He Loves DC: John Snedden of Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company


For 18 years Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company has been cooking for the DC area, whipping up some of the finest in the area with its wood-only barbeque. Since crafting his own sauce in 1978 after being dissatisfied with store-bought sauces Owner John Snedden’s been taking on the beltway’s tastebuds one wood-smoked protein at a time. Rocklands has even developed its own line of sauces including the popular Original Barbeque Sauce, to the award-winning Global Warming, Tamarind Chipotle Hot Sauce and the recently developed Barbeque Citrus Sauce.

In addition to its own line of sauces, every one of the four locations features a ‘Wall of Fire,’ boasting more than 100 hot sauces sourced from all around the world for customers to sample and even purchase. Customers who bring a bottle of hot sauce Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company doesn’t sell will get a free sandwich. It’s just that kind of place. So what does John Snedden think about the area? Where’s the best BBQ other than his own joint? Where does he go on his days off? Read on to find out.

Katie: How long have you lived in the DC area?
John: I moved to Washington in the Spring of ’84.

What is the best thing about DC, in your opinion?
My family and I love living in DC. For an urban area, DC has so much green space and character. We often forget we live in the city. It is also exciting to be in the hub of the federal government. There is so much power and influence in this city. It is palpable and exciting.

Photo courtesy of
‘New Hot Sauce’
courtesy of ‘MattHurst’

What would you change about DC if you could?
If I could change one thing in DC, I would wave a magic wand and make the schools among the best in the country.

What inspired you to start Rocklands BBQ?
I have always loved barbeque, or cooking with wood. While in college in rural Lexington, Virginia (Washington & Lee University) I started catering BBQ events. It was a hobby and passion. When I moved to DC in ’84 I catered an event which led to 3 in ’85 and so on and such forth… When we opened the first Rocklands store in 1990, I was trying to create a venue to serve the best barbeque on the planet and stayed true to barbecue’s origins. All wood, no additives.

Name your ideal day of DC meals – what would you eat for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner and drinks?
I don’t eat breakfast, if I did, the Four Seasons would be a great place to start. I’d then head to lunch at Brasserie Beck with my wife. We love the pork belly and white beans. If I had a bottomless stomach, we would then head to Chef Geoff’s or Martin’s for burgers and drinks. Then maybe a snack of pizza slices at Vace followed by an early supper at Obelisk, dinner at Sushi Ko and finish up with a seven-course meal at Cityzen. I’d be full, but happy.

What makes excellent BBQ – I’m a North Carolina vinegar-based girl myself, what style do you prefer?
I’m not as much a “style” person as a real barbeque person, that is people using traditional method: hard wood/charcoal, low and slow. I’ve had great Barbeque in N.C., Georgia, S.C., FL, AL, Texas, CA, CO, Utah, NY, DC and some other locales and the wood process seems to be the common denominator. I don’t like “sweet” BBQ Sauce.

You’ve got a few locations throughout the metro area, why did you choose the neighborhoods you did for your restaurants?
We love to open stores in vibrant neighborhoods with great mixes of people. Rocklands is a neighborhood spot, and we generally gear towards neighborhoods which gather around and support their local food stops.

What’s been your biggest barbecue milestone for Rocklands? What are you most proud of?
When we opened, I really wasn’t thinking beyond a year, although we had committed to a lease longer than that, so, to be nearly celebrating our 19th Anniversary, is a huge Milestone for us. I’m most proud of the people who work at and make Rocklands what it is, a great place to eat with superior customer service. We have great “Institutional Knowledge” amongst our team as we have long tenures for most of our team, in fact, 2 of our original 5 team, still are working on a weekly schedule. Our people work very hard and with focus, I’m very proud of that.

Other than your own BBQ joint, where can you find the best barbecue in DC?
For me, The Rib Pit, on GA Ave, I loved that they are doing real barbeque. Great ribs, too!

Where do you spend your days off in the city?
I spend my days off with my family. We love to head over to the Smithsonian on Sunday mornings. Always before 11 am, or it gets too busy. We love DC’s outdoor green spaces and tend to favor the Billy Goat trail and Roosevelt Island. There are some great hikes in Rock Creek Park, too.

For more information about Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company, please visit the website at www.rocklands.com, and for information on its catering service please visit www.rocklandscatering.com.

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!

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