Holy smoke fills the air at 20th annual Christian barbecue contest in southwest Georgia


PRESTON, Ga. – Residents in this southwestern Georgia farming community have a name for the sweet aroma that was rising Saturday from barbecue grills scattered across the grounds of the the Macedonia Baptist Church community center.

They call it holy smoke – and for good reason.

More than a dozen churches sent their top pit bosses here for the 20th annual Holy Smoke Christian Barbecue Competition, a fundraiser that supports Christian ministries serving abused and neglected children.

Macedonia Baptist Church Pastor Robert Orr said he couldn’t imagine a more fitting name than Holy Smoke for such an event, especially in a region known for its barbecue.

Orr has been involved in the event from the get-go.

“My suggestion for the name was Burnt Offering,” he joked, relaxing on a lawn chair with southern Gospel music blaring from a nearby platform. “They rejected that name.”

Gene Roberts, mission director in the Summerhill Baptist Association, said Holy Smoke has raised well over $130,000 for children’s homes in southwest Georgia over the past two decades. The money is generated through donations, food sales, and a cake auction.

Orr said it’ll be early next week before organizers nail down this year’s total, but they’re hoping to meet or exceed last year’s nearly $18,000.

Florida resident Russ Kern drove up a day early to be a part of the event.

“It’s a wonderful time,” Kern said. “We have great food, great fellowship, and great music. Everything about it is great, especially the cakes.”

Those cakes he referenced are prized.

People always bid top dollar for the desserts prepared in the kitchens of some of the best bakers in the Deep South. It’s not unusual for their creations to sell in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. People still talk about the one that fetched an all-time high of $2,300.

The cakes are delicious but it’s the cause that motive bidders to write the big checks.

“These are the most giving people you will ever be around,” Orr said.

Danny Craft, pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church in Dawson, said the focus of the event is always on the kids whose broken homes and dysfunctional families have made them wards of the state.

“The kids need our love and support,” Craft said. “Whatever we can do as churches to help, we have to do it.”

Roberts said churches in his associations put in hours up hours to make Holy Smoke a success, yet they make it look so easy.

“You can see the joy on their faces,” he said. “They love raising this money for the kids.”