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.