittings, and with 70 per cent of tickets for round-four selling out in just over two hours Rib Nights is now revving up for a UK tour.
Ahmed, who has dedicated himself to adventures in the field of food after ditching his IT job last summer, says the concept has been a runaway success.
“Everyone likes to get mucky and dirty,” he says, “even though some people might not admit to it. It’s true!
“People love to get filthy when they’re eating ribs – I’ve yet to have one person complain about getting their fingers messy, their clothes dirty or to ask for tissues. They love it!”
The event follows a rising trend for barbecued meaty morsels.
Four years ago friends Jon Finch and Ben Merrington returned from a trip to the States inspired to set up Grillstock in the South-west, a festival celebrating barbecue culture.
Around the same time Tom Adams and Jamie Berger decided to bring US barbecue food to the streets of London, serving ribs, wings and pulled pork from their Pitt Cue burger van before setting up a successful restaurant near Carnaby Street.
“Everyone’s taking food back to its roots with the street food movement and with barbecuing,” says Ahmed, “and with barbecuing in particular people are starting to recognise it as an art form.
“I knew from the ribs I’d tasted before launching Rib Nights that there’s a significant difference between different chefs and that’s something I wanted to really show off.”
Rib Nights is taking the barbecue celebration a step further by introducing a competitive element, making it one of the UK’s only events revolving around diners casting votes on the food they’ve eaten.
And Ahmed has pulled out the stops to make it a night to remember.
“We try to cover the whole spectrum of senses with something for the eyes, ears, tastebuds and bellies,” he says.
Tonight’s music comes from resident DJ Manzo who produces a Mixcloud funk, soul and electro mix as an appetiser that’s circulated to ticket holders a week before the event.
Bench seating encourages guests to sit beside people they haven’t met before, and makes the event more warm and welcoming to diners venturing out on their own.
Redditch-based magician Gavin Parsons tours the room while diners wait to be served, leaving crowds of customers speechless with his tricks and performing one mind-bending illusion in front of the whole room.
Ahmed says: “I think people like the community spirited aspect of it.
“There’s always a real buzz in the place because everyone’s involved and everyone’s talking to everyone else.
“We’ve even had two vegetarians who’ve paid full ticket price coming along to accompany someone who obviously loves their ribs.
“They’ve both left the event happy so there’s definitely something for everyone.”
While the barbecue teams are cooking, bourbons are passed around until everyone is sitting in front of two shot glasses, one full of bourbon and one full of pickle brine.
On the cry “Pickleback!” (a drinking tradition that, like the barbecue revolution, has travelled across the Atlantic) a synchronised downing commences across the room as the bourbon is sunk first, quickly followed by the pickle.
“I’ve always had an interest in food and drink and creative events,” says Ahmed.
“Lots of my friends are either chefs or have their own bars, clubs or restaurants so I’ve always helped them to devise cocktail menus, run cocktail competitions and do secret reviewing.
“I wanted to make Rib Nights a real experience – more than just a load of people turning up, eating ribs and going home again.”
Judging by ticket sales and the joy of the crowd his recipe seems to be working.
With diners travelling to Rib Nights from London, Leicester, Coventry and Leamington, this Birmingham event is now set to be exported, making an appearance in Leicester next weekend before a tour taking in Worcester, Oxford, London, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds.
Tonight, the resident Soul Food Project’s sweet and sticky ribs have been narrowly beaten by the tenderly slow-cooked and subtly spiced ribs of Swindon’s former British BBQ Champions Bunch of Swines.
Round-four at the Church Inn next weekend is set to be followed by one more this summer before the winners of all rounds are invited to a grand final in the form of a one-day festival at the end of August, where the competition will find Birmingham’s undisputed champion ribs.