Where There’s Smoke … There’s Barbecue

This spring, the worlds of competitive cooking and barbecue culture will collide in Annapolis, as the capital city unveils its first-ever barbecue contest.

Parole Rotary’s 2011 Naptown BarBAYq, planned for May 13 and 14 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, is a first-time event with big hopes. If it works, it will be a grand success on many scores, including bankrolling charities of Parole Rotary’s choosing. 

Visiting a Colorado Rotary chapter’s own barbecue contest, Rotarian Bill Fine ate some fine barbecue. Just as impressive was the charitable take of the two-day festival: $70,000 from 26,000 people and 160 vendors. 

Thus was born Parole Rotary’s plan to join the dozen or so Rotaries and legions of other charities in sponsoring a barbecue competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

Attach the words Kansas City to the word barbecue and certain lovers of the slow-cooked meat respond like Pavlov’s dogs. The Kansas City Barbecue Society has parlayed its city’s reputation to success in a new and amazing commercial forum: the business of running barbecue competitions. 

“There are a huge bunch of people who live for this,” Rotarian Don Chomas told Bay Weekly. “As soon as our competition appeared on the Kansas City Barbeque Society webpage,” aspirant contestant teams and judges “started coming to us.”

That’s because the 25-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and enjoying barbeque is the world’s largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts with over 14,000 members worldwide.

The Kansas City Barbeque Society sets the rules for competitions that run all around the country. Like 300 or so other competitions each year, Parole Rotary’s 2011 Naptown BarBAYq will draw 48 teams of dedicated barbecue chefs who’ll descend on Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in wheeled cooking rigs they call Big Ass Trucks to cook all night for bragging rights and championship points. What’s more, they’ll pay Rotary for the privilege, $250 to $300 depending on the size of their setup. 

“Some teams are a couple of guys with tents,” says Chomas. “Others come in 50-foot RVs with amazing equipment.”

However they come, they’ll cook on wood-only fires, preparing chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork and pork ribs that will be inspected on site by the county health department before the cooking begins Friday night. 

Judging begins at noon Saturday. Like contestants, judges are Kansas City Barbeque Society members who’ve trained for the honor. The Society specifies the number of judges as well as the rules they judge by. Parole figures that 48 teams of cookers will need a judging contingent of 56 members. So a lot of eating will go on in the judges’ tent.

Meanwhile, you and I will be drooling, unsatiated by the offerings of food and drink that keep the festival lively and help Parole Rotary raise thousands of dollars for charity. 

Because there’s the rub. I’ve been to such a festival, in the town of Columbia, Missouri, and I hungered — and how I hungered! — in vain. City health department restrictions would not allow the eager contestants to sell their slow-cooked barbecue to festival-goers.

Will Naptown BarBAYq leave us all hungry?

Chomas all but promises it will not. All but, because Parole Rotary does not yet have the permits required to sell to the public. He’s sure — almost — he can get them, and envisions an afternoon tasting-by-ticket to choose a People’s Favorite. 

I’m rooting for Rotary, because the cooking smoke sent up by all those chefs can cause a riot if the people are not fed. I’m rooting for Rotary because they’re dedicating their take to the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center Pediatric Oncology Program plus other local charities by application. 

With food, fun, music and the Major League Lacrosse Chesapeake Bayhawks, charitable partners in the event who play their first home game of the season at the stadium the Saturday night of Naptown BarBAYq, it should be a great addition to the lineup of Chesapeake Country festivals. 

Hopes are high. “In a couple of years, I’d like to see us bring in 65 or 70,000 dollars,” said Rotarian Fine.

I’m sure they will. If you and I get to eat the barbecue.