"I dreamt of pork."
That's what Linda Rich of Lake Wylie's award-winning competition barbecue team, said the morning of the first Bordertown BBQ Cookoff in Clover last month. Her teammates are husband Brian and friends Mark and Renee Cieslikowski.
Small wonder. I learned firsthand what it's like being a part of a team when I spent the Friday night before rubbing butts and "feeling the pig" for several hours and returning at the crack of dawn to help finish off the process of making barbecue worth judging, and of course, eating.
I went to the cook's meeting to learn the rules of the South Carolina Barbeque Association, and cooking and sanitation regulations from DHEC. I sat with the team members, learning out how they got into this in the first place (barbecuing at the men's poker games) and how it's turned in to not just a meal, but a way of life -- taking off for weekends to compete, running a catering service, bottling their own Q2U vinegar-based sauces and rubs, their own Web site (Q-2-U.com) and even sweeter, a family on the barbecue circuit. It was amazing how they greeted and feasted with each other; many happy to see Linda, who was injured in a car wreck with her husband during a national competition in the fall in Georgia. Friendly atmosphere -- I can relate. I'm Italian, and food, especially good food, is at the center of bringing family and friends together. We feasted on everything but barbecue the night before from shrimp to brisket to poppers. Already it was obvious, these people know how to cook!
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When I returned in the morning, the madness of competition nerves surfaced. Although the team (who even let me in on a few of their secrets) remained rather calm, as the horns for time limit began, the bustle and activity flare with anxiety. And I learned a few things, too, like pink on a barbecue is just smoke rings. The hard part is called bark. Some competitions still remain friendly. And most importantly, I walked away with not only a few of their secret ingredients up my sleeve and a bag full of wonderful tasting barbecue for a few meals and more to freeze, but a greater understanding of the fact that making good barbecue is an art, and making it great takes time and a few tricks.
You, too, can taste the bounty this weekend during the inaugural Come-See-Me BBQ Festival, sponsored by Rinehart Realty, Friday and Saturday at Winthrop Lake in Rock Hill. The public will be served beginning at 7 p.m. Friday with "No Pork Night" during a Moonlight Jazz event and competition barbecue will served beginning at 3 p.m. during a tailgate party Saturday. Proceeds from the sale of barbecue on these two days will benefit The Worthy Boys and Girls Camp. So head to Rock Hill this weekend and see what Lake Wylie's barbecue team is cooking up. You won't be disappointed.