Mary­land State BBQ Bash draws thou­sands to Bel Air

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - By BRAD KRONER

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.”

BEL AIR

“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.”

BAR­GAINEER PHOTO BY BRAD KRONER

Com­peti­tors sub­mit­ted bar­be­cue ribs for the com­pe­ti­tion.

BAR­GAINEER PHOTO BY BRAD KRONER

Dave Ste­wart-Craig pre­pares ribs for the com­pe­ti­tion.

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