Ribs have joined pork butt on the South Carolina competition circuit

The BBQ and Bluegrass Festival at Boone Hall Plantation in 2011 featured a rib-eating contest.

Since its founding in 2004, the South Carolina Barbeque Association has focused on pork butt, which is nearly synonymous with barbecue throughout the state. But the organization next weekend is crowning its first-ever South Carolina State Rib Champion.

According to Summerville’s J.T. Handy, who will accept the honor at the South Carolina Statehouse, the category was created to pacify judges who felt their barbecue connoisseurship training was being wasted on a single item.

“The judges were like, ‘I’m driving three hours to judge barbecue and going home’,” Handy says.

Handy says 143 cook teams entered the rib competition, which was open to both spare ribs and baby backs. Although the SCBA doesn’t specifically detail what characterizes a perfect South Carolina rib, judges are asked to evaluate each entry for appearance, aroma, tenderness, texture and taste.

Under SCBA rules, points are accumulated over the course of the season: A team’s top 10 scores are tallied to determine a state champion. “South Carolina was the first state in the nation to adopt this year-long, statewide contest, which is the very best way to see which pitmaster is truly the champion,” Handy says.

Because the rib competition was new in 2018, only the top finisher will receive a cash prize. But the association plans to award two runners-up next year, as it does in the pork barbecue competition, which the state Legislature declared “official” in 2011.

Batesburg-Leesville’s Pimp My Pig team, led by Dean Price, beat out 215 other teams to win the South Carolina State Master BBQ Championship. Handy’s team came in second. The Jan. 5 awards ceremony is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.

The SCBA is hosting its next judges’ training class in Columbia in February. “We’re always looking for judges,” Handy says. For more information, visit facebook.com/SCBarbequeAssociation.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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