BBQ and Craft Beer Fest for Labor Day revelers –

OCEANPORT — What is Labor Day weekend without a barbecue?

That’s the philosophy behind the BBQ and Craft Beer Festival at Monmouth Park that attracted thousands of foodies on its opening day on Saturday.

Donna Blackwell took the drive from Newark with friends Charise Balaam and Sandra Crawford to experience the festival for the first time. And it didn’t disappoint.

“Me and my girlfriends, we decided we wanted to do something outdoors, we wanted to go to the Shore. Why not kill two birds with one stone?” said Blackwell, an NJ Transit employee. “So here we are.”

RELATED: Pitmasters compete at Monmouth Park’s annual BBQ and Craft Beer Festival

“This is the greatest,” said Balaam as she snacked on barbecue. “I’m enjoying myself. With gas being $1.95 a gallon, I can go anywhere I want and be a happy camper.”

It was a first for them on a couple of fronts – the first time they’d been to Monmouth Park and the first time Blackwell had placed a bet on a horse.  (Her $2 pick came in last.)

With camping chairs strapped to their backs, the friends walked around the park for about 35 minutes before deciding on barbecue from Chop Shop Barbecue, which had one of the longer lines of the festival.

Keith Morris, owner of Chop Shop Barbecue, said he expects to go through about 100 racks of ribs and 400 pounds of pork and brisket each day of the three-day festival.

Morris, who’s been a showcasing his food at the Oceanport race track since the festival started seven years ago, said he used to participate in 15 festivals annually but pared it down to three a year after opening his Chop Shop restaurant in Seaside Heights five years ago. He’s getting ready to open a second location in Seaside by the end of this year.

“You gotta love this event,” Morris said after retrieving a bag of ice. “We’re selling a lot of ribs. It’s a good festival.”

Patti Baxter, organizer of the event, said the festival – which added a third day this year to showcase 22 vendors and more than 40 craft beers– is poised to give the Jersey Shore Food Truck Festival, which attracted 60,000 people over the three-day Memorial Day weekend this year at the race track, a run for its money.

“It’s just grown. It’s become more popular,” Baxter said. “It’s such a great venue to do it. It introduces a new audience to the race track.”

Besides offering the traditional barbecue, the festival has branched out to include Asian and Puerto Rican barbecues.

On Sunday night, the people’s choice awards – as voted by the munchers – will be handed out.

MaryAnn Spoto may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MaryAnnSpoto. Find on Facebook.