Barbecue lovers stood elbow-to-elbow Saturday afternoon, chowing down on ribs, hickory-smoked chicken and delicious brisket at the Maryland State BBQ Bash.

The smell of sweet smoke, brown sugar, spices and charred meat wafted down Bond Street from the Mary E. Risteau building in Downtown Bel Air, luring families and hungry passers-by.

A dozen or so tables were set up just outside the doors and vendors and food stands spanned the entire parking lot, spilling over onto Hays and Thomas streets.

High-top tables were also set up near the barbecue stands for people eager to start digging into their grub.


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Alexis LaCroce and Robert McKelvey, her boyfriend, were just finishing an assortment of ribs, pulled pork and barbecue nachos.

"It's brisket topped with nacho cheese on top of chips," McKelvey explained. "It's ridiculous."

The Aberdeen couple looked happy and satiated by their findings.

LaCroce said they were trying to "spread the love" to as many stands as possible and sample a little bit of different things.

The two have been to the event the "past few years," the first time by chance when finding parking so they could have dinner turned out to be nearly impossible. They decided to try the BBQ Bash instead.

While food was the first stop for the couple, McKelvey said they'd be checking out the vendors, too.

"All the local stuff, it's amazing," he said, commenting on how many locals businesses were making their presence known at the event.

"It's nice to have the small businesses around," LaCroce added.

Many of the barbecue stands touted their past accomplishments.

Jacked Up BBQ, which won the pork category in 2009, had a large sign with all of its achievements from different area competitions.

Then there was Hess's Barbecue Catering, which had a display of more than 20 trophies.

Fat Maxine's BBQ caught people's attention with one thing: a grill and smoker in the shape of an old-fashioned train.

"It was a project my wife and I started as an art project," John Rivera, the grill's creator, said.

The Edgewater resident is better known as an artist who creates metal sculptures, so creating this contraption wasn't too far off.

"We had some liquid oxygen tanks and got the idea to make a smoker," he explained. The idea to make it look like a train didn't come until after watching a PBS special on great American railroads."

It took Rivera and his wife a year and a half to build it, finishing it in January 2011.

"I never smoked anything before," Rivera said. "There's been a lot of learning along the way."

His first competition was last year's BBQ Bash and since then he's "gotten better." Rivera has been in eight competitions since, earning second place titles and other awards.

Kingsville resident Dennis Frederick volunteered for the event to monitor the entrance/exit onto Bond Street, making sure attendees didn't take their alcoholic drinks off the premises.

"So far people are being really good," he said. It was Frederick's first year at the event.

"It's a lot bigger than I thought and pretty impressive. There are a lot of people here."

At one point during his day, Frederick was able to grab a pulled pork sandwich from Hess's and said it was "really good."

After volunteering, he said he would walk around "and see what's here."

Cindy Burk was another attendee to come from outside Harford County.

"I just came from the [Havre de Grace] Seafood Festival," Burk, who lives in Airville, Pa., said.

It was also her first time to the event, but she had seen similar festivals in Ohio, where she is originally from.

Before sampling what the food stands had to offer, Burk sat in the shade and enjoyed the music being played from the stage near Hays Street.

"I'm having a good time," she said.