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Epicurious: BBQ Bob gets back in the barbecue game with Ribfest

Wild Wood opens on evenings every weekend through Sept. 12
“BBQ Bob” Haselbach mans the smokers out front of Wild Wood in Function Junction.

When Wild Wood was on the brink of closing last summer, long-time chef Bob Haselbach swooped in to purchase one of Whistler locals’ favourite haunts. But keeping the Function Junction diner’s doors open in the midst of a pandemic and ongoing staff shortage hasn’t left a lot of time for one of Haselbach’s passions: the competitive barbecue circuit.

Thankfully, Wild Wood is open for evening service every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the rest of the summer as part of Ribfest, and “BBQ Bob,” as he is affectionately known, will not only get to indulge in his love once more but bring in some extra revenue after a tough year.

“Ribfest is just a way for me to play and do what I like to do as well,” said Haselbach. “It’s extra overtime on me, but because it’s a hobby and something I love to do, it doesn’t feel like extra work.”

The namesake of BBQ Bob’s when it ran out of the space where Red Door Bistro is now, Haselbach is no slouch on the smoker. First falling in love with barbecue in the early 2000s when, while working at Dusty’s Bar & Grill, he got a chance to go to “barbecue school,” a two-day workshop out of Bellevue, Wash., where he won his first competition. From there, he took part in a few events on the competitive circuit, and a hobby grew into a bonafide passion. Along the way, he and his team took home all kinds of hardware, including 11 grand championships, a few reserve championships, and even a Chef’s Choice award at the World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn. one year.

But for Haselbach, it isn’t the grill glory that kept him coming back to the barbecue circuit for more than a decade, but the people he met along the way.

“I haven’t competed that much in the last five years and they’re the people I still talk to on Facebook and texting,” he said. “There’s a kinship there. We go through all the same trials and errors, and doing bad to get good. Just all the combinations of different meats and spices and smoke, there are so many variables to play with.”

The BBQ Bob style tends to skew more towards sweet heat, Haselbach said, using a dry rub to smoke his meat before typically finishing them off with maple syrup and brown sugar, a hint of Canadiana that usually makes him stand out from his American counterparts.

“[In New York State], people really liked salty food. When I was in Kansas City, people really like it sweet and sugary. In Tennessee, they liked it spicy. Then the Carolinas, North and South, they fight over flavour profiles like no other states,” he said. “I go for sweet heat … It’s layers and layers of different things so that when you do get my bark or crust on the outside of the pork or brisket, you can’t even figure it out. There’s a lot going on, and it’s all good.”

For Ribfest, BBQ Bob is serving his signature baby back ribs, in a half ($18) or full rack ($30), and his barbecue chicken ($20), both with a side. Then you can buy his 18-hour slow-cooked pulled pork ($18), beef brisket ($24) or smoked chicken thighs ($18) by the pound, or in a sandwich ($16 to $18), with a side. There’s also a smoked vegetable sandwich ($16) on the menu. Sides includes coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans and smoked gouda cornbread.

Ribfest runs from 4 to 9 p.m. every Friday and Saturday, and from 4 to 8 p.m. every Sunday, through Sept. 12 at Wild Wood, giving another evening option for Whistler’s south end.

“With all the staff shortages and stuff in town, a lot of restaurants aren’t open as late and there are less places for people to eat,” said Haselbach. “There’s a big community down here and in Cheakamus, so they don’t have to go down to Creekside or the village to get a meal now at night.”