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National Capital BBQ Festival

It's day one of the festival, has anyone gone? Any reviews from past years? $10 seems a little steep of a cover charge if you have to buy your BBQ and beer once you get in.

Anyone have insights they would be willing to share?

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  1. The cover charge is not for the bbq it's for the music. If you have never seen Chuck Brown perform, (and even if you have), you should go. He plays tonight at 7:30pm, but you have to get in the tent for the earlier act if you want a seat. GoGo music from the source, one the world's great entertainers, dc's own, plus who knows how many years he has left? For me, it's the opportunity of a lifetime, because some of the places he plays regularly are not places I want to hang out at night. This is the perfect combination of crowd/music/performer, and inexpensive to boot.

    Last time I went, I tried to eat after the show, but most places had closed down by then. What I did find had to be the worst bbq I've ever tasted. Many different purveyors, though, just ask folks who have already ordered what it's like. I imagine that, just by sheer numbers, somebody has to be offering something decent.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Steve

      A friend of mine has been a judge in years past. What he gets to eat is NOT the same BBQ that you get to eat. Attendees get Red Hot & Blue, Rocklands, etc. - smaller portions and higher prices than if you went to the restaurant, plus hour+ waits for food.

      Go for the music, not for the eats.

    2. I went last year, and it was totally not worth it. I don't know how many smokers I saw, (dozens), but most of them weren't selling to the public.

      2 Replies
      1. re: WestIndianArchie

        As one of those smokers not selling food I can tell you that many of those people with the smokers paied to participate in 2 BBQ contests during the weekend. The Saturday contest is for KCBS and Sunday is for Menphis in May. Many of us do these BBQ contests strictly as a hobby and a form of ouor entertainment. We don't have the means to serve to the public and we would have to jump thoruhg hoops with the health department in order to do it even if we wanted to.

        1. re: bobif

          Don't worry, no one blames you guys. The fault lies with the "bait and switch" nature of this event. Like many people, I went once, thinking I'd be sampling the wares of contestants. Instead, we had to eat some pretty bad commercial que.

      2. Just got back form the bbq battle. Went for the music, but felt like I needed something to eat.

        Remember this name. Burn it into your memory: Big Nates' BBQ from Frederick, MD.


        They not only pre-toss the chopped pork in a ketchupy sauce, but they further load onto it a cinnamom- laced concoction which is thoroughly disgusting. Why bother with a smoker? Just buy some packaged bologna and be done with it.

        I broke my own cardinal rule about festival eating: NEVER GO TO THE PLACE WITH A SHORT LINE. In this case, no line at all. I took two bites. Was going to throw it away after the first bite, but I had to confirm just how revolting this was.

        I then got onto a nice, long line (it moved quick enough) for some jerk chicken. Unfortunately, they were out of thighs, so I got a leg and a breast. Predictably, the breast was dried out, but the leg was very good, very spicy, and beautifully charred. Neither were warm, so it looks like quality control is non-existent. From the same stand, had the Mexican corn which was disgusting, but maybe this is what to expect from corn with mayo and spices on it. I could have done without the mayo.

        The music was worth the admission.

        1. I went on Saturday as soon as it opened. I agree with the other posters who were disappointed food-wise. They had advertised a "sampling" area. Silly me, I thought they would be sampling BBQ. Nope, it was all mass produced products that you can buy at your local supermarket (oscar meyer, lays potato chips). There were a few decent bbq places who offered samples, such as Stubbs, but all-in-all, the selection was extremely limited, including those who were selling. It was almost a tease to walk around and look at the competitors: huge smokers, whole pigs, an endless supply of wood/charcoal but with no hope of a taste.

          1. It's a great festival if you know people who are competing. The teams there always cook much more food than they need, and if they're your friends, they'll have plenty for you to sample. I know at least one local team, and they always have something for me to try.

            I'm usually there more for the music than the food but I missed it this year.

            1. Let's just say don't ever let people from Memphis and Georgia go... You will feel bad, they will hate it. It is more of a commercial sample fest than an ode to BBQ. Quite sad to think of all the good BBQ going on and what people actually eat.

              12 Replies
                1. re: ktmoomau

                  I wonder how hard would it be to put on a real fest?

                  1. re: WestIndianArchie

                    Apparently it's nearly impossible. All my memories of DC food festivals (Taste of DC, the Folklife Festival, Adams Morgan Day, the chili cookoff, the BBQ battle) are a cloudy haze of bland slop, meat-on-a-stick, greasy lo mein, dry meat, and gloppy sauce. The only one that had anything resembling decent food is the Greek festival up near the National Cathedral.

                    1. re: WestIndianArchie

                      You should check out the EggFest in Waldorf. You missed this year's fest - the next one will be next May.


                      1. re: WestIndianArchie

                        Pork in the Park is decent. Of course, it's all the way in Salisbury, which is unfortunate.

                        1. re: WestIndianArchie

                          Taste of Wheaton is terrific, and free. Is the DC health dept. a barrier to serving decent food at street festivals? The Cherry Blossom Festival is also just rows and rows of Chinese food stands selling identical chicken-on-a-stick and lo mein, as if they're all run by some mega Chicken & Lo Mein Inc.

                          1. re: little audrey

                            The Smithsonian-run festivals have pretty tight restrictions as to what can and can't be sold. Same with the DC Health Department. So you're limited to generic food, which kinda defeats the purpose of a food festival, no?

                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                              Actually, that's not really the problem.

                              When it's a food festival when restaurants are involved, they already have health permits for the restaurant, so it's a question of getting the appropriate equipment and permits for the mobile cooking and serving apparatus. Not easy or cheap, but if you do enough of them, it's fine.

                              BBQ festivals tend to be (experienced) amateurs, not licensed restaurant personnel, and the cost involved with getting the proper inspections and permits is prohibitive.

                              The right way to do it is probably to have non-competitior BBQ joints (restaurants) serving up BBQ as well. So the populace still can't get competition 'que, but at least it's something.

                              1. re: DanielK

                                That's what the DC Barbecue Battle does. Unfortunately, the non-competitor BBQ joints they get are third-rate at best. People who have never been to any of the country's great cue joints have no idea they are being served also-ran slop, and those who have been to such places are disgusted that such a high-profile event would offer nothing but also-ran slop.

                                1. re: Bob W

                                  I've been to a couple of BBQ battles in the South and Texas, and it's the same there. Us peons just don't get the competition que.

                                  1. re: DanielK

                                    As a competitior that does this as a hobby and even though I pay for all the meat out of my pocket. I would love to be able to handout to people that ask small tastes of what I have been cooking. It would be fun to "show off" what I spent all night preparing, but it is not allowed

                                    1. re: bobif

                                      I went last year - never again. Wait in line in the hot sun for an hour or more for samples of supermarket food? I don't think so. After paying $10 to get in, you can then buy ordinary-at-best BBQ from a local restaurant while you gaze longingly at the smokers producing what you really want to eat. It was a depressing and infuriating experience for me. I will only go to BBQ festivals with a "people's choice" component from now on. I totally agree with Bob W, who said, "Don't worry, no one blames you guys. The fault lies with the "bait and switch" nature of this event. Like many people, I went once, thinking I'd be sampling the wares of contestants. Instead, we had to eat some pretty bad commercial que."