Chandler's Great American BBQ and Beer Festival, now in its fifth year, delivered on the promises of barbecued meats, craft beer, and music. We had our reservations at the start of the event but walked away full and thoroughly impressed with the event's organization, food and drink offerings, and entertainment.
We arrived in downtown Chandler about 10 minutes before the festival gates opened at noon and found ourselves at the back of a very long and slow-moving line of attendees waiting to get inside. There seemed to be little forward progress for about 15 minutes, but we were able to get inside and start eating around 12:20 p.m. Next year, a smoother -- or just faster -- process for admitting early guests would be nice, but other than that, we have few suggestions for improvement.
One of the best things about the event is the venue, which allowed plenty of space for those who brought lawn chairs, tents, and the like. Food vendors, beer tents, and liquor tents and vendors were spread over three streets in Downtown Chandler. The setup meant little to no lines at most tents and plenty of space to sit and enjoy your food.
We started our eating on a high note with a $2 sampler from Four Brothers SmokeHouse & Grill. About two-thirds of the BBQ vendors offered these affordable, sample-size portions of meat in addition to full-size sandwiches and plates. Four Brothers, based in Tempe, might have been offering the best deal, though, with just two bucks getting you a slider and a side of your choice. We went with a brisket slider and mac n' cheese. The brisket -- smoked for 12 hours -- was tender and well-spiced and one of the best things we ate all day.
We also enjoyed the $2 rib sample from Waldo's BBQ, based in Mesa. Not only was it a huge beef rib, it was one of the most tender pieces of meat we've had in a while. It was smokey and nearly falling off the bone.
Less impressive was the brisket from Big John's Texas BBQ, out of Page. The restaurant offered $2 samples of all of its meats, which included brisket and hot links. The brisket fell on the dry side for our taste but did deliver a nice smoky flavor. We actually preferred the spicy, snappy hot links -- but were sad to learn they aren't made in-house.
Of course, not everything we tasted hit the mark. Boccafina Abbondante, a seasoning company, showed up with meats in order to showcase their different spice products. The $5 sampler that included Italian sausage, pulled pork, and ip-tip seemed like a good buy, but next time we'll save our dollars for the actual pit masters. All three meats were fairly bland and dry. We were also less than impressed with the $2 sampler from Chandler's Can't Stop Smoking BBQ, which included two bites of decent sausage and a three tiny pieces of very dry "party ribs."
Those looking for drinks should have had no problem finding the numerous beer tents located through the festival, pouring SanTan craft beers. We opted to try the beverages of the whiskey variety, which featured Bulleit and Dickel brand spirits. There were premixed drinks like whiskey lemonade and whiskey soda available for $5 each. Savvy drinkers also found their way over the sponsor's tents, where the vendors were holding free whiskey samplings.
And though the music wasn't our biggest reason for attending the fest (that would be the food, duh), we enjoyed listening to the lineup of country performers on the main stage. Some attendees spread out blankets or lawn chairs in front of the stage with clear plans to stay throughout the day, listening to the music and enjoying the rest of the festival offerings.
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We had such a good time, we might consider doing the same next time around.