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Saturday, August 23, 2014
Music City BBQ Festival 2014 (Nashville, TN)
When I heard it was time for the annual Music City BBQ Festival, I couldn't resist checking it out. My wife graciously agreed to be my wingman for the festivities. We haven't had much time for outdoor activities lately, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for some fun.
First, I'd like to note that this event was severely lacking in terms of communication and organization. Since I anticipated a large turnout, I wanted to get tickets a few weeks in advance. The official festival website provided a link where interested folks could procure tickets ahead of time. Problem is, the link took you to some info about the 2013 festival, with no place to buy tickets. I emailed the information address - no response. I sent a Facebook message to the official page - no response. I made two Facebook comments to their own posts - no response. Finally, I discovered a third-party website that had tickets available. Sheesh.
Tickets were only $10 per person for a two-day admission pass, which seemed reasonable enough. Since the majority of the festivities were slated for Saturday and I had no desire to fight end-of-week rush hour traffic, at the last minute I decided to forgo my Friday passes. Mrs. Barbecue Fiend was also pretty tired from working all day, so I thought I'd let her get some rest so we could go full force on Saturday. Besides, the two-day pass was only a dollar extra anyway.
This summer in Nashville has been amazingly mild, though the BBQ festival landed on what was probably the hottest day thus far. Apparently this weekend at the fairgrounds was also some sort of giant flea market and/or swap meet. We had to wade through a swamp of $2 socks, homemade honey, and used mannequins to find the right part of the grounds. Finally we found an oasis of tents and smokers.
From some initial research, it seems like there are only 3-4 commercial barbecue vendors from which to procure meat. Weird. Apparently there aren't many joints willing to pay for the health inspection necessary to be a festival vendor. I hoped maybe this year's festival would be different, but sadly not. This event is mostly just a barbecue cook-off and not really much of a festival. In fact, all of the regular brick-and-mortar Nashville barbecue joints I saw there were competing rather than selling. What a shame. At least some of the teams had hilarious names. Here are some of my favorites: Porkasaurus, The Ashholes, Master Basters, Smokin' Hot Butts, and Rub Down South. Brilliant, just brilliant.
Savage Catering was the first barbecue vendor we came across upon entering the festival. I scoured the Internet for almost an hour, but couldn't find any reference to this operation whatsoever. Perhaps they're new to the food game. The guys running this booth were incredibly friendly, so I was happy to give them a shot. Although it's not my normal barbecue order, I decided to try their BBQ Nachos, which are made with Boston Butt rather than basic pulled pork. My wife got an ear of grilled corn, as if that's what a normal person eats at a barbecue festival.
What I received was a massive pile of shredded pork butt atop normal nacho fixins. The meat was tender, though bordering on mushy. It likely had been steaming itself to death in a warming pan for quite some time. Needless to say, there was no smoky taste whatsoever. The sweet, vinegary sauce was decent enough, but tasted a little odd when coupled with the canned nacho cheese sauce. Looks like I should have opted for grilled corn, too.
Paradise Ridge BBQ
Next up was Paradise Ridge, which is another Nashville-area catering operation. Apparently they also serve up 'que at the Green Door Gourmet CSA farm (community-supported agriculture) from time to time via a run-down food truck. Their signage referenced a reserve grand champion win from some barbecue cookoff in Shreveport, Louisiana, though I'm not sure how long ago that particular competition was. Just to be safe, I went with a small order of three pork ribs, no sides.
I understand that large-scale, off-site barbecue is much more difficult to perfect, but the mangled ribs I received looked completely unappetizing. They were drowning in sauce, though I've come to expect as much in this region. There was some evidence of a smoke ring, but absolutely no smoke that I could taste. The meat fell apart at the slightest touch, meaning they were completely overcooked. I was also pretty unimpressed with the sauce, which was more like sweet ketchup. These definitely were not award-winning ribs.
There was one other barbecue vendor that I didn't try, but after an hour and a half of sweltering heat, bad barbecue, and sheer boredom, my wife and I were both ready to leave. This was a really disappointing "festival". Honestly, the best-tasting thing I had came in the form of a 12-ounce can:
Music City BBQ Festival 2014
Tennessee State Fairgrounds
500 Wedgewood Ave
Nashville, TN 37203