Warm hearts on a cold night fire up Old Ford’s “Back Draft BBQ Blaze”

Published 8:49 am Thursday, March 4, 2021

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This was not a drill. More than two dozen members of Old Ford volunteer fire department — and their family members — kept the fires of dedication bright during the weekend of Feb. 19 and 20, prepping and serving the tasty results of 21 teams from the Carolina BBQ League. Organizers said this week that just over $13,000 raised by the department’s first-ever barbecue fundraiser will keep their fire trucks and related equipment up to date and compliant with state laws and national regulations.

The event was organized after the department had to cancel Old Ford’s well-attended annual rodeo, a 26-year tradition stymied this year by restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Department Chief Josh “Red” Boyd said the event was so successful that there’s “a general consensus” to make it an annual event in addition to the rodeo. “We don’t want to brag, but at the same time we do,” he said, “because we’re proud of the accomplishment. That’s a lot of money for a barbecue sale.” A vote about adding the event is on the agenda for the department’s upcoming board meeting.

“It’s more than just the fact that the contest helped raise money for the fire department. It’s fun! Everyone enjoyed it. Those guys and gals are a great group. They don’t give away any of their trade secrets,” Boyd said with a smile, “but they’re more than willing to talk to you and give pointers. They’re a giant family themselves,” he added, comparing their camaraderie to the family feel that several firefighters confirmed about Old Ford members and firefighters in general. “And they were out there with those hogs in 20 degree weather all Friday night. That’s dedication,” Boyd added.

Smiling from ear to ear because he just loves to compete, 17-year-old pit boss Tyler Simmons of Washington is a third generation BBQ fan, whose family hosted a pig pickin’ to celebrate his first birthday. (Karen Thiel)

Seventeen-year-old high school student Tyler Simmons of Washington earned the distinction of being the youngest among 21 pit bosses who participated. Already a veteran of the 2020 barbecue competition at Bel Haven, Simmons said barbecue and friendship are family traditions going back at least two generations. “I learned to cook at my granddad’s side and from my dad. It’s been passed down since before they cooked a pig for my first birthday. I was practically baptized in barbecue sauce,” he said as his mother, Amanda Simmons, laughed behind him. “Tyler has been helping his dad barbecue, but it’s gotten to where, for the last three years, he’s done everything with his dad just helping him to flip the pig,” she said of her son’s enthusiasm and skill.

All that work and dedication was duplicated Saturday morning, as Old Ford members and their families assembled those $8 pork meals. “We prepared 1,000 sauce cups from 16 gallons of sauce, 1,200 cups of slaw, 30 gallons of Brunswick stew, and measured out about 1,500 pounds of pulled pork” from the 21 dressed hogs judged that morning, Boyd said. The meat was still warm when firefighters added them to 850 meal containers and 130 individual one-pound portions of pork. The donations of event sponsors added to the total amount raised at the event.Carolina BBQ League president Evan Woolard said the event was the first of a new series of juried competitions limited to “natural sources only.” They will be held at several locations across Eastern North Carolina. Information about contest winners and future events can be found at Carolina BBQ League on Facebook.

Robbie Roberson, who is Chairman of the Board at Old Ford VFD (at left) teamed up with firefighter Mike Nichols, (at right) and a small army of Old Ford firefighters and their family members, to assemble the BBQ plates offered during the Feb. 20 fundraiser. (Karen Thiel)