Capri Scarcelli | a&e editor
Nothing screams “kickoff to Heinz” more than… barbecue?
The “Heinz Field Kickoff and Rib Festival,” presented by Heinz and Miller Lite, is an annual welcoming to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ football season over Labor Day weekend. Getting its start in 1990 at what once was Three Rivers Stadium, Heinz Field has carried on its tradition of food, family and fun.
With an array of grills and tents lining Gate A and Gate B of the stadium, both local and out-of-town barbecue catering stations had onlookers milling the street to decide which ribs would take the prize. Free live performances were offered on Art Rooney Avenue throughout the day, with free tickets for live entertainment available at Stage AE by the time the sun sets. For kid-friendly activities, there were various rides, carnival games and “Steelers Experience Elements” at the ready for all ages.
Junior education major Erin Wrisley said she noticed everyone at the festival was “there for the food and having a good time about it,” and ended up inviting her entire family.
“It was funny how excited my dad was about his rib choices — he made us check every booth before deciding on food,” Wrisley said.
Senior education major Jarrett Klunk said he enjoyed a “tri-tip platter” of ribs, sirloin and brisket and sat in the grass with friends, enjoying the atmosphere.
“It was a great time. I liked how there was a little country music, which reminded me of my hometown,” Klunk said. “It was a blast, and I would go again.”
As for the ribs themselves, this is a festival that puts the meats to the test. Each year, judges choose their top three favorite businesses, including categories in best ribs, best sauce and people’s choice, which is chosen by customers at the event who vote via text.
This year, the 2021 People’s Choice Award was Bad Azz BBQ, according to heinzfield.com/ribfest. Accompanied with a cash-only express line for just ribs, customers were sure to get a fast and friendly welcome to sample their self-proclaimed specialty.
According to Stacy Bradley, owner of Bad Azz BBQ, her dad started the business as a way to earn money to pay off her college degree. Over time, Bradley said she inherited the business during her college years and aimed to turn it into “a real business,” where she then started applying to festivals like the Heinz Field Kickoff. In their second year of running, Bad Azz BBQ came in first place for Best Ribs and Best Sauce; now, they have won awards for eight years in a row.
“We were the first woman-owned business to ever win Rib Fest, and the first local business to ever win it [as well],” Bradley said. “We decided to just keep running with it.”
Bradley said she has a “seasonally-opened shop” on Becks Run Road right off of East Carson Street, open April 1 – Nov. 1 from 11-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Otherwise, the business caters year-round.
Customers interested in checking out both the pickup and catering menu can go to badazzbbq.com for more information.
Senior education major Abby Lanzelotti said she enjoyed the Heinz Field Kickoff, and can’t wait to return next year.
“I got a pulled pork sandwich and it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted,” Lanzelotti said. “The festival was so interesting and I have never experienced anything like it.”
Wrisley said that this event was close to home in more ways than one.
“It was absolutely surreal to sit on the steps of the stadium for the football team I have loved since I was a kid, just eating ribs.”