What started out as a fundraiser for a Decatur homeless shelter is now the fourth annual Atlanta BBQ Festival.
It began when Anthony Ernst of Stone Mountain held a barbecue cookout to raise money for the Oakhurst Recovery Program, the homeless shelter run by Oakhurst Baptist Church where Ernst and festival organizer Bob Herndon are deacons.
After the cookout, Herndon posted a message on the church’s email system saying that he thought Ernst’s barbecue was the best in the world. That message started a flurry of messages on the system usually reserved for church announcements and prayer requests.
Church members argued on the system which was the best—barbecue in Goldsboro, N. C., Lexington, N. C., or Texas.
“People are really passionate about barbecue,” said Herndon, a Decatur resident. “People are interested in the variety of it and the right texture.”
The first Atlanta BBQ Festival was held in 2009 in the parking lot of Turner Field. Organizers were hoping for 2,000 participants; approximately 5,000 people attended.
“We ran out of beer. We ran out of barbecue,” Herndon said. “It was a real success.”
The next year, organizers planned for 5,000 people and approximately 10,000 showed up.
“We ran out of beer. We ran out of barbecue,” he said.
In 2011, there were approximately 12,000 participants and organizers did not run out of anything, Herndon said.
This year’s festival, which will be held Sept. 14-15 at Atlantic Station in Atlanta, will feature 10 of Atlanta’s top barbecue restaurants serving up their specialties, 50 barbecue teams from across the region competing for prizes, live music and entertainment, barbecue cooking demonstrations and the Atlanta BBQ Festival Invitational Car Show.
BBQ Pitmasters, a show on The Learning Channel, will be on hand filming this year’s festival.
Herndon said that although Georgia does not have its own distinct barbecue flavor, “Georgia is the crossroads of barbecue.”
A judge for national and international barbecue events, Herndon said, “I want to make Atlanta the world destination for barbecue.
“It will really help our city,” said Herndon, mentioning that Memphis in May, a barbecue festival in Tennessee, adds $13 million to the local economy annually. “It’s the barbecue Mardis Gras.”
Herndon said he loves to eat at various barbecue joints around the metro area.
“Why spend $5 at a McDonald’s versus $6 or $7 in a barbecue restaurant?” he asked, adding that frequenting barbecue restaurants supports local economies.
“People who love barbecue are good folk,” Herndon said. “Nothing against vegetarians. One of my best friends is a vegetarian.”
For more information on the Atlanta BBQ Festival, visit to www.atlbbqfest.com.