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BBQ festival offers best of the backyard

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John Powell cooks turkey legs during the Carolina Barbecue Festival at Town Common on June 16, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Steve Williams knows all too well the mostly-friendly debate surrounding eastern and western North Carolina barbecue. 

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Williams, 53, moved to Charlotte years ago and has had his fair share of both styles of ’cue. For him, it’s not really much of a competition; the red-pepper flaked vinegar barbecue sauce of the east takes the cake. 

The love of barbecue that has helped define a region ultimately is what brought Williams back to the eastern North Carolina Saturday for the third-annual Carolina Barbecue Festival at the Town Common and First Street. 

“We try to go to all the festivals we can,” Williams, who was joined by his girlfriend Valinda Wentz, said. “It’s good to be back over here (in eastern North Carolina). It’s hard to find food like this in Charlotte.”  

Williams said barbecue and food in general has a way of bringing people together. He and Wentz were two of the early arrivers who came before the live music got going later in the afternoon.

There were about 25 vendors on hand for the festival, and they were not all about meat. While 10 food trucks lined First Street and billowed smoke into the sky above the Town Common, down on the lawn, vendors offered frozen treats, crafts and information about local organizations. 

The founders of the festival, Javius Dixon and Jumail Blount with Clear Focus Media, wanted to bring a community event inspired by local food to Greenville. Backyard barbecues have an element of community where a group of people can gather around a grill or smoker, listen to music and talk to friends. This one was just happened to be a bit bigger. 

“We just want to be a community event,” Blount said. “We saw events like this in other places, but not here in Greenville. We want it to be a good time for everyone and bring everyone together.”

Ernest Gorham, who owns the Gorham’s Cafe food truck based in Greenville, was one of the food vendors on hand. The festival ran from noon to 8 p.m., and Blount estimated that by the time it was all said and done, more than a thousand people came through.

For Gorham, that meant arriving early and cooking a lot. He set up the truck at about 7 a.m. and got to work preparing his signature turkey and pork barbecue. It’s a recipe that he’s developed by relying on feedback from his customer base. The result is a stringy eastern-North Carolina style stringy barbecue with a potent spicy kick. 

“I’m here to spread the word on what I have to offer and meet some new people,” he said. “The taste really was built by the people that were eating my food. I wasn’t looking to make something I would like. It’s about what my customers like. I think about them when I’m cooking. They really like the heat.” 

The festival eschews the barbecue restaurants that have made the region a destination for foodies. There was no Skylight Inn, Parker’s or B’s Barbeque.

Rather, Dixon said, it was a chance to let some of the lesser known efforts get the word out on what they have to offer. And it was not strictly pulled pork barbecue either — vendors grilled large turkey legs and deep fried seafood as well. 

With good food, live music, a cook-off and more, it was not much different from the backyard barbecues that have become synonymous with sunny skies. 

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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