In just a few days, 30 barbecue teams will descend on downtown Raleigh and contend to be the 2017 N.C. Whole Hog Barbecue Champion. Competition will be fierce. Each team earned a spot at the state championship by winning or placing in a Whole Hog Barbecue Series contest. Each contest used rules and judges sanctioned by the N.C. Pork Council.

On Friday, teams will start arriving on South Street between noon and 4 p.m. They’ll set up in front of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Once the teams get settled in, they’ll have a cook’s meeting at 6 p.m. where they’ll receive any last-minute instructions. At about 7 p.m., the pigs will be delivered. The hogs were grown and selected by Prestage Farms and weighed to ensure that all teams receive equal weight hogs. The hogs will be processed and delivered by Nahunta Pork Center.

If you’re interested in the whole process, you’ll want to be downtown between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. This is when the teams will be prepping the hogs and you’ll see the most action – until judging on Saturday morning. Once the teams are done prepping the hogs, the grills will be closed until the wee hours of the morning, when it’s time to flip the pig. But just because the cooker is closed doesn’t mean the cooks will get a good night’s rest. They’ll be up all night keeping a close eye on the cookers and making sure all is well. It’s gonna be a chilly night for sleeping outdoors. Temperatures are forecast to drop into the 50s overnight. Thankfully, they’ll be sleeping next to a hot cooker, so they’ll have some warmth.

On Saturday, there are three separate competitions and judging will get started early. The whole hog on-site judging starts at 8:30 a.m. The judges will take a look at the hog as a whole and taste the meat straight from the bones, unsauced first and then with the team’s sauce. The judges are looking for several criteria:

  • Appearance: Is the pig still intact from turning? Has pig been cut unnecessarily?
  • Brownness: Is meat golden brown, dark or burned?
  • Skin Crispness: Is skin crisp, not burnt; good texture?
  • Moisture: Is meat moist and tender, not dry or tough?
  • Meat & Sauce taste: Does meat taste hot and spicy, mild, pleasing?
  • Completeness: Overall condition of the site, including cleanliness of the cook, cooker and site. Was the chief cook present and ready for judging with knives, sauce bowls, drinks and towels and thermometers?

The blind taste judging will begin around 8:45 a.m. Each cook team will be given a random number and a container and send the meat to a panel of judges who will judge on appearance, tenderness and taste.

A sauce competition will held around 9 a.m. A panel of judges will consider each team’s barbecue sauce and determine who has the best. The criteria the judges will be looking at are:

  • Appearance: Does the sauce look appealing?
  • Texture: Is the texture right? Is it too watery or too thick? Does it cling to the meat just right?
  • Creativity: Does the sauce have a unique flavor?
  • Taste: Consider the spice, blend of flavors and overall palate appeal.

2016 State Whole Hog Barbecue Champion Chris Fineran and Charlie Chestnut working on 30 gallons of Chris’ secret barbecue sauce. 

Once all the judging is completed, the meat will be donated to Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. There, they will chop it, sauce it and sell sandwiches to raise money for their hunger relief programs. Chris Fineran, last year’s State Champion and the Pitmaster of the Year, will provide 30 gallons of sauce to flavor the more than 2,000 pounds of meat.  Inter-Faith will begin selling sandwiches around 11 a.m. and will sell it until they run out. So be sure to get there early and support a championship cause.

Oh, and we forgot to mention. The Whole Hog Barbecue State Championship will take place in conjunction with the Wide Open Bluegrass street festival, so downtown will be buzzing with activity from the State Capitol Building to the Progress Energy Center.

– Jen Kendrick, Communications and Outreach Manager