May 2016

20th Annual Rib Burnoff & Barbecue Fest: Kiwanis Club of Hilton Head Island fans the flames

Author: Lynnie Leavenworth

Great barbecue comes down to one guiding principle: CONTROL—control of the heat and flame, control of the time, control of the meat source, and control of the sauce and its ingredients. The line-up of competitors at this year’s Kiwanis Club of Hilton Head Island’s 20th Annual Rib Burnoff & Barbecue Fest is loaded with a bunch of control freaks—hallelujah! Not to be missed, this year’s event will be held at The Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn on Saturday, May 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.—rain or shine.

Barbecue has such a deep and rich archive that it has its own historians who focus their energies on researching and writing about one of humankinds most primitive skills. “This art of mine is an empire of smoke,” said Demetrius, The Areopagite, a 5th century theologian and philosopher; and one who took time away from his high-minded thinking and philosophizing to wrap his mind and writings around the art of cooking over a flame. Let’s just say, this man from ancient times could throw down some great barbecue.

Not much has changed in 16 centuries. The Kiwanis Club is looking forward to hosting professional and amateur cooks who will gather to compete over wood, and flames, and heat, combining secret ingredients with their well-honed skill, vying for the attention and votes of event guests and a panel of professionally certified judges and local celebrities.

Long-time Lowcountry resident, and senior vice president at Resort Rentals of Hilton Head, Bill Haley was there 20 years ago when the idea for a burnoff was first hatched. “When I lived in Cleveland, every Labor Day weekend they had a rib burnoff all over the city. People set up cookers and you could drive around all day. There were hundreds of cooks and huge crowds,” Haley said. “We’ve [Kiwanis Club of Hilton Head Island] had our chili cookoff in the fall for 36 years. It’s very popular, so we were trying to come up with another fundraiser. We really know how to do these food events and contests, so I mentioned that I used to go to a rib burnoff in Cleveland. We decided, let’s do it.”

“This year, we’ll have 10 or 12 restaurants and six to eight amateurs,” Haley said. “Some of them will arrive on Friday afternoon. They’ll cook overnight. It takes 10 to 12 hours for pulled pork. Ribs don’t take that long, but everything must be ready for judging at 11:30 a.m. The Smokehouse has a really beautiful rig; so does the Sea Eagle Market out of Beaufort. Iron Pig competes in the amateur division and brings their own equipment that they manufactured, because that’s their business.”

Guests can anticipate some colorful characters along with plenty of serious barbecuing. Remembering local celebrity and award-winning barbecue man Elgie Stover fondly, Haley said, “He would always come in with his smoker. He’d be towing it down the road and smoke would be coming out as he’s bringing it to the event.”

This year the Kiwanis Club anticipates exceeding last year’s attendance numbers of 1,100-plus. All ticket holders are invited to cast their votes for their favorite pulled pork and favorite ribs. Each professional judge will direct a table of local celebrity judges who will award best pulled pork and best ribs in both the amateur and professional categories from a blind tasting. “The certified judges will instruct their people on how to taste properly—what to look for—and will lead the judging discussions,” Haley said.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the event will benefit local Kiwanis charities. “In past years, we’ve donated to The Children’s Center, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Junior ROTC, The Sandbox, Deep Well, Toys 4 Tots, Operation R&R, Volunteers in Medicine, scholarship funds; anything to do with children—that’s the Kiwanis focus,” Haley said.

A children’s tent will feature face painting with music performed by The Portajohns. Beer, wine, soda, hot dogs, and ice cream will be available for purchase. Corporate sponsorships are available that include 20 tickets to the event. Advance tickets are $12 and are available at the Coastal Discovery Museum, from any Kiwanis member, and at several local businesses. Tickets at the gate are $15. Ticket holders get seven samples of ribs and barbecue with each ticket.

Haley is ready to cast his votes. “On ribs, I like a red sauce—sort of not too sweet and a little bit of heat. Then on pulled pork, I like the Eastern North Carolina sauce. It’s mostly apple cider vinegar and red pepper flakes. It’s very light, but the flavor is perfect. The vinegary flavor really complements the fattiness of the pulled pork.”

Things just may get a little out of control… hallelujah! 

Please visit, or contact Bill Haley at for general information; to participate as a cook, contact Jim Gant at

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