Category Archives: Newport

REVIEW: 33rd Annual Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest

 

Cooking barbecue in North Carolina is more than just making a meal. It’s an event that has been bringing families and friends together for over five hundred years. Cooking barbecue gives cooks an opportunity to showcase their barbecuing skills that that they have recently learned or those that have been passed down from generation to generation. This is what I experienced when I traveled down to Newport, NC a few weeks ago to attend the 33rd Annual Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest. There was a sense of camaraderie that was unlike any other type of competition that I have ever been to.

The Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest is about more than just barbecue. It is about community. Each year, the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest donates thousands of dollars to local non-profit charities. It has donated over $700,000 since its inception 33 years ago. The event is also about bringing together the community. There are plenty of rides, games, live music and fun making the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest a very family friendly atmosphere where everyone seems to be having fun.

There were about 80 tents skirted the outside of the festivals where the cooking teams awaited their hogs on Friday night. Many teams had extravagant set-ups at their site including banners, tables, awards, flags and about anything that they have that is pig related. The focal point of most tents was the slow-cooker which ranged from the extravagant to the simple but, as any cook can tell you, the price of a grill isn’t what makes a good cook. There were a few cook teams that were using wood to cook with but the majority used propane.

Each cooking team received a dressed, butterflied 120 lb. (approximate) pig on Friday night at the same time. After receiving their pigs, teams will trim and discard any excess fat and unnecessary pieces (like the ear flaps). Teams also inspected the pigs for any inconsistencies that their pig had like missing skin, broken ribs and other things that might affect how the pig was cooked. Inconsistencies were noted by the contest staff and then judges were alerted so the inconsistencies wouldn’t affect their judging.

I was able to walk around with Jim Bristle, the president of the contest, and his wife has they visited each site and checked to make sure that all of the chief cooks were happy with their pigs and, if not, what was wrong. A lot of cooks decided not to note any inconsistencies because they felt that they could work around most of it and felt like if it were noted that it could be a black mark on their site. There only seemed to be a few cooks that were unhappy about their pigs and you could definitely see it in their facial expressions when talking about their pig.

Presentation is key when it comes to the judging of one’s cooked pig. According the the North Carolina Pork Council judges, site presentation counts for a little under one fourth (which is a lot) of the total points that the barbecue is judged on so teams are cautioned to make sure that their site meets all the criteria including site & cooker cleanliness plus having knives, sauce bowls/cups, drinks & towels and meat thermometers available for the judges.

The above site was on point with its presentation. Another part of the site cleanliness included a clean grill. Notice how the grill above is sparkling even after having cooked a whole hog for about 10-12 hours. A good portion of the sites also served the judges palate cleansers including chocolate covered strawberries, tea and cake even though this wasn’t judged or required for the judges to eat (even though they happily did it). Serving palate cleansers is a great way to make sure that the judges are tasting your pig instead of the one that they judged right before you.


It was very interesting to watch the judges as they went around from site to site tasting each pig. The judges check for appearance, brownness, skin crispiness, moisture and meat/sauce taste The four judges arrived at each site and went directly for the grill where they simultaneously felt the skin for consistency and then flipped it together and then folded it in half when a definitive crack is heard signifying a good, crisp skin that has been cooked well.

Judges also dig through the meat by hand (they wear heavy-duty rubber gloves) and knife to check for any blood to indicate that it has been cooked adequately as well as the moisture of the cooked pig. They also pull the femur bone from the ham and the blade from the shoulder as another test. Here is a video (15 minutes) with a walk-through on the judging of a whole hog contest in North Carolina.

I had been in touch with Harris Vaughan, one of the four judges, before the contest and talked to him throughout the day as he was judging. It was pretty impressive to watch the judges as they walked around and tasted 80 different pigs. I was impressed that the judges were able to taste 80 pigs in the matter of four hours and still be able to function. I was more than impressed. I was amazed..just think about eating 80 bites of barbecue. In my mind, I picture it as an entire dinner plate piled high with barbecue. Not to mention the palate cleansers and if the judges wanted to taste the skin (like Vaughan did) or taste the ‘cue sauced and sauce-less to compare.

 

After the judges finish with each site, a group of volunteers gather the judged pig from the grill and take it up to a sorting session at the center of the festival grounds where it placed on a table where another group of volunteers sorts through the pig removing as much fat and bone from the pig. It is then sent over to another station where another group of volunteers chop the meat using a tool that was designed by the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest staff that is a blade welded onto the end of a metal pole allowing users to expend less energy while chopping more barbecue than the traditional meat cleaver method. After chopping the barbecue, volunteers then combine the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest’s secret barbecue sauce with fifty pounds of barbecue and prepare to serve it.

I was amazed to find out that the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest bought 9,000 lbs of pork, and served 4,500 lbs of pork to festival goers. Each plate was $6.00 and contained a heaping of barbecue, baked beans, coleslaw and hush puppies. Luckily, we made the decision to get in line around 11:45 a.m. to get a plate because the line started to get pretty long right around noon. It must have been the incredible smell of eighty pigs being cooked all night that was wafting throughout the entire town of Newport enticing people to come get a plate.

 

The winner of the 33rd annual Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest was Chris Howard (above) who was cooking for the Moses Howard Family. I didn’t get a chance to taste his pig but it looked awesome. I’m a little disappointed that I don’t have a picture of the winning pig to share with you. One thing that stood out to me was the age of both the first and second place winners. Howard, 20, and Taylor Gregg, who was celebrating her eighteenth birthday during the contest, showed festival goers that cooking a pig isn’t about age and that a perfectly-cooked pig and a great sauce were the secret to winning.

Here is a list of the 2011 winners and their sponsors:

  1. Chris Howard – The Moses Howard Family
  2. Taylor Gregg – C Co Mini Mart
  3. Russell Snider – Floors by Floyd, Inc.
  4. Fred Woodard – Steve & Tammy Blizzard
  5. Christian Wiedner – Newport Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association
  6. David Grandy – Sheriff Asa Buck
  7. Carla Sweet – Progressive Properties, Inc. #2
  8. Frank Gregg – Bobby & Kelly Caldwell
  9. Greg Stallings – Doris & Ed Oglesby
  10. Hunter Hinnant  – Apex Propane Services, Inc.

I had a great time in Newport and hope that I can make it back next year. I am considering getting in touch with the North Carolina Pork Council and trying to become certified North Carolina Pork Council judge so that I can experience North Carolina barbecue festivals in a different light. One of the highlights of the event for me was being able to walk around the festival with Lisa Jeffries (@ncsulilwolf) who blogs over at NC BBQ Tour and talking with her about barbecue, North Carolina food, North Carolina craft beer and good times at N.C. State and ECU. I also really enjoyed being able to talk in depth with Jim Bristle, the president of the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest, and Harris Vaughan, one of the certified North Carolina Pork Council judges, about barbecue. They were both very knowledgeable and welcoming to me as I took pictures and a ridiculous amount of notes throughout the weekend.

 

 

The judges check for appearane, browness, skin crispiness, moisture and meat/sauce taste
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