Chris Capell has a target on his back.
For the past two years, he has competed and won the barbecue competition in Bel Air. Now the heat is really on, he said.
"Winning once is a big deal, but winning twice is really unusual. Now everyone wants to beat the Dizzy Pig team," said Capell, 46, of Fairfax, Va. "I think all eyes are going to be on us, to see what we're going to do this year."
Started six years ago, the competition - called the Maryland BBQ Bash - is a barbecue street festival that brings in about 20,000 people each year, said coordinator Craig Ward of Bel Air.
This year about 49 teams from the Mid-Atlantic area will descend upon downtown Bel Air, where the event will be held Friday and Saturday. Teams will vie for $10,000 in cash prizes.
The event was started to showcase historic downtown Bel Air, said Ward, who is president of Frederick Ward and Associates in Bel Air. During the first year, about 30 teams competed in the event, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, a nonprofit group that approves about 200 competitions a year.
With more than 6,000 members, the group claims to be the "largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts in the world."
This year's teams come from all walks of life, Ward said. Some teams are new to the barbecue circuit and others are renowned for their cuisine, he said.
Jack McDavid, a contestant and vendor at the event, was on the Food Network, on a show called Grillin' and Chillin'. Another team is sponsored by Southern Living magazine.
But Capell's Dizzy Pig team will have everyone's attention this year. After only five years in the business - he left his lucrative job in graphic design to become a full-time barbecue chef and competitor - his barbecue concoctions sizzle at the competitions.
His passion for barbecuing began after he purchased a ceramic smoker, he said.
Instead of throwing darts when the guys came over, they cooked, he said. His hobby grew to a passion, and Capell left the graphic design industry, opened the Dizzy Pig barbecue business and became involved in the barbecue circuit full time.
Since then, he has competed in barbecue's biggest of the Kansas City group's events, and his meat sauces are being sold in over 100 stores around the country, he said.
This year, the Dizzy Pig team will have some new teams to contend with. The Alabama BBQ Company team, named for a new Baltimore-based business, will debut as a vendor and competitor in the competition, said Jay Belle, 44, of Chester.
And that's all he's willing to say about it. The recipes are top-secret, said Belle.
"The recipes are a secret to the judges, and they stay secret," Belle said. "My own mother and my wife don't know my recipes."
Another key to being successful at the competitions is to come prepared, said Belle, who is a certified pit master, an event judge and an event champion.
"Some contestants don't read the rulebook, and they miss details that can disqualify them from competing in the event," he said. "One of the most common mistakes made by competitors is that some teams bring electric smokers, and they aren't allowed. The meat has to be cooked with a live fire."
But if you come prepared for the event, it's a bash, he said.
"The competition events are a chance for barbecue cooks to test their skills against people who do the same thing," he said. "These events include everything from the barbecue layperson to the barbecue aficionados. Bel Air isn't known for its barbecue, so the event is a chance for the local teams to see how they stack up against people from the barbecue meccas of the country."
Some teams such as the B-N-BBQ Team of Chris Hall and Michael Watts, both of Abingdon, began practicing in May. To compete successfully takes of years of practice, Hall said.
Hall began making barbecue in 1994 while he was on active duty in the Army. When he returned to Maryland, his cookouts included barbecue, and people liked it so much they suggested he compete in the BBQ Bash.
So this is the year, he said. Hall said he will smoke the meat, and Watts is the sauce guy.
"He's come up with some ideas for sauces I would have never thought of," Hall said. "I want to do a good job, but my main goal is not to poison anybody."
If they win, Hall plans to use his prize money to buy a new grill, he said. Eventually, he wants to invest in a trailer smoker.
The Smokehouse Boys team - which competed last year as Team Ehrlich - includes Howard McComas of Bel Air, owner of McComas Funeral Homes; Charlie Harris of Edgewood; and Jerry Valcik, McComas' 90-year-old grandfather. Last year, the team fared well, placing third in the ribs division, McComas said.
In preparation, McComas' team gets together every couple of months and tries different techniques, he said.
"It's not only fun, but it's an excuse for us to get together," McComas said. To smoke their meat, they use methods they learned from Valcik, who came to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia in the late 1940s, McComas said.
"He had a smokehouse behind his house, and he taught me how to use a smoker," McComas said.
The Main Street BBQ team will be competing for the sixth time, said Dave Craig, 47, of Bel Air, who calls himself the team's chief cook and bottle washer.
Craig began making his own barbecue in the early 1980s. In his first year as a competitor in the BBQ Bash, he won a fourth place in chicken and received a perfect score for a seafood dish. He was hooked, he said.
"The BBQ Bash is basically a 24-hour tailgate party," he said. "We host a small party on Friday night, and everyone visits. It's a great social event."
But the competition is hard work, he said. A team can put together a great barbecue, but the outcome depends on the whims of the judges, he said.
"During the competition, you might have two competitors who have used the same sauce and the same grills, but they have two different judges," he said. "The outcome can be different for the two teams."
Bel Air alliance to hold Maryland Barbecue Bash
The Bel Air Downtown Alliance will hold its sixth annual Maryland Barbecue Bash from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday in the Mary Risteau State Office Building parking lot.
Teams have signed up to compete for $10,000 in prize money as part of the Maryland State Barbecue Championship, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
The official judging by a panel of certified officials begins at noon Saturday.
Categories are chicken, ribs, pork and brisket.
Awards are presented on the Main Stage of the event at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The event also offers a pork-rib cooking contest (the Tailgate Challenge), which is geared toward local backyard grillers.
Prizes will be awarded at 7 p.m. Friday on the Main Stage.
Shuttle buses to and from the barbecue bash will be provided at John Carroll School and Bel Air High School starting a half-hour before the event opens until a half-hour after it closes on both days.
Pickup and drop-off will be in front of the Mary Risteau State Office Building on Bond Street.
Information: 410-638-1023 or 410-937-9366.