Barbecue, oysters and beer are some of the finest ingredients for a perfect fall day, and it’s even better when people can get together, enjoy themselves and contribute to their community. Those things will all come together at the 2nd Annual Firebox BBQ on the Bluff Invitational.
The BBQ on the Bluff Invitational, which will be held Oct. 4-6, primarily at Gascoigne Bluff, on St. Simons Island, has its roots in the former St. Simons Food + Spirits Festival. With that festival being rescheduled, it gave BBQ on the Bluff the incentive to expand to three days. Proceeds will benefit the Firebox Initiative, which was established earlier this year.
After an accidental fire destroyed Southern Soul Barbecue eight years ago, owners Griffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp established a bank account to help their employees make it through during the building’s reconstruction. During the rebuilding process, many businesses and residents reached out to help the restaurant and its employees get back on their collective feet.
According to a previous Coastal Illustrated article, it’s that spirit of both paying forward and back that was the genesis for the Firebox Initiative. Based on the idea of The Giving Kitchen, an Atlanta-based organization that assists members of the hospitality industry who have fallen on hard times due to illness, injury or some other unforeseen circumstance, Firebox plans to help fill that role here, and expand it to college scholarships for local students and disaster relief.
The kickoff dinner will begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 4 at Southern Soul Barbecue. This dinner, which used to open the aforementioned food and spirits festival, is in its fifth year and the official start to BBQ on the Bluff.
Griffin Bufkin, co-owner of Southern Soul Barbecue, along with Harrison Sapp and Davis Love III, said it will most likely sell out. It is the only event of the three-day festival that will be held at Southern Soul Barbecue. The dinner, sponsored by Virgil Kaine Lowcountry Whiskey, a rye and bourbon distillery, of Charleston, S.C., and Wild Heaven Beer, of Avondale.
The featured chef will be Chef Benjamin “BJ” Dennis, of Charleston, along with the staff of Southern Soul.
“He’s a Gullah Geechee legend in cooking,” said Bufkin. “Everything’s going to have an Afro-Caribbean-Low country feel to it.”
People should look for such treats as okra, rice, red peas, deviled crag, shrimp and heirloom grits on the menu, but there will be some surprises too.
The entertainer for the evening will be DJ Press Play, playing a selection of old rhythm and blues and soul music.
In fact, all of the chefs and pitmasters set to cook for the event are well-known in culinary circles.
For example, Chef Belinda, Bufkin said, is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, among other organizations. She gave up a corporate career with Coca-Cola Co. to become a chef, has lived in France, Kenya and South Africa.
On Oct. 5, the Firebox Oyster Cracker will be held from 7-11 p.m. at Gascoigne Bluff, and the timing couldn’t be better.
“Our local oyster season opens Oct. 1,” said Bufkin, adding that Poteet Seafood will be supplying fresh Harris Neck oysters from McIntosh County. “It’s going to be a killer oyster roast — the first of the season.
“Pitmasters will also be cooking up some seafood dishes for people to try.”
This is the night before the big Firebox BBQ on the Bluff event, so the pitmasters will be be there setting their pits, and people will be able to observe that.”
DJ Press Play will be back for the second night, and will offer a selection of vintage reggae music for the evening.
The featured beer will be a traditional oyster stout by Piedmont Brewing, of Macon.
“We made a beer with them,” Bufkin said. “We took a bushel of oyster shells to them, and the (result) was this briny, mineral oyster tasting stout. It’s one of my favorite kinds of beers.”
Along with Piedmont Brewing, Union Wine Co., from Oregon, and Sea Island Forge, are co-sponsors.
For the early risers, this year a brunch opportunity is part of the weekend. From 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 6, event-goers can attend Back in the Day on the Bluff, sponsored by Back in the Day Bakery, of Savannah, Blackjack Barbecue and Wake Up Coffee. The event will feature homemade buttermilk biscuits with pulled pork, house-made sausages, jams, jellies and other surprises. Coffee from Wake Up, and a Bloody Mary sample bar stocked and served by Food for the Southern Soul, who make Mr. Jimmy’s Pick-Me-Up Bloody Mary Mix.
Cheryl and Griff Day, owners of Back in the Day Bakery, will be on-site.
“She just makes amazing biscuits,” said Bufkin.
