Chandler's annual BBQ bash suffered from some initial missteps but rallied to deliver the meat + fire = delicious equation we so crave.
Saturday's noon opening time was pushed back by nearly 30 minutes, reportedly because of problems with the fire department vetting all the vendors (or because security discovered someone trying to bring in a gun, if you believed some of the hushed voices in our line).
Further, due to a lack of signage, people tended to unnecessarily bottleneck in various places. More on that later. But once inside, the venue was large enough to accommodate vendors of all sorts and a sea of hungry BBQ lovers.
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The Good: The soul-sucking lines at food festivals can be an exercise in madness, but thankfully not at this BBQ festival. While we were there, lines rarely took more than a couple minutes to queue through. Even better, there were plenty of vendors so it was possible to just move on to another eatery and loop back to check on busy ones later. Unlike some festivals, virtually all of the vendors here offered a $2-5 sample or a sample plate. Not only did this appeal to those of us trying for a smorgasbord of BBQ, but the ease of slapping some brisket or pulled pork into a sampler kept the lines moving.
Of course, the most important thing is the food, and here the Great American BBQ Festival delivered in spades. Both local and national BBQ professionals were represented, and all of the barbecue we sampled was excellent. Our favorite was Montana Q, whose rib tips were buttery soft and smothered in a spicy and faintly fruity sauce.
The Not So Good: David and Rachael Robinett from Kent, Washington were visiting for a wedding when their friends roped them into checking out the local barbecue festival. While they said they were having a great time and enjoyed the food and drink, they had a few suggestions that made a great deal of sense: 1. Better crowd control. The problem wasn't a lack of entrances, beer ticket stations, or I.D. checkers. The problem was that nobody alerted people to the alternatives. Our line to get into the venue stretched nearly two blocks. However, once we got in, we saw that the second entrance had people breezing in without a wait. We saw one beer ticket station that had a line stretching down the block, but no more than 100 feet away (behind some trees) there was another station with virtually no line. A bit more prodding by the festival staff might have improved things considerably. 2. Samplers for the beer, as well as the BBQ. Rachael expressed sadness that San Tan Brewery only had full-size glasses of full-price beer. She, and others, thought the San Tan's brew was terrific but wished she could have tried more varieties. Perhaps next year the $2 samples will extend to the beer as well. 3. More trashcans. David noted that while there seemed like there were plenty of trashcans, their organization needed some help. In particular he thought it was strange that the recycles were located separately from the regular trash, necessitating a consciences reveler throw their plate away in one location and then hunt down a recycle bin. We also noticed that trashcans could have been dispersed a little more, too. 4. Maybe a little less pulled pork. As convenient as $2 samples were, more often than not those samples was pulled pork. There's absolutely nothing wrong with pulled pork but by the third one, they all started blending together. We applaud places like Tuscon's Brush Fire BBQ Co. who were not afraid to put their excellent beef brisket on display.