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Cooking up a Storm at St. Luke's

For the past 128 years, the Kentucky Derby has been held on the first Saturday in May. About 12 years ago, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church began holding its “World Famous Annual Bar-be-cue” on that day as well.

It’s as well-known as the Derby — at least in the Mount Vernon area, and the line for St. Luke’s barbecue started well before the official opening time of 11 a.m.

Richard McFarland, who was in charge for the second year, said, “Our clientele was very eager. We have a very loyal following. People see our sign and know that it’s coming. What amazes me is the number of folks who have no affiliation with our church but come every year.”

By the time they ran out at 2 p.m., they had served more than 600 pounds of pork and 360 pounds of chicken to the hundreds of customers who stopped by for lunch or to take home barbecue pork dinners, barbecue pork sandwiches, a pint of barbecue or a half grilled chicken dinner. McFarland isn't sure whether they serve more barbecue in sandwiches or in pints but knows that they did have to make two emergency runs to get rolls this time. As in years past, that will be added to the notes so that the process can be refined even further. After 12 years, the committee has a pretty good feel of how much food it needs to order.

“I think we’ve reached what the market will cover. Plus we like to be finished early enough,” said Harry Shackelford, who along with Ben Griffin and Catesby Jones have been part of the barbecue committee since it began. Shackelford said that they came up with the idea at a retreat when they were trying to think of ways to raise money to support the retreat visits. This was suggested and is used not only to help with retreat costs but to fund other projects as well.

Shackelford said that this year they netted more than $5,000, their best year yet. They’ve sold out every year, except for one year when it rained the entire weekend. Some years they still have some to sell on Sunday, but this year it was all gone on Saturday. Shackelford said that he slept in on Sunday because he didn’t want to be the one to tell people that the barbecue was all gone.

WORK ON THE BARBECUE BEGINS well before Saturday. McFarland said that they have a planning meeting in early March where they divide up the responsibilities. Food is ordered and cookers from Fort Belvoir reserved. Friday morning the food begins to arrive as do the four cookers. Shackelford said that the “hams” are put on the cookers Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. They are tended throughout the day and night by volunteers.

“A sizable number of church members turn out to help,” said McFarland. “It’s much more than just the core group.”

Over the years, certain people have become associated with specific tasks. "The core group knows what to do and just does it," said McFarland.

Jones takes care of making the sauce, and Griffin tends to the beans. About four years ago, Marge Stallman suggested that they make the coleslaw instead of buying it. She has been in charge of that ever since. Stallman said that she does most of the work herself but asks for some help with the chopping. This year, she had more than 200 pounds of cabbage to chop and mix. She uses a standard recipe with mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and seasonings.

Jones makes the sauces the week before. The vinegar barbecue sauce is mixed with the pork as it is shredded. He also makes a mustard barbecue sauce, which is available in bottles.

If you missed this year's barbecue, you'll have to wait until May 3, 2003, for the next Annual World Famous Bar-Be-Cue.