What started as a fundraiser for a local firehouse is now—24 years later—one of the preeminent barbecue competitions (and places to sample the cuisine) in the region.
The New Jersey State Barbecue Championship—making its big comeback this year after it was scaled back in 2021 and didn’t happen at all in 2020—is set to feature 68 pitmasters vying for the top prize.
“As far as a summertime festival, this really has it all. All the B’s. The beach, the barbecue, the booze and beer, too,” says event chairman Eric Shenkus, a Wildwood native.
The six-block-long, free event is being held July 8-10 in North Wildwood, in conjunction with the Angelsea Blues Festival—so great tunes are being served up alongside great food. Attendees can try barbecue from competitors and food from other vendors, as well as watch the chefs do their thing.
The championship attracts pitmasters from all over the region and beyond. More than $10,000 is up for grabs, and for the Grand Champion, a chance at competing at the American Royale in Kansas City, aka the Superbowl of Barbecue. But according to Shenkus, “for a lot of these guys, a lot more important is the bragging rights.”
One familiar name to New Jerseyans is Local Smoke. Now a restaurant chain with four brick-and-mortar locations and two seasonal pop-ups, the team got its start at the Wildwood festival in 2009 and hopes to win for the fifth time this year.
“It’s our favorite weekend of the year,” says co-owner Steve Raab. “It’s a great family affair; the whole thing is just run perfectly.”
The music takes place at one end of the event, and the competitors are set up at the other. Even the different styles of smokers are of interest at the festival.
“Guys will use everything, from very expensive pits, $20,000-$30,000, to 55-gallon oil drums that they’ve modified at home,” Shenkus explains.
Barbecue by the beach? Shenkus says the festival is quintessential summer.
“When you think about, What is America’s food? It’s barbecue,” he says. “Barbecue continues to evolve and get influenced by the melting pot of America.”
Want a comprehensive guide to the best festivals happening statewide all summer? Click here.Click here to leave a comment