- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2019

A sweet, smoky haze settled over Pennsylvania Avenue between Third and Seventh streets NW, as pitmasters from around country competed Saturday and Sunday in the Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle.

The 27th annual contest welcomed people of all ages to enjoy barbecue and entertainment while raising more than $1 million for the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore and the Capital Area Food Bank.

“It’s a chance for the USO to talk to people about what the USO does and what it means to the military families and it’s just grown and grown,” said Gordon Reid, president of Giant Food, which hosted the event for the fourth consecutive year.

Mr. Reid presented the $1 million in proceeds Friday to Elaine Rogers, president and CEO of USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore.

“Year One, we raised $200,000. Year Two, $400,000. Year Three $682,000. And this year will be over $1 million, so I can’t thank our customers and our suppliers enough and our partners enough for their help,” he said.

Ms. Rogers said the money will help her organization help members of the military and their families.

“The only reason the USO is here is to support our military, their families, our wounded, ill and injured, and their caregivers,” she said.

The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore is the largest regional chapter chartered by the USO.

The weekend event hosted several national competitions among barbecue pitmasters from across the country.

More than 34 teams competed in seven competitions in the two-day event, which also hosted the Military Chef Contest featuring top chefs from the five military branches.

“It’s absolutely a great event. And we love coming,” said pitmaster Andrew Darnielle. “This is my third year competing at it. Fortunately, we’ve got a little cooler weather this year than last.”

Mr. Darnielle competed with his team, Smokecraft, in multiple competitions over the weekend including the Giant National Barbecue Championship. He said he has cooked barbecue ever since he was a kid.

Mr. Darnielle and his team plan to compete in 25 competitions across the country this year.

Jeff Walters of the Bad Azz Mule team competed for the third year and, for the first time, cooked turkey breast and leg of lamb for one of the contests.

“I probably wouldn’t want to be one of the judges today,” he joked while he prepped the turkey breast.

Mr. Walters, who has barbecued for most of his life, said one of the downsides of being a competitive cook is how it ruined restaurants for him.

“I’m not saying that there aren’t good restaurants out there, it’s just when you can cook it better it’s really hard to go out to a restaurant,” he said.

Mr. Reid said 130,000 people were expected over the two-day event, which also provided space for three music stages and 30 bands.

“Everybody’s having a great time,” attendee Bob Barron said. “We should all have a great time like this every day. It’s incredible.”

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