Cheerwine BBQ a hit at festival

COLUMBIA -- Some folks prefer the familiar tanginess of mustard-based barbecue sauce.

Others will traditionally ask for a heaping plate of barbecue in a tomato-based sauce.

Every year, Stokes Collins of Greenville comes to the State Museum's Fall Heritage Festival armed with pans of barbecue to see who he can entice with his slow-smoked 'cue in a sweet Cheerwine sauce.

Yes, Cheerwine, the cherry-flavored soft drink.

"It's something different," said Meika Samuel, director of education programs at the museum. "A lot of people are experimenting," she said in between shoveling fresh pulled pork onto plates.

The museum's annual festival boasts bluegrass music and arts and crafts. It also offers an opportunity to get a full belly of barbecue.

West Columbia resident Susan Busby and her neighbors never had Cheerwine-flavored barbecue before Saturday. They quickly became satisfied customers.

At the end of her meal, Busby held open an empty foam container and smiled. "This is what I thought of it," she said.

Sauce creator Collins and his family were counting on the novelty of a soft drink-based barbecue sauce to get attention 10 years ago when they created the Cheerwine sauce.

"We just wanted something with a different edge," Collins said.

His father, Frank, was a salesman for the Salisbury, N.C.-based company. The combination of pork and a cherry flavor made sense, he said. But, "we really didn't expect it to be such a success."

Besides winning over families with the sauce's flavor Saturday, the Cheerwine Championship Cooking Team has placed in international contests, opened a restaurant (Smokin' Stokes) and considered bottling the sauce. They've since sold the restaurant and decided against bottling the sauce.

Collins said he enjoys the experience of being at an event like the Heritage Festival with the smell of fresh barbecue in the air and talking shop with fellow barbecue aficionados.

The Cheerwine Championship Cooking Team continues to cater occasionally but has no plans to create any other soft drink barbecue sauce concoctions.

"Cheerwine is it for us," Collins said.

Mix the following in a large pot over high heat:

One 12-ounce can of Cheerwine soft drink

5 ounces molasses

6 ounces brown sugar

10 ounces your favorite brand barbecue sauce

2 ounces white distilled vinegar

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 ounce liquid smoke

Bring to boil while stirring. Cool, pour in container and refrigerate. Makes approximately 32 ounces of sauce. Good with pork, chicken or beef.

Source: Cheerwine

Championship Cooking Team; www.cheerwine.com