Saturday, November 16, 2013

Barbecue on the Charleston Harbor

Imagine planning a party. What setting would you want? When a barbecue competition was planned in South Carolina, the organizers took advantage of the spacious scenery of Lookout Pavilion that is part of the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, a fashionable property that proclaims itself a “waterfront sanctuary.” Charleston, “known as the place where history lives,” is a great venue for a barbecue throwdown.

Rows of cooking teams were quiet until the gates opened for the public.

On the banks of the Charleston Harbor at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, the pavilion is a great venue for cooking teams, judges, musicians, vendors, and the general public. It’s the best setting and most scenic location of any barbecue competition that I’ve attended. The area where the judges meet overlooks Cooper River (which forms the Charleston peninsula with Ashley River), the ferry to Fort Sumter, and several U.S. Navy warships.

Even the judges got a sign showing where to report.
Appropriately named Smoke on the Harbor BBQ Throwdown, the event attracts competitive cooking teams from throughout the Southeast, although most are from South Carolina. The governor even issues a state proclamation that the throwdown celebrates the barbecue traditions of the Palmetto State and that competitors are vying to be designated the S.C. state barbecue champion.

Begun in 2012, the event each year also hosts a food drive with the Lowcountry Food Bank. As the public observes the teams competing for prizes, the local food bank gains extra attention and recognition. For the 2013 event, the contest was sanctioned for the first time by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, which requires the categories of beef brisket, pork, pork ribs, and chicken. KCBS sanctioning also attracts judges (and is the reason that I applied to judge), and the 2013 event appealed more widely to cooking teams compared to the 2012 event, which was sanctioned by the smaller Southern BBQ Network, and the competition categories were limited to pork butts, pork ribs, and chicken wings.

Killer B's won as the overall champion and received designation as the state champion,
The size of the crowd that attends is almost overwhelming for the space, and almost everyone brings a donation of canned goods because it cuts in half the price for public admission. The public begins arriving as early as 11 a.m. on Saturday as the teams are finalizing preparations to turn in cooked meats for judging. As usual for a KCBS-sanctioned event, the first category of chicken is due at noon, and the other categories are turned in at 30-minute intervals.

Teams were well-prepared before turn-in times.

The staff of the resort and marina did a superb job in organizing the event. They have been planning special events since 1997, and challenges of hosting events such as the Charleston Wine and Food Festival have certainly honed their planning skills. Because the throwdown is so well organized and the location so scenic, I hope to return next year.

Tables were set up to garner votes in the people's choice category.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Finding the First Opportunity to Judge

How long does it take to be selected as a judge for an event? After I had completed training and was certified as a judge by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, I was ready to judge. However, I was naïve to think that all I had to do was to select an event to attend, submit my application to judge, and wait for an acceptance notification.

A trailer brought in for the first event that I judged, is all that is needed as a music stage. 

Within days of being certified, I sent requests to judge at five events in the Carolinas that I thought would quickly develop my experience level so that I would not be a “novice” judge for too long. However, the excitement of being certified soon turned to disappointment with the notices that I received. I was being waitlisted because all judges needed had been selected or applications for judges were no longer being considered.

Cooking teams, such as this one from Waxhaw, NC, at the first event where I was a judge,
can plan far in advance for which events they compete in.

Then I realized that judges submit applications well in advance of an event and many judges who enjoy being at the same contest year after year and submit their applications soon after the event ends for the next year. In addition, because the number of judges is limited by the number of cooking teams that are competing, some contest organizers wait until about two months before an event to notify judges of their selection.

Music and food drew a large crowd at my first event.

Finally, one of my five requests bought positive news. I was selected to be a judge at a contest in Fort Mill, SC. An event that had been known as Anne Springs Close Greenway BBQ & Bluegrass Festival was being renamed as Fiddle-N-Pig Shindig and expanded to include competition sanctioned by KCBS. Only later did I learn that I was able to judge because this event was still seeking judges because this year was its inaugural sanctioning by KCBS, although the festival had been held in previous years.

Teams such as this one began setting up early for the cookoff.

The excitement of being a judge at my first event built over the weeks before the date of the festival arrived. Being at an event in Fort Mill would give me time to explore Charlotte, NC, which is nearby, and a few small towns and historic areas in upper South Carolina. The festival was held at the Annie Springs Close Greenway, a 2,100-acre nature preserve and recreation complex that offers equestrian, hiking, boating, swimming, camping, fishing, and walking activities.

