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Smoke Signals: An East Coast resource

Barbecue is a Southern thing, right?

Don’t overthink the answer. Yes, barbecue is a Southern thing. (I never liked trick questions.) But, you may have noticed, it is fast becoming an East Coast thing, too.

In the past decade, barbecue joints such as Daisy Mae’s, Blue Smoke, RUB, and Hill Country have transformed New York City’s culinary landscape. Eaters there follow the comings and goings of pitmasters like they were French toques or Italian chefs.

In the Washington area, Hill Country is expected to open this year in Penn Quarter, NYC barbecue stalwart Virgil’s was reported by the City Paper to be scouting a place downtown, and local barbecue competition team Pork Barrel BBQ is scheduled to open their restaurant in Del Ray this fall.

Meanwhile, the number of barbecue cookoffs, and the attendance at them, continues to rise. Last weekend’s Maryland State Barbecue Championship in Bel Air attracted 60 professional competitors (10 more than previous years) and 33 amateur “tailgate challengers,” double the number from 2009. An estimated 25,000 barbecue lovers attended the event, held on the streets of downtown Bel Air. For those keeping score at home, the grand champion this year was Cool Smoke, Richmond chef Tuffy Stone’s team, which also placed first in pork shoulder at the prestigious Memphis in May Barbecue Contest earlier this year.

Given all the activity, I think it's about time to introduce the area’s budding pitmasters, whether backyarders or would-be competitors, to the Mid-Atlantic Barbecue Association.
MABA is a good one-stop shop for all your regional barbecue needs, including information on grills, cooking techniques, recipes, types of fuels, local contests and advice. The organization covers Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, the District, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

“Barbecue is the new poker,” says MABA president Michael Fay. “There’s TV exposure, major corporate sponsorships, money’s coming in.”

Despite all that, MABA sticks pretty much to local charity events. One of its biggest is shortly before Thanksgiving, but is already soliciting volunteers for the massive undertaking. Called Q-Aid, it is a volunteer operation that collects, cooks and processes pork shoulders to donate to the Capitol Area Food Bank for holiday dinners.

Last year, Q-Aid volunteers cooked 1,600 pounds of pork shoulder and packaged it in one-pound containers. The goal this year, says Fay, is 2,500 pounds. You don’t have to be a MABA member to participate.

This year’s Q-Aid will be held on Nov. 6, but MABA is searching for a site, as the church grounds where it has been held the last couple of years is booked with events through the fall.

MABA has about 200 members who, for $35 in annual dues, get a monthly newsletter called Smokey Notes, a National Barbecue News subscription, access to a mentoring program and discounts at various businesses. Its website, filled lots of information, is free.

Which means even if you are East Coast born and bred and don’t know your Memphis sauce from your North Carolina – which, incidentally, I'll explain in next Wednesday’s Food section – it won’t take long before you can cook like you grew up in Dixie.

-- Jim Shahin

By The Food Section  |  August 17, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags: Jim Shahin, barbecue  
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