Maryland State BBQ Bash returns this weekend
BEL AIR — The Maryland State BBQ Bash in Bel Air has become in its 15-year history one of the largest public events in Harford County with up to 40,000 visitors annually.
It is also an event where families and friends can spend two days enjoying plenty of barbecue and live music, according to Craig Ward, who founded the bash in 2002.
“Going to the bash has become a family tradition for a lot of people,” Ward said Monday.
He said it’s also a time for those whose friends or relatives have moved away from Harford County “get back together to go to the BBQ Bash ... so that’s pretty cool.”
This year’s bash, which is hosted by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, will take place at its usual spot in the parking lot of the Mary E. Risteau State Office Building at South Bond and Thomas streets in downtown Bel Air.
It will be moved to the Risteau building patio this year.
“It’s going to be a little more connected to the event,” Ward said.
The event runs from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, according to the Downtown Alliance website.
Admission is free, except for the VIP Roll Out the Barrel bourbon and cigar event scheduled for Friday evening.
Tickets are $75 each, according to the alliance website. Roll Out the Barrel, which is sponsored by Spartan Surfaces, of Bel Air, in partnership with the Katzen Eye Group, runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday.
People can enjoy a catered dinner from One Eleven Main, bourbon tasting organized by Bel Air Liquors, a cigar from Main Street Cigar and craft beer from Independent Brewing Co., according to the website.
This year is the second consecutive year for Roll Out the Barrel. Ward said the inaugural event, which was held last year in a parking lot adjacent to the main Bash, got “great reviews.”
Ward was president of the Downtown Alliance board when he founded the bash. He returned to that position three years ago after he retired as president of Frederick Ward Associates, the downtown Bel Air engineering, surveying, planning and architectural firm.
The bash started out with about 25 professional cook teams. It was held in the parking lot at Main Street and Churchville Road for the first two years. (Thelot is typically used by Black Eyed Suzie’s restaurant patrons and Harford County employees.)
It was moved to the Risteau building lot 13 years ago where there was more room, Ward said.
Fifty professional teams from around the U.S. are participating in this year’s competition and about 50 local amateur teams are competing in the Tailgate Challenge.
The judges in the professional competition are certified through the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Participants compete for up to $12,500 in cash prizes and a spot in the annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn. and The American Royal in Kansas City, Mo.
Ward said more teams would participate in the professional and amateur challenges, but there is only enough space in the event area for the current number.
“When we started this our sights were pretty low, but it was successful since the beginning,” Ward said. “I think it’s the kind of event that will have a lot of longevity.”
He said organizers would like to keep the bash in Bel Air.
“It started out as being something to attract people to downtown Bel Air, and we want to keep that tradition going, too,” Ward said.
Shuttle bus service is available to and from Bel Air High School and The John Carroll School, according to Ward.
Visitors can purchase beer, in addition to the multiple barbecue options — the beer service area was moved to the Bond Street side of the lot last year, and it will be there again this year.
Ward said that shift, made in consultation with town police and county emergency operations officials, creates more space in front of the live music area on the Hays Street side of the lot.
“It just worked very, very well last year,” he said.
Bash organizers partner with WXCY-FM, the Havre de Grace-based country music station, to put on the live music.
Friday’s lineup includes The Klassix from 5 to 7 p.m. and Sam Grow from 8 to 10 p.m.