Interstate BBQ Festival is firing up good times
It has a smoky, outdoorsy vibe. It was once just a way of cooking but its following has grown into a sort of subculture.
It is barbecue, and it will be celebrated in grand style Friday, April 19 and Saturday, April 20 at Interstate BBQ Festival. The Kansas City Barbeque Society certified event will promote barbecue as a culinary technique, sport and art form with competitions for professional, backyard and kids.
Now in its fourth year at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center south of Hagerstown, the state championship event hosted by Interstate Festival Group is expected to draw around 3,000 people over the course of two days.
Interstate Festival Group President Rob Immer said Friday evening will feature Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band Brickyard Road, as well as some vendors, beer and barbecue. Saturday will offer a full array of entertainment, with live music, a swap meet, cornhole tournament, barbecue team competitions, and 10 food vendors including a couple of championship barbecue teams.
A local favorite who will be present both Friday and Saturday, Immer said, is Kevin McCormick, owner of Keep It Smokin’ BBQ.
“There are all different styles of barbecue. I think (McCormick) does slow-smoked pit beef, pit turkey. Whatever he does, people love the way he cooks,” Immer said.
Hog-It-Up BBQ is another popular vendor that has participated in all of Interstate Festival Group’s barbecue events since its inception.
“People look for them. They are great people and it’s great barbecue,” he said.
Big Fat Daddy’s from Manchester, Pa., is another crowd favorite.
“They are known regionally and around the east coast. They’ve been on the Food Network and on Rachael Ray and all that. People really warm to them,” Immer said. “They’ll have 100 people in that line. People who know barbecue say, ‘Hey! That’s Big Fat Daddy’s.’ They’ve heard of it and they want to try it.”
There will be around 90 barbecue teams competing for more than $15,000 in cash and prizes. Teams hail from 10 states and Canada, Immer said. Judges and vendors travel from distances as far as Ohio, New York and North Carolina.
“It’s pretty serious stuff,” Immer said.
Sixty to 70 percent of festival attendees come from Washington County, he said, with a number visiting from south-central Pennsylvania, West Virginia’s panhandle area and Virginia.
He attributes the popularity of the event in part to the rise of food TV.
“There’s been a lot more cooking on TV in the last 10 or 15 years, a lot more specialty cooking, and now a lot of it is barbecue,” Immer said. “People are learning different ways, using different woods, equipment, smokers and grills. They want to go out and see what it’s all about. They want to talk to and see professionals doing it.”
While barbecue was traditionally a predominantly male forum, women are becoming increasingly involved, he said.
“People tend to picture barbecue with big guys in overalls with beards. There are not as many women as men cooking, but there are more than you might think,” he said. “There is a mix of rich, poor, large and small, men and women alike.”
Technology has become a factor in barbecue, he said, with items like digital thermometers and hybrid woods.
“It’s not just a backyard picnic anymore. You can buy cherry/apple blended wood that goes into your smoker and gets into your meat that didn’t exist 10 to 15 years ago. People want to see it, smell it, taste it,” he said.
Festival vendors outside the scope of the barbecue arena will run the gamut from sales of beef jerky, craft iced teas, chocolate covered fruit, popcorn, pickles and hot sauce to pottery, wood sculptures, jewelry and other handmade goods.
The primary charitable partner for the barbecue festival will be Friends Fur Life Animal Rescue. Interstate Festival Group also produces the Quad State Beer Fests, Interstate Wine Fest, Gettysburg BBQ Festival, Interstate Chili Cook-Off & Wing Fest, and other events, Immer said, and has donated more than $80,000 to charities in the Washington County area in recent years.
Top photo: Around 90 teams will compete in Interstate BBQ Festival's professional, backyard and kids competitions. (Photo by Mark Youngblood)