LAKEWOOD RANCH -- As the Fifth Annual Main Street Restaurant BBQ Cook-Off approaches, Main Street restaurants are already curing their meats and perfecting their sauces in hopes of winning the official trophy.
Some restaurants, such as MacAllisters Grill & Tavern, are willing to share what they'll be serving, but others, like the Polo Grill and Bar, were less inclined to give up such a sacred secret.
From 6-8 p.m. Saturday, seven restaurants will compete in the cook-off, and the winner will be able to display the trophy in its restaurant for a year, until the next cook-off.
MacAllisters partnered with its Main Street neighbor, Ed's Tavern, five years ago to start the annual shindig.
"You see things like this in a lot of other communities," said Karen Ronney, co-owner of MacAllisters, in her heavy Scottish accent. "We picked a barbecue contest because there isn't an actual barbecue restaurant on the street. Everybody loves barbecue."
MacAllisters is cooking ribs for the event.
"We've never done ribs in the past, and we get fantastic feedback on our ribs here, so that's what we plan on doing," Ronney said.
MacAllisters has never won the event -- even though Ronney is the one who created it.
"We're very frustrated, but we're going to win this year," she said. "It's not fixed, you see?"
The winner is determined by a public vote. Each attendee buys a $5 punch card for a donation (all the profits go to the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund) and then visits each restaurant's booth on Main. Afterward, each taster votes for his or her favorite recipe.
Across the street at Ed's Taven, owner John Breiner won't tell what he's serving.
The only hint: it's not his pulled pork, which has won twice.
"We're going to have a secret weapon that we'll be pulling out," Breiner said.
And Tommy Klauber, owner and chef at the Polo Grill and Bar, isn't giving out any clues either. But he did say that the preparation has already started and something is now curing. "It's going to be delicious," he said.
Aside from the sample item, the Polo Grill also will sell full-size portions, chips and cookies.
Pinchers Crab Shack, which won last year's competition, will dole out its ribs from its sister restaurant, Texas Tony's in Naples. The ribs are smoked and delivered daily, said manager Dacie Broshears.
Other participating restaurants are El Lago Ranchero, Main Street Trattoria and Station 400.
Some customers may think that Main Street restaurants are fiercely competitive, fighting for dollars during lunch and dinner hours, but Ronney said business relations on Main are actually very peaceful.
"It's a family rivalry," Ronney said.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.