North Carolina’s vinegar-based barbecue shines as a signature for the Tar Heel State. The annual Backyard BBQ Cook Off serves to highlight this distinguishing flavor as a yearly fund-raiser that supports Step Up For Soldiers (Step Up), a local all-volunteer charity organization that benefits veterans. Despite the quirkiness of having a BBQ in January—one of the many perks of coastal dwelling—the fund-raiser has thrived since its inception and is now entering its third year.
The idea for the fund-raiser stemmed from Bobby McConville, who shared his proposal for the cook-off with members of Step Up and their community partners. With local support mounted, they teamed up to bring a finger-lickin’-good benefit to the Cape Fear region.
“[Step Up] was selected [as the beneficiary] because it’s a local nonprofit that benefits our veterans,” Janet Knott, board chair of the fund-raiser, states. “My dad was career Navy and did two tours in Vietnam. Those returning vets were rarely offered the support the vets are today, and I feel strongly we need to continue to help [them].”
The Backyard BBQ will kick-off with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m. featuring bagpipe players and Miss Spivey’s Corner singing the national anthem. The Ashley High School Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Color Guard will present the colors.
“Last year we netted nearly $25,000,” Knott confirms. This year they hope to garner the same support. Though not all of it will come in cash donations, they already have seen incoming aid from businesses such as Home Depot, which provided supplies for the event.
This year the competition will be judged by the discerning palates of nine judges, who—in keeping with the day’s theme—will include some people who have connections with the armed forces. Locals Kim Munley, a hero who helped thwart the shooting at Fort Hood, and Holly Butler, the widow of Afghanistan soldier Thomas J. Butler, will participate as part of the judging committee. Rounding out the panel will be Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox and a host of local radio personalities who will put their taste-buds to good use.
As they determine the winner of the coveted trophy for best BBQ, they will consider an array of criterion. A testament to any chef’s skill-set is their ability to make a dish look appetizing; thus appearance will serve as a distinguishing marker. As well, the perfect balance of tenderness and firmness will set apart the prize-winning entry. Perhaps the most obvious and important factor: Taste will hold weight in the decision.
“Sauce or rub should complement the meat, not cover it up,” Knott reminds on the secret to successful BBQ.
Double blind judging will facilitate the decision-making process. The teams turn in their samples and each dish is numbered, not named. Prizes will be awarded at 4 p.m.
Among the awards given to notable selections will be grilling utensils with the cook-off information burned onto them. Guests also have the opportunity to chow down on some of the savory grub after the judging is completed. Those hoping to indulge can purchase tickets at the gate for $1 per taste.
The Beachbilly Brothers, The Cut and Machine Gun will play tunes to round out the day’s festivities. From soulful country to hard rock, attendees will get a full plate of sound.
“Beachbilly Brothers have performed at other Step Up events,” Knott says, “[and] The Cut has a band member that helped plan the cook-off the first two years. Machine Gun is not only a band we all really like, but has a member that is willing to help with the sound for the entire event as his donation to Step Up.”
Various arts and crafts vendors will be onsite, selling jewelry, handmade candles, painted windows, wood carvings, flutes, dog treats, and of course BBQ and hot sauces. In addition, the event will host two local restaurants, Michael’s Seafood and Uncle Vinny’s, which will sell food as well. Plus, wine will be provided by Silver Coast Winery, and water and soda will come from Coke. Step Up will be selling beer. A 50/50 raffle will give folks a chance to win great prizes donated by local businesses.
“Great food, great music, and a big crowd of happy people—it’s a great day!” Knott enthuses.
Backyard BBQ Cook-Off
to benefit Step Up for Soldiers
Carolina Beach Lake Park
Off Atlanta Ave., Carolina Beach
Gates: 9:30 a.m.
Admission: Free, but food samples are $1 per taste; costs apply for purchases from food and beverage, and arts and crafts vendors.