25,000 to 30,000 estimated for Maryland State BBQ Bash in Bel Air

There was plenty of barbecue sauce to go around at the Holly P. Saucery tent Saturday afternoon, but no meat, to the misfortune of one visitor to the 12th Annual Maryland State BBQ Bash in Bel Air.

"Where's the beef?" the man asked as he walked by the tent, one of a series of vendor tents lining the Thomas Street section of the bash, which spread throughout the parking lots serving the Mary E.W. Risteau State Office Building at South Bond and Thomas streets.

Visitors could stroll through the vendor areas and beer and wine garden, and sample food, drink, crafts, children's activities in the Little Piggies Fun Zone, visit with local politicians, or those hoping to unseat them in 2014, participate in raffles and get information on local government services or businesses.

They were also treated to live music from the WXCY 103.7 FM Main Stage.

Holly Remus, a Bel Air native and creator of the sauces and owner of Holly P. Saucery, told the visitor he could find his fill of meat at the various food vendors, and bring it back to be paired with either of her award-winning sauces, Mad Apple, spicy with sweet apple flavor, or Yeller Belly, spicy mustard-based Carolina-style sauce.

"They perfect the meat; we perfect the heat, how about that?" Remus said.

Remus, 25 and a 2005 graduate of Bel Air High School, is a registered nurse who lives on a 400-acre dairy farm in Upstate New York.

She began making her own sauces when she could not find her favored Cattleman's Gold sauce in New York.

Remus entered her sauces in the 2011 and 2012 Amateur Creative Sauce Off of the National Buffalo Wing Festival, and won first place both times.

"I couldn't find the [Cattlemen's Gold], and so I decided I would make my own," she explained.

Visitors to the BBQ Bash could get samples of the Mad Apple and Yeller Belly sauces from Remus and her friends and family members at the tent; Remus offered tastes to Nick DeMicco of Bel Air.

DeMicco said he favored the Mad Apple, which he described as ideal "if you're looking for a spicy sauce that won't kill you after you eat it, but it will give you that spice before."

Remus said she plans to produce a third sauce soon, and more information can be found on the Holly P. Saucery page on Facebook or http://www.hollypsaucery.com.

'The best one yet'

The Maryland State Barbecue Bash is put on by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, and Executive Director Scott Walker said this year's event, with an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people coming through Friday and Saturday, could be "the best one yet."

Sixty-one cook teams participated, the largest number ever for the professional competition Saturday; 43 amateur teams were also scheduled to take part in their competition Friday.

Their creations were reviewed by judges certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

"Everything leading to this weekend has been pointing to good stuff, and then the weather has been making it happen," Walker said.

Craig Ward, who founded the BBQ Bash, said about 20 teams competed during the first bash in 2002; said slightly more than 60 teams was the maximum for the available space in downtown Bel Air.

"We've maxed out the space we have without making it uncomfortable," he said.

The teams, which came from around the state and nation, as far away as Arizona, traveled to Bel Air in RVs or trucks, and brought massive ovens to cook pork, beef, chicken and brisket.

Michael Fay, a resident of Springfield, Va., and pitmaster and captain of the Aporkalypse Now team, showed his team's dual oven, which was large enough to cook "72 pork butts."

Ward said there were few options for competition barbecue when the Bel Air Bash started in 2002, and Bel Air's was the first.

"This event, and other Maryland events, have really caused a lot of good cookers to get into competition barbecue," he said.

The cookers

Rolfe and Robyn Garrett of Forest Hill led the Rockin' Robyn's Competition BBQ Team. The 2013 Bash was their second in the professional competition, and they got their start during the amateur competition.

"And we enjoyed it so much that we started doing what they consider the pro side," Rolfe said.

Rolfe was the team captain and pitmaster, and Robyn assisted, along with their teammates.

"If I didn't love it I wouldn't be doing it, because we like to do things together, so it's a lot of fun," Robyn said.

Prizes were given out for cookers of chicken, ribs, pork and brisket; top prizes included the Reserve Grand Champion and the Grand Champion, plus the Maryland Cup for the top Maryland team and the Rancher's Reserve for cookers of sirloin steak.

The Firefighting BBQ Team, made up mostly of Washington, D.C.,-area firefighters, won the Maryland Cup and Reserve Grand Champion.

"This is by far the best we've ever done, really," said team captain and pitmaster Michael Skahill, of Keedysville in Washington County. "I love coming up here."

Skahill is a retired lieutenant with the D.C. fire department.

Jay Reeder of Clear Spring, also in Washington County, won Grand Champion.

Reeder, who owns Hempen Hill BBQ of Hagerstown, was in his second year of competition in the Bel Air bash.

He said he was "elated" to win.

"Everybody out here, they're all solid cooks," Reeder said.

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