The pitmasters, who will be cooking their meat for the evening’s events, will also be on hand, and attendees will have an opportunity to watch what’s happening and possibly engage with them.
Now that everyone has risen and is shining, it’s time for class. Pit class, that is. From 1-5 p.m. Oct. 6, Day Smoking will demonstrate the secrets of top-notch pitmasters. Sponsored by Peg Leg Porker and Tennesee Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the event will allow attendees to learn about seasoning and sauces, and pick up tips from the experts. Samples will be included.
“It will be real informal,” Bufkin said, explaining that it’s a time for people to hang out with the pitmasters, maybe smoke a cigar, and sample some bourbon. “You’ll have access to all these world-class pitmasters, who will answer any questions you have … and of course, you’ll get to east some barbecue.”
That brings us to the main event, which begins at 7 p.m. Oct. 6. Sponsored by Arches Brewing, Holy City Hogs, Southern Soul Barbeque, and Union Wine Co., the “Big Event” as the website refers to it, will be an evening of “expertly wood-fired BBQ.” Guests will dine on smoked pork, spare ribs, pork buts, beef brisket, local seafood, homemade sausage and side dishes, all prepared by some of the best pitmasters in the world.
Former Golden Isles resident Ashley Henry is the events coordinator for Arches Brewing in Atlanta.
“We’re going to be pouring their beer,” said Bufkin.
Music will be provided by Todd Nance & Friends. Nance, the founding drummer for Widespread Panic, will be joined from his friends and fellow musicians from BLOODKIN and The Drive-By Truckers.
Another interesting facet will be the Capt. Gabby, a 42-foot vintage wooden trawler, which has been converted to a kayak cruiser, will be anchored in the river to offer kayak fishing from the pier.
Brad Hummel, executive director of Firebox Initiative, said although this is the big event, smaller culinary fundraisers will be held throughout the year, along with appreciation dinner events for donors.
“We are always interested in new ways to raise money for Firebox,” he said. “For now, we have the ‘Firebox Founders.’ This is our first-year program to help raise money for the initiative.”
Hummel said the minimum donation to become a Firebox Founder is $1,000, which gives the donor two VIP passes for all of the Firebox events. Two other options are also available, including a $2,500 level which includes the same event tickets and a special “thank you” event during the year. People who donate at the $5,000 level get four event tickets, as well as two special culinary events throughout the year, and their names listed at each event.
Tickets are available as a package for $225 per person for all the events, and are also priced individually. For details and ticket prices, visit www.ssbbqfirebox.com.
Chefs and pitmasters will include:
Aaron Siegel of Home Team BBQ, in Charleston, S.C., and Aspen, Colo.; Amy Mills, 17th Street BBQ, Southern Illinois; Anthony Dibernardo, Swig & Swine, Charleston; Belinda Smith-Sullivan, Chef Belinda, Charleston; Benjamin “BJ” Dennis, Firebox Guest Chef-at-Large, Charleston; Bryan Furman, B’s Crackling BBQ, Savannah; Carey Bringle, Peg Leg Porker, Nashville, Tenn.; Cheryl & Griff Day, Back in the Day Bakery, Savannah; David Carrier, Certified Burgers & Beverage, St. Simons Island; Davis Love III, Davis Love Foundation, St. Simons Island; Elliott Moss, Buxton Hall BBQ, Asheville, N.C.; Griffin Bufkin, Southern Soul BBQ, St. Simons Island; Harrison Sapp, Southern Soul BBQ, St. Simons Island; Jimmy Hagood, Blackjack Barbecue, Charleston, S.C.; John Helfrich, Southern Soul BBQ, St. Simons Island; Jonathan and Justin Fox, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, Atlanta; Madison Ruckel, Mama Jean’s Barbecue, Roanoke, Va.; Matt Perrone, Chef Belinda, Charleston; Michael Letchworth, Sam Jones BBQ, Greenville, N.C.; Mike Mills, 17th Street BBQ, Southern Illinois; Pat Martin, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Sam Jones, Sam Jones BBQ, Greenville; Stephen Drench, Pork Leg Porker, Nashville; Tank Jackson, Holy City Hogs, Charleston; Taylor Carrigan, Home Team BBQ, Charleston, and Aspen, Colo.; Top Chef Kenny Gilbert, Underground Kitchen, Fernadina Beach, Fla.; and Tuffy Stone, Cool Smoke BBQ, Richmond, Va.