Meat for the cooking team is ready the day before for the cooking teams. 

The location was perfect for a barbecue and bluegrass festival. An entry fee permitted everyone to sample barbecue and vote in a people’s choice category. Musical ensembles played on a portable stage in front of a crowd that sat on a slope that was mostly shaded when they were not walking among the cooking teams. As the music played, teams turned in their entries at the historic Dairy Barn, built in 1947, and the judges scored the entries on the second floor of the barn.

Judges beginning setting up before the first entries are turned in

Fiddle-N-Pig Shindig was a great opportunity. I got to practice the training that I had received and taste excellent barbecue. This first event motivated me to seek other contests and continue my journey as a certified KCBS judge.

Trophies at the Shindig await the winners.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ridgewood Barbecue: A Tennessee Tradition

Ridgewood Barbecue is a popular
destination in eastern Tennessee
Smoked ham, thinly sliced, is not the typical barbecue. To find it, you have to head to eastern Tennessee to a regional restaurant known as Ridgewood Barbecue.

When I was in the Bristol area for a field trip conducted by Southern Foodways Alliance, the hickoried sandwiches of Ridgewood were served as supper in the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway. As part of the evening program, Larry Proffitt, the surviving son of parents who started the business, discussed his family’s barbecue business and Ridgewood’s traditions.

Larry Proffitt serves 
barbecue for supper.

The origin of Ridgewood Barbecue dates to 1948 when Proffitt’s father Jim and partners opened Ridgewood Inn. When the business changed its operations to barbecue in 1952, it was renamed Ridgewood Barbecue and operated by the Proffitt family.
With a pit made out of cinder blocks, father Jim began smoking hams – not shoulders or whole hogs – because as Larry says, “Even a country boy knows that shoulders go into sausage.”  After being smoked for hours, the meat is chilled overnight. Then it is sliced very thin to be ready for customer orders. As customers arrive, it is heated on a griddle with a tomato-based sauce and then piled high on sandwiches or platters.

Smoked ham slices are heated on a griddle for platters and sandwiches.
Although I missed an excursion to the restaurant with him, I created my own Ridgewood experience by going there for lunch after the field trip was over. Ridgewood certainly has a style of its own. The thinly sliced ham is definitely different than the pulled or chopped pork that a barbecue aficionado typically encounters, and the homemade sweet and tangy sauce adds an extra dimension to separate Ridgewood’s barbecue from others.

Hams are smoked next to the restaurant.

Larry Proffitt worked in the family business with his brother Terry as they grew up. Although Larry graduated from pharmacy school and owns a drug store in the area, he and his daughter Lisa (who is a nurse) now continue as owners and operators of the family business. For their dedication in carrying on this regional tradition, we are very much in their debt.

I was able to visit the area where the hams are smoked.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Becoming a BBQ Judge

Carol Bigler explains the judging process
Do you enjoy tasting award-winning barbeque? When eating barbeque, do you compare it to a standard and rate it for taste or tenderness? If you do, you may want to attend a class and be trained as a certified judge by an authorized organization. Having the credibility of certification is particularly important when cooks are competing against each other such as in a BBQ contest

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Note: This posting appeared originally on my other blog "Sights, Sounds, and Tastes of the American South. Click here to continue reading this post.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grilling for the Lord: Street Ministry Fixes Good Southern Food

Love and mercy are on the menu on N.C. 5 between Aberdeen and Pinehurst. “This is St. Paul’s, and street ministry is on the move. It’s God’s plan, not ours,” says Valerie Washington, a church volunteer whose passion is helping people in need.

In the area of Jackson Hamlet some drivers slow down on Fridays for a reason other than the 35 mph speed limit as they see smoke, and many are stopping to taste what’s on the grill. All the smoke is for a good cause. Leo Thomas.

Leo Thomas grills for families in need.

“We are raising money to assist the needy,” says Leo Thomas, a volunteer cook for St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson Hamlet. The grilling was “started to help families in need. We’ve been doing this for about two years,” he says. “The need is so great this year.”

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Note: This posting appeared originally on my other blog "Sights, Sounds, and Tastes of the American South. Click here to continue reading this post.