Pitmasters compete in Aiken for good cause

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Sep. 3, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- Chopped up Boston butt, lots of baked beans and fall-off-the-bone ribs, but that's not all.

"We had applewood smoked bacon wrapped around a filet mignon, soul seasoning on that, herb butter on top of that, and then some Gorgonzola sprinkle," said Pitmaster Richard Pearce.

Hundreds of pounds of flavor-packed meat and beans were judged and then sold to the hundreds of people who lined up at the fifth annual Day of Hard Labor BBQ Cook-Off on Newberry Street in downtown Aiken.

"Best year ever. The weather cooperated," Pearce said.

Besides being an award-winning pitmaster, Pearce is Aiken's city manager. He says the city set up this labor day cook-off five years ago as a fundraiser for the United Way of Aiken County. It's a cook-off for fun, but there is some competition.

"It's friendly, but it's fierce," Pearce said.

Dwayne Courtney, who works for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, cooked the competition in the ribs category.

"Well, we cook them real low and real slow," Courtney said.

His right-hand pitmaster is Aiken Department of Public Safety Director Charles Barranco. Cpt. David Turno from Public Safety and his team competed next door. A few more down, Deputy Coroner Jeff Smith cleaned up the competition. He won top prize in this event. It's the seventh top finish for the professional pit-master this year.

"I think one of the things that sets us apart from a lot of the other teams is our equipment. We use backwood smokers," Smith said.

But for Smith and the others, the real trophy is thousands of dollars to the United Way of Aiken County.

"Aiken is a very blessed community, but there's a lot of folks that are less fortunate," said Sharon Rodgers, president of the United Way of Aiken County.

Rodgers says the thousands raised this year will go through United Way to a number of causes, from senior programs to others for children.

"That is pretty awesome," she said.

Last year, the event raised $3,500 for the United Way. Rodgers expects that number will be bigger this year.

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