Just one week before the Fourth of July, the nation’s capital fittingly celebrated a classic American cuisine: barbecue.
On June 24 and 25, the Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle lit up D.C.’s summer festival season with music, games, BBQ competition, and plenty of tasty treats for festivalgoers to enjoy.
Thousands of local and visiting barbeque lovers strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue, sampling mini BBQ sandwiches, ice cream, and pork chops and patronizing locally-owned BBQ food trucks and restaurants.
Behind the scenes, amateur and professional BBQ teams competed in chicken, beef and pork rib competitions.
For the Old Glory BBQ restaurant team and the eatery’s manager, Drew Darnielle, the mood was intense.
“We took a gamble by submitting wings today,” Darnielle said as he took a break in between preparing his chicken wing and beef brisket submissions. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward move. Most competitors submit thighs, and that’s what judges expect, but we’re very confident in our flavors and presentation.”
Old Glory competed in the inaugural BBQ Battle 25 years ago and returned this year for the special anniversary, but plenty of other competitors are new to the scene.
Luvplates, a D.C. food truck, opened last year and is one of two vendors along with Old Glory that elected to both sell its food to festival attendees and compete in the competitions.
“It’s our first year at the Capital Battle and in business,” says owner Jay Johnson, who prepared his halal BBQ chicken brined in rosemary, thyme and fresh garlic along with his signature 48-hour BBQ marinated ribs.
“Its too bad they don’t have a mac ‘n’ cheese category,” Johnson said with a laugh. “We’d blow them out the water.”
The winners of the competition were announced Sunday, June 25 after judges choose their favorite chicken, beef and pork ribs entries for a chance to win over $40,000 and claim the title of America’s National Barbecue Champion.
Joseph Mac, Warren Renshaw and Mike Wise made up an amateur three-friend team competing for the second time. The three met every Sunday for three months to create their secret recipe.
“At this point its just something we like to do, so you could say we’re hobbyists,” Mac said. “This year, we made major improvements to our flavors and practiced on friends and colleagues. We decided to cook everything as low and slow as our patience will let us.”
The festival-goers, hailing mostly from the DMV area, had their own opinions about what makes the best BBQ.
“I like my sauce with a little more vinegar,” said Rich Vivera from D.C. by way of New Jersey.
DeAndre Bryant prefers his pork ribs a little sweeter.
“I’ve been eating and cooking BBQ all my life. I like mine kind of vinegary, kind of sweet,” he said.
LeDonna Barbour and her son Alex tried Giant’s pulled pork and BBQ chicken.
“I have to say Giant had my favorite submission today,” Barbour said. “My son loved their sauces and liked the pulled pork the best.”
The Giant sampling pavilion featured a multitude of free samples and cooking demonstrations as interactive exhibits from major brands and sports teams lined the street.
Johnsonville annually dedicates its “World Largest Traveling Grill” to support the local charities and this year donated all the BBQ Battle revenue to the District Boys and Girls club.
Every year, the Giant Capital BBQ Battle Festival raises money for local District charities and nonprofit organizations, with proceeds this year benefiting USO Metro and Capital Food Bank.
The two-day celebration also included a special Military Chef Cookoff, a Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition and a complimentary facial-hair grooming stage.
Over 30 artists on three stages entertained the crowds nonstop, creating a perfect summertime festival vibe.
Go to bbqindc.com for more information.