Maryland State BBQ Bash draws thousands to Bel Air
Special from the Bargaineer
— On a scorching Saturday, the only thing hotter than the sun was the sizzling barbecue at the 2016 Maryland State BBQ Bash, held in downtown Bel Air on Friday and Saturday.
People swarmed from all over the region to taste the best barbecue Maryland has to offer, browse products from crafters, and enjoy music from popular musicians.
The sweltering heat didn’t keep people away from the two-day tailgate party. Even as the heat index approached 100 degrees, thousands of people poured in from all over the state and from up and down the East Coast.
On Friday, around 10,000 people visited the BBQ Bash, according to an estimate from Christine McPherson, the executive director of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, a group that organized the event.
McPherson expected that number to triple on Saturday.
“We’ll be expecting 20,000, maybe 30,000 people,” she said, explaining that the event draw visitors from up and down the East Coast. “We market this event around the region.”
In its 14th year of operating, the BBQ Bash has been named Harford County’s best event five years in a row, McPherson said.
“It’s part of the culture of Harford Countians,” she said. “People schedule their summer plans around this event.”
Founder Craig Ward said “it’s gone great.”
“It’s amazing to hear how this has become an event, where families really plan to come out and enjoy it,” he said.
Greg Pizzuto, director of tourism for Harford County, added, “It’s quite a production.”
“I don’t think people realize how big this event is and how important this event is,” he added, noting that many competitors go on to compete nationally.
Pizzuto explained that the event has a huge economic impact on the region, due to the high attendance.
“Everyone looks forward to this event every year,” he said.
The event features some of the very best barbecue the region has to offer.
Barbecue competitors came from states as far away as Georgia. Forty-five professional teams compete for an opportunity to participate in national competitions.
Lloyd Hess, the owner of the award winning Hess’s Barbecue in Lancaster, Pa., said he has participated in the event since day one. Last year, Hess’s Barbecue won first place at the bash for barbecue chicken.
In Pennsylvania, Hess’s Barbecue is a five-time state barbecue champion as a member of the PA Midnite Smokers Championship BBQ Team. In 2011, they took third in the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational BBQ.
Many barbecue businesses compete at the bash but don’t serve as a vendor.
“What is unique about us is we vend and compete at the same time,” Hess said. “It’s tough.”
Competitors are faced with frequent deadlines to submit dishes for judging. Submissions are rated on presentation, flavor, sauce and other attributes.
Forty-six amateur teams compete for money and bragging rights in the MD State BBQ Bash Tailgate Challenge. Many of these teams work their way up, hone their craft and later compete in the professional challenge.
Dave Stewart-Craig, the owner of Main Street BBQ, said he started out in the tailgate challenge 14 years ago and worked his way up to the professional competition after performing well in the amateur competition.
Stewart-Craig hopes to “compete well” enough to get recognized by a local restaurant that wants to offer his barbecue.
Main Street BBQ isn’t an actual business in Bel Air, he said, explaining that it’s just his selected team name.
“I just picked a good name,” he laughed.
He loves the “craziness of the event, which is really a 36-hour tailgate.”
Of course, the barbecue was delicious.
“Oh my gosh,” McPherson said. “The barbecue is phenomenal. I can’t even think of a word to describe it. It’s delicious.”
Competitors submitted barbecue ribs for the competition.
Dave Stewart-Craig prepares ribs for the competition.