The Maryland State BBQ Bash held in Bel Air will be back this year after a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic. But this year’s event will be held in October, leaving the traditional August date available for a new cooking competition — the inaugural Bel Air Summer Steak Showdown.
Harford County native Jeff Campbell, a local BBQ competitor and member of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, had the idea to introduce another cooking competition to the town in 2021 with the August dates open, and the Summer Steak Showdown, an event sponsored by the Steak Cookoff Association, was born.
“The SCA is basically a fundraising mechanism, so when I was being certified as a judge for them, it dawned on me that with the BBQ Bash already being here and those dates open, there’s no reason the town of Bel Air couldn’t do it and try to get some of the local businesses involved for donations, prizes or whatever to help raise some money and that’s when I started talking with the Downtown Alliance folks,” Campbell said.
The steak cooking competition is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 14, in downtown Bel Air and is open to anyone willing to give it a try, but is limited to 50 teams.
Founded in 2013, the Texas-based Steak Cookoff Association strives to make their events family friendly and it’s not unusual to see an entire family participating. While their primary focus is steak, they also conduct and encourage ancillary categories to challenge cookers and involve the entire family. The organization’s goal is to create a fun, relaxed environment and fair competition, according to a statement on the organization’s website.
After a good run with his competitive barbecue team, and doing a few events a year — most notably the local Maryland State BBQ Bash — things took a pause for Campbell. He still felt the desire to compete and found some local competitions to enter on his own.
“About a year ago I was at the York County BBQ Festival and they had a SCA competition. I was already cooking BBQ in that event so I figured I would cook a steak and see what happens. I think I was 36th, out of 43 cooks, so not dead last but I had no idea what I was doing,” Campbell said in a recent conversation about the Bel Air event.
Looking to improve on his newest cooking skill, Campbell dove in and became a member of the SCA.
“I took a couple of classes locally, one of them through Rockin Robyn’s competition BBQ, a local professional barbecue team based in Harford County, and other resources. And practice, practice, practice. We ate a lot of steak!” Campbell laughed.
After some learning and a few good wins under his belt, Campbell became a SCA competition judge and, in March, went to the SCA World Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, as a judge for the competition.
His friends from the local Rockin Robyn’s BBQ, made up of Rolfe Garrett, his wife Robyn Garrett and close friend Rodney Garrett (no relation) were also in Fort Worth competing for the $15,000 first prize and have been participating in SCA events since leaving the competitive BBQ circuit. The trio got their start in their backyard at the Maryland State BBQ Bash in Bel Air several years ago.
“We always enjoyed cooking around the house and everything and I got the wild idea to enter the competition at the BBQ Bash. It had been going on for a few years by that point. We had a little grill, made up some T-shirts and had a tent, we dressed for success,” Rolfe Garrett said with a laugh sitting with wife Robyn, relaying their humble beginnings. “We finished somewhere in the middle of the pack but we had so much fun so we decided to come back the next year and started practicing.”
With more and more success, before long the team was competing professionally and attending 25 to 30 contests a year, winning and placing in a host of prestigious events over the years. They, much like Campbell, found the Steak Cookoff Association by accident while competing in BBQ competition where the SCA was sponsoring an event too.
“The SCA had only been around for about two years at that point I think,” Rolfe Garrett said. “They’ve come a long way. We try to be huge ambassadors at what we do, we try to support people ... if we’re in it, we want you to be in it with us and have a good time too. We don’t have that thing that a lot of cooks do where everything is secret and we’re so serious. We’re not afraid to share.”
The Rockin Robyn’s BBQ team plans to be at the Bel Air event offering encouragement and maybe a few pointers. The steak cooking competition starts at 10 a.m. Aug. 14 at 121 S. Main St. with a cooks meeting and steak selection. For consistency and quality control, the SCA provides the ribeye cut steaks which are sponsored by local vendor Hickory Chance Beef.
If grilling steaks isn’t your thing, there will also be a chicken wing competition as part of the event. Competitors will battle it out for the best steak as well as a wings and cash prizes, including $1,000 for the first-place steak and a chance to advance to other SCA events. For more information or to sign up for the competition, contact Jeff Campbell at 443-876-3090 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://steakcookoffs.com/event-4255887 or https://downtownbelair.com/summer-steak-showdown/
Maryland BBQ Bash returns
With the event being postponed in 2020 because of COVID-19, the 2021 BBQ Bash will return, this year Oct. 15 and 16. The location remains the same in downtown Bel Air.
“When we started planning this year’s Maryland State BBQ Bash back in January we weren’t sure how COVID-19 would evolve; we thought it best to push the event to October,” explained Jenny Falcone, executive director of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, in a recent email about the event. “The Bash is such a large and beloved local event, it was important to allow time for as much of the community to get as vaccinated as possible.”
Since its start in 2002, the Maryland State BBQ Bash held in Bel Air has grown to one of the largest and most anticipated events of the year for the town. It regularly attracts more than 30,000 people for the completion that offers team the chance to move on to the Jack Daniel’s World Championship in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and the American Royal competition in Kansas City.
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Amateur teams also compete in the Maryland State BBQ Bash Tailgate Challenge battling for cash, prizes and bragging rights.