Ads say the sale opens at noon, but regulars know Johnston (S.C.) Pentecostal Holiness Church will be out of barbecue chicken at $5 a plate before then.
So customers will queue up around 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, when the first of about 200 half-chickens are ready to come off the grill. If even one is left by noon, it will be a slow day, said Raymond Shaffer, 30, of North Augusta. He started working at the church's barbecues when he was 12.
Johnston makes its own charcoal, but it's the sauce, a secret mustard-based concoction, that has made the small congregation a big success when it comes to fund-raising. Revenues from Johnston's four or five events each year pay major bills, such as insurance, for the 45-member congregation, Mr. Shaffer said.
Like Johnston, many other congregations in the Augusta area depend on their skill with a grill to keep afloat or support missions. And, though the South Carolina church's sauce is unique, Johnston is not alone when it comes to churches with barbecue bragging rights.
Pork and chicken barbecues are the specialties of the Rev. Jesse Goldman, pastor of Ridgeview Baptist Church in North Augusta. His church holds barbecues each month to raise money for Hope Homes, a children's shelter in North Augusta.
Ridgeview's next barbecue will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, but advance reservations must be made by Wednesday. Plates are $7, with discounts for bulk orders.
The Rev. Goldman and church members made gas-fired cookers from cast-iron wash pots, 55-gallon drums and special burners.
The minister learned to cook watching his grandfather Jesse Steele. The older man's pork barbecue was a big draw at family reunions. Eighty or more relatives would come from the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia to gather in the cotton fields around Schultz Hill in North Augusta.
The day before the big reunion dinner, the Steeles would kill a hog, dress it and put it on the fire immediately. All through the night, menfolk would come by to turn the meat and stir the hash.
Hash - a dish of potatoes, onions and spices mixed with pork, chicken or beef and stock - is served over rice. The key to good hash is cooking it slowly - eight to 10 hours, he said.
He uses a ketchup-based sauce for the pork and chicken. The recipe is "Granddaddy's - his and mine. I have added a little of this and that," the Rev. Goldman said.
Curry Hogan of Lincolnton, Ga., mixes vinegar, butter, salt and pepper and a little bit of ketchup for the seasoning he uses when he cooks for area churches, including Pine Grove United Methodist in Lincolnton.
But he keeps the proportions to himself. "I know how much to put. I can't tell you all my secrets," said Mr. Hogan, whose art has been passed from generation to generation in his family.
He cooks three 200-pound hogs for Pine Grove's annual spring fund-raiser. The meat goes on the fire about 10 p.m. and cooks for 12 hours. "We usually have a pretty good little crowd (of men). Some stay all night and some don't," he said.
Pine Grove sold about 400 plates at $5 apiece in May. The church also serves slaw, hash, bread and homemade cake, including brown caramel, chocolate and coconut, said church member Mamie Neil Reed. "We feel like that is a calling card for our barbecues. A lot have barbecue plates for sale, but they don't have the homemade cakes."
Barbecue pork is a Holiday House tradition at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in North Augusta, which uses the proceeds to support its missions. The church will likely sell the smoky delicacy for about $4.50 a plate or $6 a pound during its bazaar Nov. 4, said member Laura Whitaker. She helps her husband, Paul, buy the sauce makings each year.
Mr. Whitaker uses a vinegar compound from western North Carolina that a former member, Richard White, passed on to them, he said. "It is good on anything, but especially on pork in the cooking and the chopping."
The church serves the meat plain or with a commercial tomato-based sauce on the side.
Mr. White also built the cooker they use. About eight years ago church members put a roof over it.
To cook about 300 pounds of meat - 15 to 20 hams - they start between 6 and 7 a.m. the day before the bazaar to build the fire. By 8 a.m. the coals are ready. The church uses hickory and other hardwoods.
Maintaining the fire is a job in itself - it requires a shovelful of coals every 15 to 20 minutes to give the slow, even cooking they want.
About 50 people, mostly men, make up the kitchen fellowship. Some stay a couple of hours; others work all day and part of the night. At 11 p.m. the last of the meat is chopped and chilled for the next day's bazaar.
"Chopping the meat is work - it's good to have extra hands," Mr. Whitaker said.
Church: Johnston Pentecostal Holiness Church, 96 Edisto St., Johnston, S.C.
When: Noon Saturday, Aug. 26, but lines form 8:30 a.m. or so and plates sell out early
Church: Ridgeview Baptist Church, 1744 Georgia Ave., North Augusta
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 Cost: $7, discounts for bulk orders, reservations due Wednesday
Phone: (803) 441-8888
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Richard White's sauce for two hogs|
(Yields 5 gallons of sauce)
1 empty gallon jug
4 gallons of white vinegar
To each container add:
2 1+1/2 ounce cans of red pepper (save can to use as a measure)
1/2 of a 4-ounce can of black pepper
1/2 of a 1+7/8-ounce jar of crushed cayenne
1 1+1/8-ounce can of salt (red pepper can measure)
2 1+1/8-ounce cans of sugar (red pepper can measure)
Shake up vinegar and spices. The sauce will keep about a year.