Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 24, 2013

SALISBURY — On trailer wheels, the 11 cookers seemed to appear out of nowhere. The tent went up, and a table for all the picking, grinding and chopping was positioned underneath.

Inside the Fulton Masonic Lodge dining hall. Masons spent Wednesday morning making 75 gallons of their own slaw out of cabbage, tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and a touch of ketchup.

By late Wednesday afternoon, the pork shoulders went on the fires outside and over the next 24 hours, the Masons would be cooking and tending to a ton — yes, 2,000 pounds — of barbecue for their lunch-dinner, which takes place today.

When all the cleanup is finished and the men go home about 9:30 tonight, some 70 to 100 Masons (and some friends of Masons) will have participated in this event that’s been held for more than 50 years straight.

“We’re all old friends here,” says Steve Schenk, secretary for Fulton Masonic Lodge No. 99.

The Masons usually can count on 300 to 350 people to dine in at 401 N. Fulton St. during the day, but their real busy work comes in preparing the carry-out orders.

At peak production, 12 to 15 Masons form an assembly line to pack the to-go bags, which always come close to 1,500 orders. Masons deliver to places with more than 10 carryouts. The Hefner VA Medical Center is a big customer, for example.

John Smith serves as chief ramrod for this operation. Besides the slaw, he also oversees the making of 20 gallons of dip for the barbecue.

Smith has done the charity barbecue long enough that he just checks the records and receipts from previous events to know how many ingredients, bags, plates, cups, utensils, napkins and other stuff to order.

“He’s the driving force behind it,” Schenk says. The late Don Pope oversaw the barbecue operation for many years prior to Smith.

Today’s cooler temperature — a high of 59 degrees was forecast — should help barbecue dinner sales, Smith predicts.

A committee starts the heavy planning for the barbecue in August.

The Masons clear roughly $8,000 from the event, and all proceeds go to charity. Schenk says about 75 percent of the money will be given to the Oxford orphanage and the Masonic and Eastern Star Home. The rest will be allocated toward local nonprofits such as the Boy Scouts, Christmas Happiness, Hospice, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross and Rowan Helping Ministries.

The barbecue event is always held on the fourth Thursday of October. Meanwhile, the Andrew Jackson Masonic Lodge offers its Brunswick stew on the last Thursday in February.

There’s a lot of cross-breeding of Masons, so to speak, at each event, as members of the Fulton and Andrew Jackson lodges help each other. Masons from other Rowan lodges also are known to lend a hand.

Other components of the $8 barbecue dinners are sandwich rolls and homemade desserts, if yours is a carry-out order. Those dining in receive a cold drink of sweet or unsweetened tea or a hot cup of coffee as a substitute for the dessert, but the desserts can be purchased in the dining hall for a nominal price.

A warning: Smith’s homemade banana pudding usually runs out first.

Koco Java owner Arturo Therecka, who is a Mason, supplies the coffee for the barbecue.

“He provided it last year, and we had a lot of compliments,” Schenk says.

You might think the Masons set up a schedule and shifts for the men to come in and work the barbecue. Schenk says the lodge tried that approach one year, and it didn’t work.

It seems the Masons show up to help when they can, and things just happen to work out.

A fair amount of recycling occurs. A 55-gallon barrel is brought in to handle all the grease. Tomato cans and paste board are recycled, and people stop buy for bones to feed their dogs.

There are others who also like to pick up some of the crispy pork skins.

At least two Masons are watching and turning the pork through the early-morning hours when most of Salisbury is asleep.

Smith comes by his acumen for barbecue honestly. He grew up in barbecue-crazy Davidson County, and as a young teen in 1960, Smith worked for Buddy Taylor’s barbecue establishment in Lexington.

“If you take a sample of John’s blood,” Schenk says, “You will find barbecue sauce.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or