Wednesday, September 29, 2010

At the end of the road trip: 2010 South Carolina Campground Cookoff

Every road trip needs a destination or three or four and my most recent one led to the 2010 South Carolina Campground Cookoff at the Calhoun Falls State Recreation Area.

It was a first for me and having never been a camper had no idea what to expect. I'm not as stringent as a high school classmate who declares she won't go anywhere she can't tip, but I like my bathrooms en suite. I wondered what the food would be like. Wine sauced beanie-weenies around the campfire?  S'mores with dark Belgian chocolate?

Hardly. Today's campground cooks are a sophisticated bunch and so are their RVs which do have en suite bathrooms.

The campground is in an idyllic setting, wooded points overlooking the large stretch that is Lake Russell and the Savannah River. There are campgrounds only, no cabins or rooms.

Tip: Levelers, we're in the toe hills, not the foothills, so any great change in elevation is man made and infrequent. Western South Carolina is hillier than the low country of the east, but not challenging.

There were 23 teams vying for $2,000 in prize money and they, plus several batches of onlookers, arrived Friday afternoon and were treated to a live band that night.

I spent the night at Hickory Knob State Resort Park about a 25 minutes drive away. On the same lake, Hickory Knob has cabins, motel-like rooms, camp sites, tennis courts, volleyball, a pool, golf course and several boat ramps as well as a lodge and restaurant.

Cooking for the Cookoff - over wood or charcoal only, no gas grills allowed - began in the morning.

To keep things lively there was a best decorated camp contest, a kids' and adults parade, a marketplace where vendors of boiled peanuts, special spits, sauces, etc. set up their wares and a silent auction.

Judge Beth D'Addono
We looked, photographed, tasted and scored.
Judging began at 12:45 p.m. under a big tent and every bite, expression and move we three judges made was noted by the 50 or so people sitting in the "audience". It must have been fun to watch because no one left.

Emcee Jayne Scarborough kept a running commentary going, explaining the recipes used.

The food was amazing. Grits were popular this year, with a fairly even mix of chicken, pork, beef and seafood dishes. There were two quail entries, two chicken wing entries but only one team cooked spareribs.

Bacon was perhaps the most popular added ingredient, but many who used it liberally forgot its saltiness and over-salted with the table stuff.

Having judged the South Carolina Peach-Off for several years, I was surprised to see only three cooks entered in the dessert category. Probably a good thing; after tasting 23 entrees, don't think we judges could have managed an equal number of desserts.

Awards were given out, silent auction items were picked up and paid for and the crowd ambled back to their campsites.

Sitting around the unlit campfire at the campsite of friends of the organizers, watching the action on the beach and lake, comparing notes and anecdotes and imbibing in an adult beverage  after it was all over was the perfect ending.
Judges and friends relax and digest the day.

A steady breeze blew off the lake, kids fished and swam and poked around the shore, boaters motored by, we laughed and relaxed and looked forward to next year. A lovely afterglow. I suspect the same scenario was being played out at every other campsite.

If this sounds like something you would enjoy, by all means sign up. It's scheduled for the third weekend of September 2011 and campground cooks from any state - or country for that matter - are eligible.

 You'll meet a group of fun-loving people, their families and friends. You can learn more about it at You'll find the recipes for all of the 2010 there too as well as the top ones at my other blog,

Thanks to Shafer Huguley for some of the photos.


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