A Decade of Rib & Wing Fests at Seven Springs

By Charleen - August 04, 2019

Champion, PA 

Every year, we wait with anticipation for the 3-day Rib & Wing festival at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, a four season playground in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania. Come with a group for the opportunity to relax, enjoy the live music and try ALL the vendors as you feast on ribs, wings, brisket and sides!  
Full rack of Armadillo's ribs
This year's lineup includes past favorites such as Armadillo's BBQ Co, Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ, Mojo's Rib Shack, Smokin' Joe's Hog Wild BBQ, and Pigfoot BBQ. With only three people in my group and one day to enjoy, we ended up trying the rib & wing sampler from three places, selected because they were on our "bests" list from the recent past. 
First for ribs. We are looking for flavor, texture and color. We prefer a seasoned rib with its own flavor, not dependent on sauce, where you can taste the smoke and see the pink smoke line. The meat should be tender and separate easily from the bone, but retain its own integrity to provide a hearty tooth feel. For 4 years running (2015-2018), Butch's had been our personal favorite (winning repeatedly at Seven Springs), but this year Armadillo's has got both Butch's and Pigfoot beat!!  Our sample of Butch's was a bit pale and dry this year. While Pigfoot once again held the most smoke flavor, it was also a bit tough. The Armadillo sample was tender, juicy, flavorful, if a bit pale and paired well with a mixture of their hickory and sweet sauces. The full rack of Armadillo's ribs that we bought later in the afternoon was even better!  Perfect flavor, texture and color!

For wings, we have always kept our own tallies, as Seven Springs oddly does not allow you to vote on wings.  In 2017 and 2018, Pigfoot had the best wing -- smoky and tender, with Butch's well-seasoned and crisp skin as a close second only because it was a little drier. Whereas some of the places deep fry the wings, often resulting in a tough drummette piece, Pigfoot smokes their wings and then finishes them briefly in the fryer. This year, Pigfoot offered 4 ribs and 6 wings,  plus a good slaw, somewhat bland baked beans, and a fluffy dinner roll for $18 complete with wet naps. Armadillo's had a $15 three-rib and 6-wing sampler, but we got an extra rib because he liked our idea of bringing our own container to generate less trash!  The sampler at Butch's was $16. The Armadillo and Pigfoot wings were similar this year, not a lot of character with the former almost too soft and the latter too tough this year. But Butch's well-seasoned wings easily carried the field in 2019!!  We talked to several groups, including a couple that came for only the wing part of the fest. Everyone agreed that Butch's wings were the best in flavor and texture.

Sauces are always a very personal choice. This year, my favorite single sauce is Pigfoot's Mild sauce, which had a bit more of a vinegar kick compared to all the other sweet or mild sauces, and reminded me faintly of plums. My daughter enjoyed the Pigfoot Apple sauce (but we all still mourn the continued absence of Armadillo's Georgia peach sauce). My husband liked the Armadillo's Hickory smoke, and the blend of their Hickory smoke and their Sweet sauce is fantastic. Although I love hot, spicy foods, I find that many of the hot bbq sauces have a bitter or off-taste to them. Sauces always get confusing. Next year, I will try to remember a pen and some labels to help keep track.
The winners of this year's competition were just announced: 
πŸ†Best Ribs: Pigfoot BBQ‬
πŸ†Best Sauce: Hog Wild Barbeque‬
πŸ†Manager’s choice: Butch’s Smack ‬Your Lips BBQ 
We must have caught both Pigfoot and Butch's at the wrong time, as our sampler ribs were dry instead of juicy on their cut surfaces. Maybe they had been held too long after being cut. From 2010-2011, Hog Wild had been my favorite rib, with a peppery sauce and a light crisp crust over meltingly tender pork that pulled easily from the bones. They had a great smoked wing also. But in 2015 and 2016, both ribs and wings were too soft, with bland meat that was falling apart like it had been cooked in a slow cooker. Maybe it's time to give Hog Wild, which has a different sign this year, another try!

Armadillo's has been the most inconsistent over the years. In 2010, they drowned the ribs in a thick, sweet sauce.  Then in 2012, they produced our favorite rib - a true taste test as we had enough people in our group to try the sampler from every vendor. The smoky tender ribs with a crisp exterior was no longer drowned in the dark sauce. Instead they had a choice of sauces, of which the Georgia Peach sauce was the best of the best - great on the other ribs and wings, too. But they never brought that awesome sauce back again, and by 2017, the ribs were soft and mushy with all the meat literally falling off the bone as soon as it was lifted. This year, we loved their rib again. My husband asked about the Peach sauce, and apparently, there have been changes in ownership, potentially explaining the variability.

As for wings, the Flame had the largest, meatiest, tender smoked wings with a fantastic sauce that was redder than most sauces. However, they stopped coming after the first 2 years. Thankfully, Texas Outlaw also stopped coming after 2011. Their wings were nearly inedible drenched in a salty buffalo style sauce. The remaining vendors have been pretty consistent over the past five years, and they all have great products with Butch's being the most consistent.

Looking back, I have attended most if not all of the RibFests over the 10 years that Seven Springs has been hosting them. So I thought I would share some tips.
🐾 Bring your own reusable containers and plan to take home a full rack (or two or three) and a dozen wings of your favorites. A 7-8 cup Rubbermaid container holds a full rack, and a dozen wings fit into an 8 x 6 x 2.5 inch reusable black takeout container. Not all places have sauce cups with lids, so bring a few small containers as well. 
🐾 Venders do change their recipes, or have off days. Thus, it is advisable to buy a small sample before deciding whether or not to go with the full racks, which cost $24-$30.
🐾 Try to convince friends and family members to come with you. Having more people means you can share in both the cost and belly space and allows you to taste test more choices. 
🐾 Don't forget to explore the other vendors, or take a trip inside to Gingerbread Dreams for ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, pastries and fudge. We have bought chainsaw carvings, honey made from a variety of different flowers, jewelry, preserves, condiments, fudge and other unique, handcrafted items.
🐾 Plus, there is so much to enjoy at Seven Springs in the summer. In addition to the live music at two different stages during festivals, there's hiking, paddle-boating and mountain biking -- downhill with a lift ticket for the daredevils or flatter trails meandering around lakes at the top of the mountain. Take the scenic Polar Express lift to see bikers taking the jumps, and come back down the Alpine Slide.

for skiing and all season outdoor adventures.
777 Water Wheel Drive
Champion, PA USA 15622
Open 7 days a week.

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Seven Springs Rib & Wing Festival
Reviewed by Love2Chow on August 3, 2019
Rating: 5

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