PHOTO STORY: Dowagiac enjoys annual Summer Festival, BBQ Competition

Published 3:00 pm Sunday, July 16, 2023

DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac’s annual summer festival returned this weekend with a new flavor.

The Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Dowagiac Summer Festival and BBQ Competition Friday, July 14 and Saturday, July 15 in downtown Dowagiac.

New to the festival was a barbecue competition featuring an amateur division and will be sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society – the largest competitive barbecue organization in the world. The event brought pitmasters, judges and enthusiasts from all over the country to downtown Dowagiac.

A short rain spell did not defer festival goers from having a good time.

“Despite the weather it was a great turnout,” said Dowagiac Chamber Marketing and Event Coordinator Matt Money. “Our Front Street was packed with vendors. Our first annual barbecue competition was amazing. We had 16 teams compete, everyone’s having a great time. We’re only gonna get bigger and better for next year.”

Festivities took place both Friday, July 14 and Saturday, July 15. Front Street was closed for vendors and kids carnival rides and live music will also be played in Beckwith Park. Friday night, hundreds of runners gathered for the annual Steve’s Run 5K. Families browsed summer sales at retail specialty shops, and the booths of artisans, community organizations and commercial vendors.

Merchants and restaurants with “Stroll” signs featured specialty items and food specials with a BBQ theme. 

The barbeque competition, featuring chicken and pork rib categories, took place Saturday in the parking lot behind Oak and Ash. While shopping local vendors and storefronts, guests were able to both see and smell the contestants in action. The competition was fierce, with KCBS-certified BBQ judges judging the meats based on KCBS standards. When the dust settled, Dowagiac native Michael Gard of Silver Creek BBQ took home Grand Champion honors after earning first place in both the chicken and rib categories.

“Everyone’s energy was amazing,” he said. “They loved Dowagiac, we had 16 teams and we had 16 judges, everyone came from out of town. So that’s bringing new eyeballs to share our energy to share our future, our commerce. It was so cool.”

Money said the chamber has already begun brainstorming how it can make the festival even better next year, including adding a brisket category.