Ira Kelly's team from Eastpoint takes top prize Saturday

For the past seven years, Ira Kelly has been leading the Bay Shore Porkers, the barbecue team representing Eastpoint’s Bayshore Trailer Park.

Five years ago, he led them to victory as an amateur unit, and now that he’s competing as a professional he’s done it again.

He edged out to other top echelon teams to claim the first prize, and $1,000, at Saturday’s 18th annual Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department Charity Rib Cookoff at Vrooman Park.

Cooking for about four-and-one-half hours on a Lang reverse flow BBQ smoker, fed with red oak and hickory, Kelly and wife Donna, together with Jeff and Cheryl Allison, and honorary member Jackie Rex, the trailer park’s owner, finished two points ahead of Richard Wade, who was helming the team for the Red Pirate Bar-B-Q, and three points ahead of John Solomon, who was competing on behalf of his 10-4 BBQ team.

Finishing five points behind, just below the $750 second place and $500 third place was Kevin Vandesherf, with Double Deuce Smokin’ BBQ, whose Honorable Mention netted him $250.

“We felt like we was lucky that day,” said Kelly, who divides his time between here and America, Georgia.

Kelly and his wife are going into their second year competing professionally, and like so many of these fierce competitors, he didn’t volunteer his cooking secrets for the homemade rub and sauces he used to flavor his ribs.

“That’s about 25 years in the making there,” he said.

Opting for the slow cooking method, that can keep him up all night when there’s four meats involved, Kelly picked up his ribs from cook-off officials at about 7:30 a.m. and set about doing what he does best.

“If you’re just doing one meat it’s real easy, you can focus on just the one, the ribs,” he said.

A general contractor by trade, Kelly and his wife earlier this year finished fourth in pork at the Florida Barbecue Association sanctioned Butts and Clucks in Battery Park in Apalachicola.

They’ve done about five competitions so far this year, including the Southeast’s largest and Georgia's oldest official barbecue cooking contest, the Big Pig Jig in Vienna, and the Dilly Dally in Dooly, Georgia.

They’ve done the Smokin' Flamingo BBQ & Music Festival in Jacksonville, and this weekend they’re headed to the Fire Ant Festival BBQ Bash in Ashburn. Georgia.

Last Saturday’s rib cook-off at the Eastpoint Fire House had a healthy turnout all day long, with a strong field of 17 teams competing for the top prize.

In addition to the four winners, the teams included the St. George Island Irish Rub and Butt, led by the island’s fire chief Kevin Delahanty; the St. George island Pig Roasters, led by Jimmy Crenshaw; the Red Hot Medics, from Weems Memorial Hospital; Segree’s BBQ, led by Lee Segree; PawPaws Ribs; the Pogy Road cook team, led by Joel Norred; the Home Made Smokers, led by Ty Gillikin; Kickin Ash I and II; Bros BBQ, led by the sons of Eastpoint Fire Chief George Pruett; Boudreaux’s BBQ; Pit Boys Smokin’ BBQ; and Crombie’s Smoke Crew.

Pruett said he expects receipts will be strong, since the food sold out and the silent auction did well, together with several sponsorships. The money will go towards the possible purchase of a replacement for Engine #1, a Class A pumper, that’s about two decades old.

He said the department asked him to spec out a possible replacement, with the cost expected to run in the $350,000 range.

“Everything we have is paid for,” said Pruett. “The banks work with us pretty well. We have a large reserve in the bank.”

Pruett said the department now has 17 certified firefighters, but just one emergency medical technician, Pruett himself.

He said the county’s recently replaced paging system has been working perfectly.

After enjoying the music of Eastpoint veterinarian Hobson Fulmer on guitar, and then a performance of the edgy Despite the Irony heavy metal rockers, the crowd heard a couple of big fat lies told by Dawn Radford and her husband Richard “Crash” Redford. To no one’s surprise, the wife won the Liar’s Contest, with hubby slinking home in second place.

The Best Rig went to Pit Boys, with their beige tent with shamrocks and other St. Patrick’s Day décor, while the People's Choice award for the most monies raised, $675, went to 10-4 BBQ, the trailer staffed by Solomon and Sam Gilbert.

Cheryl Allison, from the Bay Shore Porkers, got an added bonus. She won $90 in the split-the-pot raffle.