Santa Fe College Boots ‘n BBQ Cook-off

Santa Fe College Boots ‘n BBQ Cook-off

Can’t-miss events include chain saw art, cake auction, quilt display                 

Take one look at the lineup for this year’s Boots ‘n BBQ Cook-off and you’ll realize that this is not your ordinary competition. Sure, there’s the finger-lickin’ sauces and the smoky atmosphere, but it’s not the extra spices added to the barbecue sauce or the high-energy grilling that lends this cook-off its unique flavor – it’s the mission and the variety.

There’s nothing quite like walking from cake to cake at the baking auction, only to hear the nearby sounds of a chain saw artist creating his art. Visitors will even have the chance to participate in the Literacy Festival, which encourages people to learn to read, no matter what age they are.

The heart of the second annual cook-off lies with education. All proceeds raised go directly to Santa Fe College’s “Dollars For Scholars” Scholarship Program to aid Bradford County students’ higher education dreams. Last year, more than $8,000 was raised. Kathryn Lehman, the event coordinator, hopes to exceed $10,000 with this year’s event which will be held Friday, February 12, 5-9 p.m. and Saturday, February 13, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Bradford County Fairgrounds, 2300 N. Temple Avenue, Starke. Admission is $3 daily; children under 12 are free.

“A series of public meetings was held to look for a fundraising opportunity that would also promote tourism and family fun,” says Lehman of the event’s background. “A barbecue cook-off with other activities seemed like a great plan.”

This year, approximately 40 participants will band together not only to compete in the cook-off but also to show their support for Bradford County students. The cook-off is sanctioned by the Florida Barbecue Association (FBA), which means that winners can earn points toward state championship awards and take home accolades in one of the four categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork, and beef brisket.

“Every successful barbecue contest I have attended was, at the heart of it, a charitable event,” says Dennis Schmitz, the FBA representative for the Boots ‘n BBQ contest. “The entire barbecue family, not just the FBA, is a great bunch of people.”

Forrest Dilmore, owner of Forrest’s Fine Foods, exemplifies the friendly spirit of the barbecue cook-off. He says there’s a lot of camaraderie among professional competitors because they all share a passion for creating delicious food. Dilmore got started with barbecue competitions because of a “double-dog dare” from some of his friends, placed fourth overall last year, and will return to compete again with the same dedication and precision.

“There’s an awful lot that goes into it,” Dilmore says of competition preparation. “There’s a lot of time in meat selection because you want to select good quality, above average pieces of meat. I spend a lot of time getting it ready for a number one product.”

But the cook-off is only one aspect of the entire event. Many others will come together to entertain visitors or demonstrate their crafts, all in the name of the scholarship fund. Here are three can’t-miss events:

Chain Saw Art   Chain saw art is a new and upcoming art form that skillfully combines the roughness of a chain saw with the elegance of sculpture. Mal McEwen, who was introduced to chain saw art nearly 17 years ago, will demonstrate his artistry by showing how he can carve figures in an hour using both large and small chain saws.

McEwen estimates that there are fewer than 4,000 chain saw artists worldwide, which makes the chance to see a live demonstration a unique opportunity. With chain saw art, nearly anything can emerge from a large enough piece of wood: grizzly bears, bald eagles and even the likeness of a pet dog.

“We make it look easier than it truly is,” says McEwen.  “What we do is dangerous. We wear full protection – eye protection, hearing protection.”

While chain saw carving is dangerous, McEwen offers a kid-friendly option to let the younger ones get in on the action. Children use plastic knives with bars of soap or potatoes, and McEwen shows them how to carve something simple. Visitors to Boots ‘n BBQ will be able to catch this unusual art demonstration, which McEwen guarantees will deliver “the speed and sound of motocross and the skill and accuracy of a brain surgeon.”

Quilt Display   Indulge your crafty side by stopping at the large quilting booth. The quilt display is a tribute to Lucille Payne, a much loved Sunday school teacher and mentor at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Payne taught many people at the church how to sew prayer quilts, which could then be donated to people in need. Each quilt is extremely detailed and, often, each block will share a spiritual message or tell a story.

“With the booth, we want to illuminate Lucille,” says Martha Smith, who is organizing the display. Smith hopes that when people see actual quilts in addition to the photos of the 155 quilts the church has made over the past two years, people will be encouraged to learn how to make their own prayer quilts. The quilting won’t just display an intricate craft, but a sense of community.  

Cake Auction   The cake auction complements the savory aromas of the barbecue by offering the chance to satisfy your sweet tooth. The bakers come from all over Florida and from a variety of backgrounds. Some bake as a hobby, some for a living, and others have been baking since childhood.

Chrissy Allen, who owns Chrissy’s Old Meeting House Café in Starke and bakes nearly 40 cakes a week, says she’ll be submitting either a six-layer chocolate and peanut butter cake or her much-loved carrot cake. Allen is no stranger to cake auctions, and her cakes have sold for as high as $400.

Allen learned to bake from her grandmother, and she follows the same philosophy she learned as a kid: throw it all together. She’ll throw it all together into a decadent cake to present alongside treats such as candy-bar cakes and triple-layered vanilla concoctions. Just like the barbecue, all proceeds from the cake auction go toward the scholarship fund – and it doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

For an application or more information call 352-395-5355, 904-964-5382 ext. 5355, or e-mail Visit

SFC Boots ‘n BBQ is sponsored by Santa Fe College, SF Foundation, State of Florida Cultural Affairs Division, Bradford County Tourist Development Council, City of Starke, and radio station WEAG.