Bethpage firefighter Charlie Razenson didn’t wait for the grilling throwdown on Friday morning to get started on his ribs. He marinated them Thursday night in his super-secret rub.
Razenson then got to the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Educational Center bright-and-early -- really early -- at 5 a.m. Friday to put them on the grill and compete in the fourth annual Long Island Firefighter Food Face-Off.
Later, as the hot sun beat down, he showed off his masterpiece to people passing by his cooking station, Razenson divulged his secret ingredient: Merlot.
“If you tell them what’s in it, it’s not a secret anymore,” quipped his partner, Ernie Fiker, who was grilling his pastrami burgers nearby.
Three fire departments battled in the competition for flame-covered trophies with BBQ grills perched on top and gift cards to Fairway Market.
Despite the time devoted to his ribs, Razenson and Fiker from the Bethpage Engine Company No. 7 came in third place, after champions East Meadow Engine Company No. 2 and the runners-up from the Rockville Centre Fire Department.
The mostly-friendly but fierce competition challenged each team to make two dishes: ribs and then either a burger or chicken. When the competition was already underway, a secret ingredient was thrown into the mix that they had to incorporate into their meals: poblano peppers.
Mike Baumann and Howard Bartone – the winners from East Meadow - gave the peppers a starring role on their menu by making stuffed peppers to accompany their baby back ribs.
Rockville Centre chef Greg McClain also got creative, making burgers with Japanese flair.
“We’re in a new class with these chefs,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who was one of the four judges grading the grilled masterpieces. “The meals were all excellent, artistic and flavorful.”
While Mangano may not be a master chef, he said he, too, can whip up a mean burger. His specialty: stuffed burgers.
He even shared his secret: “You mix up whatever you want to stuff it with, whether it be cheese or mushrooms, put that between two patties and there you have a stuffed burger,” he said.
But the competition wasn’t all about bragging rights and good food. It was also a reminder to Long Islanders about how to stay safe as they prepare for their July 4th cookouts.
All of the firefighters and John Murray, chief safety instructor at the firefighter museum, said one of the biggest fire hazards they see is un-maintained grills.
“People don’t check the hoses or the BBQ tanks to see if they are loose or leaking,” Murray said, adding they also need to be cleaned regularly to remove food drippings.
At the end of the morning, judge Adam Miller, Vice President of Food Service for Fairway Market, said in addition to the important fire safety tips, there is something else we should never forget.
“Firefighters are talented cooks,” he said.
Pictured: The winners and judges (including Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, seated at left) of the Long Island Firefighters Food Face-Off.