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Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here

Master of the Marlboro County grill


Down in the land of the Great Pee Dee River, there’s a grilling contest where native-born cooks and outsiders from around the country vie to be champions.
Last year’s event was canceled because of the ongoing pandemic but this year, on the weekend of June 18, Dorian Smith was there to compete in the fifth annual competition. It was the first time he entered the contest but not the first time he attended a Marlboro County event. He grew up nearby and members of his family are still living there.
He triumphed as the Barbecue Chicken Master for 2021.
Smith is senior vice president for development for the American Heritage Federal Credit Union, which has more than 35 locations across Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Camden counties. Bucks County branches are in Perkasie, New Britain and Quakertown. The headquarters office is on Red Lion Road in Northeast Philadelphia.
Smith lives in Williamstown, South Jersey, but he is close to the Bucks County community. Coincidentally, the organizer of the cook-off lives nearby – he is another Marlboro County expatriot, Arthur Fennell, whose claim to fame is as a news broadcaster for NBC News and CN8 in Philadelphia. He has a YouTube series, “Country Style with Art Fennell.” The series, which focuses on Bennettsville and Marlboro County, had brought national attention to the event.
The cook-off takes place as a country fair, in a grove, which attracts a crowd of more than 5,000 from the Carolinas and around the country.
On the weekend of the fair, Smith headed south in his car, with his own smoker in tow. He brought everything, grill, tools, ingredients for his rub and sauce. He called himself a “true contestant” with all the paraphernalia he carried along.
Smith was competing against grill masters from North and South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland and Georgia.
He arrived early at the We Get It Together Caterers grove. He had to make sure he could reach and maintain the 225-230°F temperature. Ribs cook for four or five hours, chicken an hour and a half to two hours.
And then there’s a presentation

Smith prepared a presentation box for the judging, artistically laid out meat in a bed of kale and ginger. The box holds a list of the ingredients.
Names are pulled out of a hat to determine the order of the judges’ review. Of the 32 contestants, Smith was first to present his culinary masterpiece. He had to be ready by 4 p.m., barely time to finish the ribs. “I jumped into it at 10,” Smith said. That was the starting time for the cook-off.
He built a fire of oak wood, charcoal made sure all of his tools, the spoons, the cleaver, the shovel, the tongs, were clean – hoses were available close to his station.
Smith’s father stayed with him to help out. He helped give food away at the end of the day – just $15 could buy a chicken. The entry fee was also $15, all going to scholarships for local students.
Because he has known about the cook-off ,Smith wanted to try his cooking skills. “I knew it existed,” he said, “and I wanted to go home and wanted to win a trophy. I wanted bragging rights, wanted to put a trophy on the mantel.”
Now he’s back on the job in the banking business.
Smith made his way North by way of an undergraduate degree from Voorhees College, a historically Black college in Denmark, S.C. He moved on to the University of Pittsburgh for a master’s degree, then worked in Baltimore as development director for NHS, Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit that provides financial coaching and loans for home buyers.
The organization’s mission is to improve the livability of Baltimore neighborhoods with focused projects and developments.
But Smith who declares he loves living in the Philadelphia area, has never lost his link with the South. He was proud to join the grillers for some of the best barbecue wings and ribs in the country.