Mark Cieslikowski has a promise for ardent barbecue fans: Come to Saturday's Come-See-Me Barbecue Cookoff and enjoy some of the best "q" you've ever tasted.
He should know. Cieslikowski, 54, (pronounced CEASE-lick-OW-ski) and his four-member Tega Cay team, called Q-2-U, won the South Carolina Barbecue Association's master competition last year.
They are among about 20 barbecue teams -- brandishing monikers such as Smokin' Cole's, Butt Rubbers and Hog Wild BBQ -- that will compete in the Come-See-Me cookoff this weekend. The cookoff, a new festival event this year, is a part of the state association's season of barbecue competitions.
"We're competing this year to try and do it again," Cieslikowski said, referring to the state title. "We have our own sauce and rub. Every time we cook, we always try to make it better."
For competitors, the main event is Saturday. The teams will set up Friday at Winthrop Lake and tend their Boston butt all night. The meat must be ready for judging by 10 a.m. Saturday.
During Saturday's Tailgate Party, which begins at 3 p.m. at the lake, festivalgoers can purchase barbecue prepared by the competitors for $8 a pound until it's gone.
But that's not the only tasty treat. During Friday's Moonlight Jazz & Blues, the cooks will serve samples of different foods prepared for a "no-pork" competition.
"You'll see everything from chicken wings to shrimp creole to salmon," said Bill Caldwell, a team leader for the event. "Anything but pork or dessert. The beauty is that you can taste a lot of different foods for a very reasonable cost."
$1 ticket buys a sample
The cost is $1 per ticket, or $10 for a dozen, and each ticket buys a sample, Caldwell said. "It's a chance for the teams to show off their cooking ability. You have some really marvelous food that is prepared," Caldwell said.
David Rowland, lead cook for team Your Butt's On Fire out of McConnells, said his crew plans to make a bacon-wrapped shrimp for the "no pork" event.
Oh, and Rowland said they'll bring a few trophies, just for show. "Probably a truckload," boasted Rowland, 48. Usually, he said, they compete in Kansas City Barbecue Society events.
The team -- he, brother Don Rowland and chums Bobby Salva and Dave Dumford -- make a sort of hybrid sauce, with "ketchup and vinegar in the sauce," he said.
Kenny Skaggs -- head cook for team Slap Yo' Mama Barbeque of Rock Hill -- said they'll serve a Texas beef brisket sandwich. It's the team's first state barbecue association event, he said, and they relish the chance to practice.
"When my wife and I grow up, that's what we want to do," said Skaggs, 43, referring to their dream of hitting the competitive barbecue circuit.
Danny Hyslop of Rock Hill, an acting marshal for the barbecue association, said about 30 certified judges statewide are expected to taste and rank the vittles in blind judging.
It's almost always a close contest, Hyslop maintains. "It will come down to decimal points," Hyslop said, "as to how you break out who the winner is."
Prizes for barbecue winners are $1,000 for first place, $500 for second and $200 for third, with trophies, while first prize for the "no pork" event is $300. All proceeds from the food sales on both days will benefit the Worthy Boys and Girls Camp, Campbell said.
But competitors promise all those who try the barbecue will be winners. "We could make you never want to eat at a barbecue restaurant again," promises Rowland. Why? "Just quality, we take more time to do it. We try to perfect it."