The first weekend in April doesn’t lack for organized events: More than 200,000 people flock to the Flowertown Festival, and another 40,000 people compete in the Cooper River Bridge Run. Thousands more attend the Family Circle Cup. But for leisure-seekers who care most about food, Smoke at the Lodge may well be the weekend’s marquee gathering.
Now in its 11th year, the hotly-contested barbecue contest is the Summerville Masonic Lodge’s biggest fundraiser. While it occurs on the outskirts of the Flowertown Festival, it’s not affiliated with the event: It’s a stand-alone campaign to raise money for the Masons’ chosen cause (this year, juvenile diabetes is the beneficiary.) Gregg Griffiths, master of the lodge, is reluctant to say just how much money the two-day event generates, lest he spoil the surprise when his lodge presents its donation at a district meeting, but suggests the figure’s in five-digit territory.
For attendees, though, the value is apparent. The night before the Boston butt competition is judged, the 25 participating teams enter an “anything but” cook-off, in which the only rule is “no pork.” The teams sell samples for $1 apiece, making the Friday night food fair one of the area’s most affordable culinary events.
And as Summerville residents know, it also boasts a relaxed, community feel that’s rare at more commercial to-dos. The one-off dishes from barbecue teams gunning for national qualification are a draw – “we call it the Super Bowl of Lowcountry barbecue,” Southern Barbecue Network co-founder Jack Waiboer says – but so are the shag band and chances to catch up with neighbors. (A good indicator of how many regular folks show up for Smoke at the Lodge is the number of politicians there to shake hands.)
“I love it,” says competitor Dan Hankins of Mt. Pleasant, who prepared red rice for the Friday night event. “It’s about the camaraderie.”
Hankins chose red rice because it’s a family favorite. “We try to keep it Southern cuisine,” he says. “Something bacon-wrapped, or macaroni pie.”
Another competitor, Nova Watari, agreed with Hankins that the cook-off doesn’t detract from the teams’ barbecue work.
“My husband’s back there fixing the butt, so when you have one person or more, it’s not so bad,” she says. “We just need to hire somebody to come serve so I can go taste.”
Stay tuned to the Lodge’s website for 2015 event dates and details.