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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Smoke Signals: Welcome to the 'year of barbecue'

By Jim Shahin

On my right, a guy is extolling the virtues of his Spicewine Ironworks “super medium” to a fellow who has acknowledged using the more basic Weber Smokey Mountain.

On my left, I overhear a man ask another, “What do you do to your chicken?”

On the table in front of me is a small cap of South Carolina-style mustard sauce that everyone within reach samples. “Mmmm,” says the first, delighted. A second and third taster express agreement with the exact same comment.

And so it goes at the annual meeting of the Mid Atlantic Barbecue Association, or MABA, held on Saturday at Victory Brewery in Downingtown, Pa., about 45 minutes west of Philadelphia.

Who knew barbecue folks held annual meetings? Or had a board of directors (up, by the way, to nine members from last year’s seven)? Or even had matters to discuss? I mean, beyond spice rubs and wood types.

The fact that there is such a thing says a little something about the state of barbecue in this area. The fact that it was so well attended says even more.

“We are at the right place at the right time,” MABA president Michael Fay tells the group. “2011 is going to be the year of barbecue. Media exposure is growing. Business sponsorships are growing. We’re more involved in charity events, more involved in competitions. I like where MABA is at.”

The roughly 100 members cheer. In a region where barbecue has long been an afterthought, barbecue is beginning to catch on as a cultural phenomenon. Of the seven states that comprise MABA, four will hold state championships this year, the highest number ever. And MABA membership, which is around 200, has quadrupled in three years.

Despite the growth, MABA is basically today what it has always been: an organization to help the die hard and the novice alike learn about barbecuing generally and competition barbecuing specifically. What has changed is that the area is experiencing a barbecue explosion the likes of which it hasn’t seen since the early days of the republic, when Virginia might reasonably have been regarded as country’s barbecue capital.

The business at hand, though, was mostly ceremonial.

Announced earlier in the year, awards were handed out to top performers in various categories (chicken, ribs, pork, brisket) and to the leading overall teams. Team of the Year for 2010 was Chix, Swine and Bovine, led by Mike Richter of Jessup. The Rookie of the Year was Degüello BBQ, captained by Kit Rudd of West Springfield, Va.

Fay also called for volunteers to help with MABA’s annual Q-Aid, a fundraiser for the Capital Area Food Bank. It will be held March 18 and 19 at the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew,
15300 New Hampshire Ave. in 
Silver Spring. MABA’s goal is to cook and package up to 2,500 pounds of pork butt and raise $5,000 for the food bank. Participants needn’t be MABA members.

The most spirited discussion occurred over the suggestion that MABA expand to include North Carolina. Fay said that MABA was already stretched thin and that he wanted to make sure the North Carolina Barbecue Society was consulted before moving forward. He said the board would discuss the idea.

Meanwhile, down in Texas over the same weekend, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest was reported to be breaking its 2010 attendance record of more than 221,000 people.

Seems that whether in a back room at a microbrewery in rural Pennsylvania or at a rodeo in one of the biggest cities in America, the line on the barbecue graph just keeps going up.

By Jim Shahin  | March 1, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags:  Jim Shahin  
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