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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 01/11/2011

Smoke Signals: D.C. barbecue preview (WWE-style)

By Jim Shahin
Fire_opt.jpg Virgil's is looking to start a fire in D.C. (Photo courtesy of Virgil’s Real Barbecue)

With two major barbecue restaurants in development and a third actively seeking a downtown space, 2011 is shaping up to be a big, brawny year for local ‘cue hounds: WAAAAASHINGTON DEEEEE CEEEEEEEE! ARE YOU READY TO RUUUUMBLE???

Forget all that play-nice barbecue stuff. Little joint opening here, sauces selling in stores there.

That is so 2010. The next 12 months promise to be the Year of the BBQ Wars.

Two big-money New York operations will square off in Penn Quarter. One is Hill Country Barbecue, the Texas-style counter-service barbecue joint-cum-roadhouse. Depending, in part, on the permitting process, the eatery could open its doors at 410 7th St. NW in March.

The other is Virgil’s Real Barbecue, operated by the Alicart Restaurant Group, the same folks who brought you the gargantuan Carmine’s, also in Penn Quarter. Virgil’s does not have a location yet, but is scouring Penn Quarter, and hopes to open by year's end.

The third is the homegrown outfit, Pork Barrel BBQ. Co-founded by two District residents who have been competing in cook-offs the last couple of years (and whose sauces and rub are already in stores nationwide), Pork Barrel, after several delays, hopes to open in February at 2300 Mount Vernon Ave. in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood.

Smoke Signals recently talked with the CEOs of Hill Country and Virgil’s. Next week, I’ll go into more detail about their projects.

Long-distance operator, get me Memphis, Tenn. Um, on second thought, never mind. Safeway’s National Capital Barbecue Battle has a number of changes in store for this year’s two-day cook-off, including doing away with the Memphis in May rules.

“For years, contests were conducted using two different judging styles and rules,” Battle spokesperson Suzanne Tubis told Smoke Signals in an e-mail. “Contests held on the first day of the event used KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) rules, while Sunday's Pork Championship contest used Memphis in May Rules. To streamline the process and make the overall judging more consistent, the event will now be entirely judged using KCBS rules.”

The biggest, though not only difference, is that Memphis in May rules include on-site judging and KCBS doesn’t. I like the pageantry that attends the Memphis in May style. I also like that the nation’s capital was bi-partisan in its approach. (Contests are generally KCBS or Memphis in May, not both. Actually, they are overwhelmingly KCBS.) Oh, well. I’m sure there’s a hackneyed barbecue-related pun to be made here, but for now Smoke Signals will just say: Goodbye, Memphis in May. We hardly knew ye.

The Battle has made other changes, including Gnarly Head wine holding a new contest and the Chinet People’s Choice Award offering attendees a chance to judge barbecue sauces. The Battle will be held June 25 and 26.

Take the day off, it’s Victory time. Typically, an annual meeting is a stuffy dinner punctuated by the occasional bad joke. The Mid-Atlantic Barbecue Association has figured a way around that: Knock back a couple in the afternoon.

On Feb. 26, MABA will hold its annual meeting and awards ceremony at noon at Victory Brewing Company, 420 Acorn Lane in Downingtown, Pa. Noon, at a brewing company? Um, yeah!

Team of the Year for 2010 was Chix, Swine and Bovine, led by Mike Richter of Jessup, Md. The Rookie of the Year was Degüello BBQ, captained by Kit Rudd of West Springfield, Va.

MABA’s goals for the coming year, president Michael Fay tells me, are to increase its membership, offer more backyard barbecue classes, sponsor an introductory competition class, and get involved in Wounded Warrior events.

The group’s annual Q-Aid, in which volunteers cook and package pulled pork for the Capital Area Food Bank, is scheduled for March 18 and 19. The goal this year is to prepare 2,500 pounds of pulled pork.

Planet Raichlen. He wrote the "Bible" and founded a "Planet." Now, best-selling author Steven Raichlen – who, incidentally, also hosts the PBS show "Primal Grill" and has a line of products (are there three of this guy?) – is out to conquer your local grocery store shelves.

On Jan. 14 at the Atlanta Gift Show, Raichlen will unveil his new line of Planet Barbecue spice rubs and something called “marinade pastes.” The products are based on his barbecue journeys and include pastes (there’s that word again) from Colombia, Morocco, Malaysia and Jamaica as well as spice rubs from North Africa, Spain, Morocco, Argentina and Germany.

Free lunch for 10,000. Going to be in Austin on Jan. 18? Want a free barbecue lunch? Make it over to the Capitol grounds. Organizers of a little ol' barbecue for 10,000 to celebrate Gov. Rick Perry’s third term are serving smoked meats at no cost to the public. Auto dealer magnate and Clear Channel Communications co-founder Red McCombs is picking up the tab. You need to sign up in advance for a ticket at the inauguration Web site.

The official Web site doesn’t reveal the caterer's name, and Smoke Signals did not receive a reply from the inauguration committee to my inquiry. Word in the 'cueosphere, though, is that it is Eddie Deen and Company, a major Dallas-based catering company.

Eddie Deen has been to this rodeo a time or two. On its Web site, Eddie Deen says it served 14,000 guests for George W. Bush's gubernatorial inauguration in 1995 and accommodated 22,000 guests at three inaugural balls in 2001 for the new president. The company also served 13,500 at Gov. Perry's first inauguration in 2003 and more than 10,000 for President Bush's second inauguration in 2005.

Just guessing here, but I'll bet they don't do it the way the Walter Jetton did. Jetton was LBJ's barbecue caterer, and he made state dinners of meats smoked in a hole in the ground.

Please email tips, news, suggestions, opinions, idle gossip and industrious gossip to jimshahin@aol.com.

By Jim Shahin  | January 11, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags:  Jim Shahin  
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