Sacred sites or barbecue, what's it going to be?
Holy smoke won.
I wanted to be in two places at once on Saturday.
But by the time I was given tickets to the Tour of Sacred Sites in the Old Commons neighborhood in the heart of historic Beaufort, I was committed to judge the Kiwanis Club of Hilton Head Island's 18th annual Rib Burnoff and Barbecue Fest.
Standing beneath the sprawling live oaks of Honey Horn, breathing the sweet aroma of pig fat smoking over wood coals, I realized I may have missed the church tour but I was drawn closer to God.
The little gaggle of volunteer judges were tutored by two certified judges. Larry Powell of Hilton Head and Jimmy Holloway of Columbia will both soon rank as master judges in the S.C. Barbeque Association.
I love that organization because its ring leader, Lake E. High Jr., tells the world that barbecue was invented here in Beaufort County. The Spaniards brought the pigs, he says, and the Indians were cooking low and slow over wood coals.
Lake learned his history well, but he must have been absent when children were taught how to spell barbecue. That has always been "common core" in South Carolina, where judges certified by the Barbeque Association work more than 30 barbecue cookoffs a year. When the smoke cleared from last year's circuit, a team from Lexington County called All Smoked Up won the state title by 0.517 points.
Larry and Jimmy, who somehow survived growing up in Greenwood with our own Sonny Huntley, tried to explain to the novice judges things like smoke rings, bark and bite.
They said when you bite into a properly cooked rib, the meat won't fall off the bone. It will be tender, but you will leave teeth marks in the smoky meat.
Teeth marks? You mean we've got to have teeth? I thought this was the South Carolina Barbeque Association.
We were told to judge the meat, not the sauce. We weighed each entry's appearance, taste and tenderness. We swigged water and ate saltines between tastings to cleanse our sophisticated palates.
Larry has been a certified judge for six or seven years, and he said the ribs produced by local restaurants, caterers and individuals for this event were, as a group, some of the best he's ever had.
Barbecue has become more than a food group in South Carolina. Events like this are a growing sliver of the economy, especially for nonprofit organizations.
Proceeds from the Rib Burnoff all go to local charities.
The third annual High on the Hog BBQ festival June 6-7 on Lady's Island will raise money for Lowcountry Habitat for Humanity.
The Bands, Brews and BBQ event in Port Royal benefits the Friends of Caroline Hospice.
Each in its own way pulls us ever closer to hog heaven.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.