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Smoke ‘em ... if you got ‘em
Business of cooking mixes with pleasure at this weekend’s Battle of Camden BBQ Festival at Historic Camden
Cooking (W)
PITMASTERS AND THE COMMUNITY, in general, have made the Battle of Camden BBQ Festival in May a must-attend event with crowds of close to 2,000 in attendance coming out over the two days. (Provided by the Camden Jaycees)

Had Lord Charles Cornwallis had access to food like this to live on, he and his troops may have never wanted to leave Camden during the British occupation of the town in 1780-81.

For the third consecutive year, the area in and around Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site will be awash in tantalizing smells emanating from smokers spread throughout the welcome area at the South Broad Street site as the Camden Jaycees present the Battle of Camden BBQ Festival on Friday and Saturday, May 17-18. Admission both days is free.

The festival kicks off Friday night beginning at 6 p.m. and closing at 10 p.m. Saturday, the festival starts back up at 10:30 a.m. and closes after the judging of the BBQ and the awarding of prizes to the top teams at 3 p.m.

A South Carolina Barbecue Association-recognized event, the Battle of Camden competition was a runaway hit even before the first smoker was lit in 2017. That year, organizers of the event were told not to be discouraged if many BBQ teams from throughout the region took a “wait and see” approach before deciding whether or not to bring their rigs to Camden for the weekend. Instead, the local Jaycees’ chapter had to cap the number of entrants due to an overflow of entries.

From that first year, the event has grown in virtually every respect. In addition to being a hit with BBQ teams, the festival has drawn large numbers to sample the swine on Saturday after having made the rounds for Friday night’s chicken wing competition. Last year, the Friday night party grew, again, with the hosting of a mac and cheese competition --- for the Golden Noodle Trophy --- which drew rave reviews from guests.

Sampling tickets for the wings and mac and cheese on Friday and the BBQ on Saturday --- all while the food supply lasts --- are $1 per ticket with a dozen sampling tickets being sold for $10.

Not a BBQ fan, don’t worry. The Jaycees have you covered as area vendors have been brought in selling everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to sweets. Stations selling soft drinks, water and beer will help wash the food down while musical guests Landslide and the Josh Hilley Band will take the stage to entertain the masses on Friday night and Saturday, respectively. In addition, there will be bounce castles for the kids.

All proceeds from this weekend go toward the Camden Jaycees’ annual Christmas Stocking Fund Drive. The project, first started in the 1940s by the local chapter, distributes toys, clothing and food to disadvantaged citizens throughout Kershaw County each December. One Saturday, usually that closest to Christmas day, members of the Jaycees take to the county roadways to deliver the parcels to those in need. Last year, more than 100 children were recipients of toys and clothes while more than 200 families were provided food for the holiday season.

For years, the Camden Jaycees raised funds for the Christmas Stocking Fund and other projects by manning the gates at the Carolina Cup and, the Colonial Cup. An annual golf tournament also helps defray the cost of the Christmas Stocking Fund. The Battle of Camden BBQ Festival is something of a recent addition to the list of fundraisers said Camden Jaycees’ president Chris Harrell, who added the fun event benefits the community as well as the organization’s charitable efforts.

The idea of hosting a BBQ festival/competition was first brought to the Jaycees’ membership at a meeting by Will Kalutz about a year before the inaugural event was held in 2017.

“Will suggested it one night and we talked about it and kicked the idea around,” Harrell said as to the origins of the event. “It’s fun to, but it’s a lot of work to do when the time comes. We try to divide up the duties between different guys.”

Plans for the Battle of Camden BBQ Festival start taking shape in late November to early December of the previous year, Harrell said. The first few weeks are devoted to ironing out the details as to how many teams will be accepted to compete and figuring out an entry fee. “Then, starting the first of January,” Harrell said, “we really hit the ground running and start to get our sponsors and trying to get the teams.”

Once payment is made, each team will be provided 40 pounds of chicken wings to be cooked on Friday and 12 Boston Butts for serving and judging Saturday. The winning team for the best BBQ will earn a $1,500 check Saturday afternoon with the second, third and fourth place finishers collecting $1,000, $500 and $250, respectively. The winner of the wings competition takes home $500 with $250 for second place and $100 for third.

Friday’s wing judging will be performed by a group of first responders from Kershaw County while the BBQ judges are those selected by and who have gone through the SCBA’s certification process, passed requirements established by the group and have earned the right to don a judge’s apron. The Camden stop is one in a year-long points battle to decide who serves up the best barbecue in the Palmetto State.

“The main staple of the teams we get comes from the South Carolina Barbecue Association,” Harrell said. “The teams compete throughout the state all year long and they compete for a title based on the points that they receive throughout the year.

“Generally, we’ve been getting six to eight of the top 10 teams each year, so far. I haven’t looked to see the rankings this year, but I think most of those top teams are coming back.”

By profession, as an accountant with the Camden-based Sheheen, Hancock and Godwin firm, Harrell deals with numbers on an everyday basis. Little did he expect to be crunching figures as they pertain to barbecue teams and their statewide ranking when he joined the Camden Jaycees.

 “Definitely not,” he said with a laugh. “I never knew much about barbecue competitions until we started this. I’ve learned a lot about it over the past few years.”

With some 35 active members, the Battle of Camden BBQ Festival weekend is an all hands on deck event for the Camden Jaycees. Starting with setting up the grounds Thursday afternoon to breaking things down early Saturday evening and staying on site while pit masters and their assistants work through the night on Friday and into Saturday morning, it can be an exhausting weekend for the volunteers.

“We’re basically all on site all the time,” Harrell the 50-plus hours required to pull off such an event which, late last week, was still taking shape as to which pit masters were headed to Camden and where they would be stationed over the weekend.

“We 20 have signed up. We still have a few days before the event and we might get a few last-minute entries,” Harrell said last Thursday. “We are capping it at about 25 (teams) this year. We don’t want to grow the event too quickly.The past two years, we’ve had right at 20. We want to make sure that both the pit masters and the community are happy with what we’re doing.”