Although this year's Maryland State BBQ Bash was the 13th to be held in Bel Air, the event was anything but unlucky, according to organizers.
Erika Quesenbery, executive director of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, called the event "lucky No. 13; it's perfect, beautiful weather."
She started work March 17, succeeding former Executive Director Scott Walker, who departed in March after four-and-a-half years to work for MaGerks Pub & Grill.
"Trial by fire, and smoke and hickory wood," Quesenbery said of the experience overseeing her first BBQ Bash.
The bash, presented by Mars Super Markets and hosted by the Downtown Alliance, took place Friday and Saturday.
The grounds and parking lot of the Mary E. Risteau State Office Building teemed with visitors who came Saturday to check out award-winning barbecued brisket, chicken and pork, as well as multiple vendors, children's activities in the Little Piggies Fun Zone and live music at the main stage sponsored WXCY 103.7 FM.
Fifty-four teams took part in a competition for professional cookers, and 45 teams participated in the Tailgate Challenge, the amateur competition.
Team Meat Coma took the grand champion prize, and 3 EYZ BBQ earned reserve champion for the bash – Quesenbery noted both teams are headed by women.
Team Meat Coma also took first place in the overall competition – with 3 EYZ BBQ in second place –, along with second place in chicken, 10th in pork ribs, first place in pork and 10th in brisket, according to results posted on the Kansas City Barbecue Society's website.
The grand champions had a top score of 681.69, based on their individual members' performance in the chicken, pork, ribs and brisket categories.
"That just makes the victory that much sweeter," Team Meat Coma captain Amy Overbey of White Marsh said Monday. "It was all of us firing off at our best."
While Overbey and her teammates hail from Baltimore County, many of them have family living in Harford County.
The team includes her husband, Shawn, as well as Joe Hilseberg, Roy Fisher Jr. and Tom Eberwein, a former sportswriter for The Aegis. Juanita Hilseberg and Bev Regester also provided support.
"They come and support us every year," said Overbey, whose brother and sister-in-law live in Harford. "Our families [live in] Harford County, so it's awesome to win a competition to close to home."
Team Meat Coma has competed in the bash since 2011, when the team took fourth place in chicken and 35th place overall.
Overbey said she and her teammates worked under small pop-up tents and used Weber grills, plus a Vision Grill ceramic smoker, compared to the elaborate and expensive setups used by competing teams.
"It's awesome," she said. "It's just unbelievable that we could take such a big title in such a prestigious competition on the Kansas City Barbecue circuit."
Overbey also thanked the organizers of the bash.
"They really worked hard to put on a great event and really make us feel supported, welcome, taken care of," she said.
Dirty Boy BBQ took first place in the amateur tailgate competition, according to the KCBS site.
Cooking up a storm
Throughout both days of the event, cooking teams could be found along the main drag of the bash, as well as along Thomas Street and in parking lots near the Risteau building.
Mark Petersen and his Belly Up BBQ teammates Kevin and Jess Curtis of Anne Arundel County took eighth place in the pork competition.
This year was the team's fourth at the Bel Air bash, and Petersen gave high praise to BBQ Bash founder Craig Ward, who is also in charge of the professional competition.
"He does a phenomenal job," Petersen said of Ward.
Petersen said a large number of people attended Friday and Saturday "because the weather was beautiful this weekend."
Temperatures were in the low 80s and the sky was sunny.
"[Friday] night was crazy, everybody walking through, good times," Petersen said.
Dirk Barber, of Aberdeen, and his girlfriend, Nancy Ramos, also of Aberdeen, chowed down on ribs while sitting along Thomas Street.
Barber said he and Ramos came to the BBQ Bash Saturday after learning about it while attending the Havre de Grace Seafood Festival Friday.
"Some of the folks said we should check this out," he said.
Barber, a native of South Carolina and who is active duty Army, recently moved to Aberdeen after being stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"Great barbecue, lots of fun, even got a laugh in," he said of his experience.
Barber recalled seeing a woman wearing a shirt supporting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, while in line to purchase barbecue, a contradiction he called "hilarious."
Southeastern states such as South Carolina are known for their barbecue cooks, but Barber praised the meat he sampled in Bel Air.
"What we've had so far has been great," he said. "You've got different types of barbecue; if you leave here hungry, it's your own fault."
Ramos, a native of Rhode Island, said good barbecue can also be found in the New England state.
"Northern is different than Southern, just the taste is a little bit different," she said.
Greg Mueller, of Forest Hill, sat on a curb near the action with his daughters, Sophia, 9, and Isabella, 10.
"The part about it that I like the most is, you get to run into people you haven't seen for a while," Mueller said.
He added: "The food was really good."
Isabella munched on a massive turkey leg, covered in sauce she described as sweet.
Big summer party
Sophia also enjoyed the social aspect of the bash.
"At lot of my friends from school came here," she said.
While the food and drink vendors took up much of the parking lot along Thomas Street, the area behind the Risteau building near Hays Street was filled with vendor booths, where a variety of artwork, crafts, specialty drinks and barbecue sauces and cooking gear could be found.
JoBeth Tully of Bel Air, and her daughters, Madison, 11, and Holland, 8, sampled the sauces on sale at the Captain Thom's Chili Pepper Company booth.
"I've lived here forever, and this is a very awesome thing they're doing," she said.
Tully praised the family atmosphere of the bash, and said her daughters enjoyed "the creative booths and the barbecue and the face painting."
"And the music," Madison piped up.
She added: "I like the booths with all the souvenirs."
Thom Edwards and his wife, Nancy, ran the Captain Thom's booth, selling their flavored barbecue sauces, as well as wing sauces and bacon-flavored ketchup.
This year was their seventh at the bash.
"It comes and goes," Edwards said of the foot traffic. "When the band's not playing there are a lot of people walking around. It's been nice today; it's been pretty steady."
Saturday night's festivities closed with a show from the Nashville-based country rock band Blackjack Billy.
'Having a blast'
"People are having a blast," Quesenbery said. "The food's been great, the music has been exceptional."
She said children were "coming up, losing their minds" at the Little Piggies Fun Zone, where Transformer and Autobot leader Optimus Prime paid a visit.
Quesenbery also heaped praise on the many individuals, organizations and businesses who helped put the bash on, including Donna Dickey, Dick Molinaro, Craig Ward, Dean Ayers, Russ Piper, DSL Entertainment, Jim Brady, Angela Rose, Thomas Kunkel and Town of Bel Air police officers, public works staffers and town officials.
"They were all here helping, even the mayor [Robert Reier] was out here helping, which was so awesome," she said.
Quesenbery said Monday an estimated 30,000 people attended the bash, based on conversations with vendors who told her they were running short of food toward the end, and were out of regular soda.
The competition judges, who numbered 95 with 140 alternates, were certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, Quesenbery said.