BBQ Battle at the Beach cooks up in Murrells Inlet

MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - The BBQ Battle at the Beach kicked off Friday for the first time in the Grand Strand, and it's not just an event with good food, it benefits local charities and the economy as a whole.  It's about showing off one of the many things South Carolina is known for: good grub. Fourteen teams are set to hit the BBQ and they want you to be the judge.

The brand new, two day cook-off, expected to pack out The Beaver Bar parking lot, features pit masters from Myrtle Beach to Sumter. It's an $8, all you can eat event, with different sauces, different smokers and a different taste, for a good cause. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Outreach Farm, whose goal is to fight hunger in South Carolina. They raise cattle and provide it at no cost to the non-profits across the state.

The pros setting up for the event say BBQ is a sport, comparable to golf, especially for its growing popularity in the state.

"It's the culture," says Elite BBQ Smoker's Pit master Jason Hardee. "Barbeque arguably originated in the Carolinas, and it's been part of this culture for many generations. We've probably had more competitions than any one geographical area in the whole country."

The cook-off is another reason for tourists to visit the Grand Strand, which was a reason the state created the BBQ Trail in 2013. The goal of the BBQ trail is to attract more visitors to South Carolina's BBQ restaurants. It features more than 200 authentic BBQ joints around the state, about 20 of those located in the Grand Strand. The State Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism pumped a small portion of their $5 million budget into the BBQ Trail for advertising through sports tailgating, billboards and social media. They said the campaign has drawn a lot of attention, even beyond our nation's borders.

"Every event we've been to lately we've had a bunch of the Canadians the French Canadians and different people, they're trying BBQ, it's the first time they've ever had a true southern BBQ," says Hardee.

The state says although numbers aren't out yet for the 2013 tourism season, they are seeing a growing interest for the BBQ in South Carolina throughout social media.