The South’s premier pitmasters, oyster shuckers, and craft breweries return to St. Simons Island, Georgia, for Firebox, September 30 through October 2 for a weekend of meaty, raucous fun.
The barbecue-centric event opens Thursday evening with a special ticketed dinner prepared by chef James London of Chubby Fish in Charleston. Friday evening follows with a private welcome dinner for the pitmasters, who continue their fun with pitmaster karaoke. By midnight, they’re on their way to Gascoigne Bluff, where they start smoking their meats overnight and into the morning to be ready in time for Saturday afternoon’s main event.
Firebox’s significance goes deeper than eating one’s weight in pork. It acts as the primary fundraiser for the Firebox Initiative each year, a locally based 501c3 nonprofit that assists hospitality workers facing hardships.
Griffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp, owners of beloved island restaurant Southern Soul Barbeque, began the annual event in 2017 as a barbecue festival with a few friends. All proceeds went to providing natural disaster relief for local restaurant employees.
The duo’s commitment to helping people in the service industry comes from first-hand experience. A fire broke out in Southern Soul Barbeque during the middle of lunch service back in 2010. The building burned to the ground, but from the ashes came a flood of community support. Other restaurant owners, patrons, and local organizations responded with catered food, groceries, and monetary donations as the beloved barbecue joint got back on its feet.
The community’s overwhelming support inspired Bufkin and Sapp to make a conscious effort to keep paying it forward, and the Firebox Initiative, a volunteer-run nonprofit, began. Their services have expanded over the years to assist industry members in financial need due to illness, accident, or natural disaster.
Necessity Sparked Creativity for Firebox
Their beneficence soared to new heights over 2020 as the pandemic rocked the restaurant industry. They launched Feeding Firebox and invited local restaurant owners to feature a weekly special specifically designed to raise funds for the cause. The organization helped with procuring groceries and ingredients. The restaurant, in turn, donated proceeds from total sales on the dish.
The donations turned into Covid-19 crisis grants for people facing unemployment and other hardships. By the end of the year, Firebox Initiative helped more than 500 people in Glynn County.
After rain-checking last year, Bufkin is thrilled to welcome “around a dozen of our best barbecue buddies, some oyster slingers, and local craft breweries” from North Carolina, the Lowcountry, St. Louis, New Orleans, and beyond, to St. Simons’ scenic Gascoigne Bluff. Tickets for Thursday evening and Saturday’s event can be purchased on the Firebox Initiative’s website.
- by Erin Byers Murray