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Wait - the Mallard Creek BBQ is today?

Mallard Creek BBQ

Thursday's Mallard Creek Barbecue. For more than 80 years politicians and barbecue fans have flocked to the Mallard Creek Barbecue.
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Thursday's Mallard Creek Barbecue. For more than 80 years politicians and barbecue fans have flocked to the Mallard Creek Barbecue.

How can an event that’s been held on the fourth Thursday of October every year since 1927 sneak up on me?

Blame it on an October loaded with political news. Then again, the annual Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church barbecue is usually loaded with politics, too, even though the church insists it’s not a political event. The sprawling barbecue and Brunswick stew feed is one of Charlotte’s signature happenings, but in election years, it gets even bigger.

There’s still time to make plans for lunch today (or drive through to pick up a barbecue dinner tonight). Here are five things you need to know about the 87th (yes!) annual barbecue.

1. The Brunswick stew. It’s legend, and one of the barbecue’s iconic sights are the women who stand for hours to stir it in big pots. It isn’t like any other stew you’ve ever tasted, but it’s how they’ve made it for years and year.

2. The politics. National politicians have appeared over the years, but most of them lately have been people in local races. You can avoid it if you choose: The setup allows you to either go straight into the cookhouse to get your plate, or go through the line of politicians eager to hand out stickers and brochures.

3. The community. Taking a seat at the long trestle tables on a sunny afternoon is a place to see and be seen. Even if you don’t run into someone you know, you can watch people greet each other who’ve known each other all their lives. There’s something life-affirming in that.

4. The menu: It’s always the same, which is also comforting. Your $10 plate gets you chopped pork barbecue that’s been slow-cooked by an entire team of church volunteers, cole slaw, apple sauce and a cup of that stew, plus water or coffee to drink. You can buy sodas from a vending machine for $1. There are always loaves of white bread on the tables; use a slice to push your barbecue on to your plastic fork. Need dessert? Look for the ice cream sandwiches. You can also buy a sandwich (pork and slaw, the way it’s meant to be), or a pound of barbecue for $10. If you truly can’t wait, there is a drive-through line.

5. The traffic: Yes, it’s part of the tradition. They usually serve as many as 15,000 people, so Mallard Creek Church Road backs up for miles. Take several friends in the car with you to pass the time, and prepare to spend your time reading all the campaign signs lined up for a mile.

What else do you need to know? Oh, the time and address: 10 a.m.-6 or 7 p.m. (depending on how long the food holds out) at the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church Community House, 11400 Mallard Creek Road.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis