|Music played throughout the day on the stage of Midtown Park at North Hills.|
Imagine green space encircled by cooking teams competing in a whole hog cookoff. Now place that scene in a dense urban area with high-rise commercial and residential buildings towering over the teams. You are now in Raleigh, NC, for the Fourth Annual Kickin’ It Country Whole Hog Cookoff in Midtown Park at North Hills.
|Cooking teams set up between Midtown Park and the commercial and residential buildings of North Hills.|
If I was much younger, North Hills would be the place where I would spend time (and money), and many younger people do just that. It’s an innovative hub of activities that offers many ways to shop, eat, play, work, and live.
|High-rise residential buildings surrounding Midtown Park overlook the cooking teams.|
A mixed-used development, North Hills includes stores, restaurants, entertainment, commercial offices, residential units, and even a continuing care retirement community. For one day each year, the play area of Midtown Park is the home to a popular whole hog cookoff.
|Lee Meeks (left), John Gibbons (obscured), and I evaluate skin crispness at a cooker.|
For the fourth annual rendition of the cookoff, 15 teams registered. They included past annual state champions, winners at other regional events, and even a newcomer or two. All showed the superior skills needed to compete in a whole hog contest, and judging their pigs accurately required concentration and diligence.
|John Gibbons (left), Lee Meeks (right), and I finish our evaluation at a site.|
For the judging, I worked with John Gibbons of Holly Springs and Lee Meeks of Newport. They both brought to the cookoff a deep appreciation for the skills that a successful cooking team must possess as well as an thorough understanding of the scoring criteria established by the North Carolina Pork Council, which sanctions this and all other whole hog cookoffs that culminate in the Whole Hog Barbecue Championship each year.
|Lee Meeks (right) and I evaluate moisture as pitmaster Chris Fineran (left) looks on.|
The top three winners in the Fourth Annual Kickin’ It Country Cookoff were Kevin and Dana Peterson of Showtime’s Legit BBQ (first place); Chris Fineran and Steve Sumner of Beach Boys BBQ (second); and Ernest Twisdale, Stephen Twisdale, and George Collins of Grill Father Cooking Team. Each is now qualified to advance to the championship cookoff next fall and compete for the honor of being proclaimed the state champion and admitted into the Whole Hog Hall of Fame.
|John Gibbons (right) and I complete our scoring sheets at a site.|
However, the Hall of Fame already includes the lead pitmasters of these three teams. Kevin Peterson was the 2017 state champion; Chris Fineran, 2016; and Ernest Twisdale, 2015. In addition, Roy Parker, pitmaster of Old Hickory, the fourth place team, was admitted in 2006 when he won the state championship that year. These credentials and the high scores they earned this year show how very competitive the cookoff was.
|John Gibbons (left), Lee Meeks (center), and I relax after all the scoring sheets have been completed.|
In fact, the scores for the top three winners were exceptionally high. The highest score that a team can earn from one judge is 360 points. The top team scored 1,010 out of a possible 1,080 points. Only 10 points separated the top three teams, and the fourth and fifth place teams themselves were only a few points behind the leaders.
|Kevin Peterson of Showtime's Legit BBQ accepts the first-place trophy from Ashley Stallings, cookoff organizer.|
Midtown Park at North Hills is the place to be on the first Saturday each June. The barbecue cookoff competition is superior, and after the judging is over, the barbecue is served as a fundraiser for a major local charity. For the other 364 days of the year, North Hills is still the place to be for shopping, eating, playing, working, and living.
|Proceeds from BBQ plates sold after judging activities ended benefit the Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation.|