Saturday, September 10, 2016

Finding the Best Barbecue in Jacksonville, NC

It’s easy to find the best barbecue cooked whole hog style in Jacksonville, NC. All you have to do is head for the Onslow County Shrine Club when it is having its annual pig cookin’.

The sign by the highway that draws attention to the cookoff is only yards away from the Shrine Club where the cooks set up.

The Shrine Club attracts some of the best cooks in North Carolina who are competing for the right to advance to the state championship sponsored by the N.C. Pork Council. The top three cooks at the Onslow County event are eligible to participate in the Whole Hog Barbecue Championship, which this year will be held in Raleigh during Wide Open Bluegrass, the largest urban bluegrass festival in the world.

Sometimes a fan is needed to control the cooking temperature.

I was pleased to be one of the three judges for the Onslow County event and worked with two seasoned pros, both from Newport, NC: Jim Bristle and Bobby Prescott, who not only judge but also complete as cooks. Each has been a finalist in a regional event and competed in the state championship cookoff, which Prescott himself won in 1989 and 1996.

Judges begin their evaluation of the first of 15 cooked pigs.

The pigs that the Shrine Club provided the cooks weighed an average of 125 pounds with the biggest one weighing 131. Of the 15 cooks who entered the Onslow County contest, 12 had participated in previous years and were seasoned competitors well prepared to win. The three cooks new to the contest were very successful, even without more competition experience.

The judges turn a pig over to evaluate both sides.

The NCPC criteria for judging each pig include appearance, brownness, skin crispness, moisture, and meat/sauce taste. In addition, the cook’s site is evaluated for completeness. The winning pig depends on the skills of the cook, who is prohibited by the rules from using any sauce or injecting the pig to improve moisture. Because judging begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, the cooks set up the day before and begin their cooking so that their pigs are ready for evaluation when the judges arrive at their sites the next morning.

After the evaluation by the judges, the once perfectly intact pig is in pieces.

The top three cooks were David Grandy (1st), Kevin Peterson (2nd), and Roy Parker (3rd). Earlier this year Parker had placed first in the Johnston County Pig Cooking Contest in Smithfield and the Kickin’ It Country Whole Hog Cookoff in Raleigh, both in May, as well as first in the Gen. William C. Lee Celebration in Dunn in June.

Scoring sheets are filled out before moving to the next cooking site.
After the judges have completed the scoring, the cooks turn in chopped barbecue to the contest organizers who sell it to the public beginning at 11 a.m. Patrick McGirl of the Shrine Club estimates that about 350 plates are sold (at $7 a plate), and additional barbecue is sold in bulk quantities later in the day.

Judges evaluate the pig cooked by Roy Parker (left is Jim Bristle and right is Bobby Prescott).

The pig cookin’ in 2016 was the ninth annual contest conducted by the Onslow County Shrine Club. Because it limits the contest to 15 cooks, they are forewarned to register early next year for bragging rights and the opportunity to advance to the Whole Hog Barbecue Championship. Next year the Shrine Club’s tenth annual contest will again be the place to find the best barbecue in Jacksonville.

After the pigs are judged, the cooks
prepare chopped barbecue for the Shrine Club.
The winning cook
takes home an
impressive trophy.

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