Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cooking Whole Hog in a Competition

The skills for cooking a whole hog have always impressed me. I admire someone who can prepare all cuts to reach perfection simultaneously and appreciate the tradition of regions, particularly eastern North Carolina, where barbecue is nothing less than a whole hog cooked slowly over low temperatures using only wood or charcoal.

A whole hog cooked by the Boonetown BBQ team awaits inspection by the judges.

I have visited establishments where whole hogs are cooked and am honored when I meet someone who continues family cooking traditions passed down through extended generations such as Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, SC. However, watching cooking teams use a mobile grill brought to a contest site to cook whole hogs is even more impressive. At Smoke on the Mountain, the annual barbecue cooking competition in Galax, Va., whole hog is one of the categories in the competition sanctioned by the Memphis Barbecue Network.

The Shed team pulls out its whole hog for a judge's evaluation.

I was at the event as a judge in the competitions sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. Although I like how KCBS sanctions competitions worldwide and promotes barbecue, I have to admit that I am thoroughly impressed with the whole hog competitions conducted by MBN and how its judges interview cooking teams as well as conduct blind evaluations of cooked meat. (In addition to the whole hog category, the pork-only MBN also has categories of ribs and shoulder. In contrast, KCBS events include categories of chicken, pork, ribs, and brisket.)

The Shed from Ocean Springs, Miss., brought the most unusual grill (a converted vehicle on a trailer).

For its competitions, MBN requires that a whole hog weigh at least 85 pounds (some weigh 200 pounds or more) and be cooked as a complete unit on one grill surface. Because judges sample portions of ham, shoulder, and loin in their evaluations, the cuts have to reach perfection at the same time – a delicate feat considering that hogs may cook for as long as 24 hours.

A Shed team member displays tray of hot coals under the grill for a judge.

Cooking whole hogs to perfection is difficult for the novice; however, the results improve with time, patience, and experience. Observing the whole hog competition at Smoke on the Mountain increased my respect and admiration for cooks who have honed their skills and compete at such a high level.

The Boonetown BBQ team prepares its display for a judge's visit.

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