Mike Shutak, Carteret County News-Times
Newport — A cold, rainy start to the 37th Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest Friday afternoon couldn’t put off the 81 contestants that came out this year; after the clouds broke up early Saturday, Mike Hall of Newport, cooking for Hall’s Masonry, took home the $1,000 prize for first place.
This will be the third time Mr. Hall has won the pig cooking, according to the contest website,www.newportpigcooking.com. Mr. Hall also won in 2010 and 2012.
John Elardo, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Newport, said just under half an inch of rain fell Friday in Newport, starting about noon and continuing until late afternoon. Temperatures dropped to about 43 degrees Fahrenheit by midnight.
In spite of the chilly rain, a few visitors came out Friday evening, though the bulk of the crowds waited until Saturday. Police Chief Jeff Clark said there’s often some wind and rain during the contest, “but everybody manages to get through it.”
County Commissioner Bill Smith, who represents the Newport area, was at the contest Friday evening. He said organizers were hoping the weather would improve Saturday so the crowds would come out – and they did.
With only a few dozen in attendance Friday night, numbers swelled to at least 2,500 with the improved conditions Saturday.
Jim Bristle, Pig Cookin’ president, said of the 81 contestants that registered, 10 were new faces to the contest. This year also saw a few new features at the contest as well.
During the cook’s meeting Friday, Mr. Bristle announced a new part of the contest, started by the N.C. Pork Council: the Pit Master of the Year Award. He said starting this year, every cook who competes in a pig-cooking contest earns points. Additional points can be earned by placing in the contests.
The cook ultimately earning the most points is named Pit Master of the Year and the award winner is to be announced the following year during the Newport Pig Cookin’. That means this year’s Pit Master will be announced at the 2016 contest.
Mr. Bristle also announced a new prize – organizers now award $100 to the cook younger than 18 years old that comes in the highest in the contest.
“We’re trying to encourage more young cooks to come in and take this over for us,” Mr. Bristle said.
Charles Turnage, 17, of Newport, the 2014 winner of the contest, was the winner of the new young cook award. Mr. Turnage came in 16th in the contest overall.
Among this year’s young cooks were a trio cooking as a team: 15-year-old Caleb Cates of Newport, 16-year-old Brett Dorgan and 14-year-old Bryce Lien.
Caleb said they’ve competed in the contest before; the highest they’ve come in is 16th. He said the fun, family and friends keep them coming back.
“I started because of a man named Greg Bowen,” Caleb said. “I came out one night to help him.”
Caleb said he plans on continuing to come to the contest for some time. Patrick Cates, Caleb’s father, said the contest is one big family event for them.
“He (Caleb) loves cooking,” Mr. Cates said. “His grandmother (Gloria Murdoch) used to come out and watch him. She passed away, so Caleb’s cooking in her honor.”
Caleb and his team were sharing a tent with another young cook, 13-year-old Justin Black. Justin said he’s cooked in the contest for two years now, and to him it’s all about helping the community out and having fun.
“My uncle and grandpa used to do it (cook in the contest),” he said.
Also, this year the menu at the pig cooking was expanded, thanks to the help of Fat Fellas BBQ & Grille of Newport.
“Fat Fellas volunteered to come in this year and help us out with the food,” Mr. Bristle said. “We really appreciate what they’re doing.”
Fat Fellas, a local restaurant, has competed before in the contest. This year, however, Jeremy Cannon of Fat Fellas and his crew decided to help out by cooking shrimp, chicken, French fries and sausages to help raise money.
Mr. Cannon said they’re always talking about giving back to the community at his restaurant.
“The pig cooking’s been going on for 37 years,” he said. “It’s an honor to come out and cook for them.”
Revenue from the contest is given to various charitable organizations in the local area. Volunteers with the contest take the pigs cooked and chop them up to make pork barbecue. The barbecue is sold as both barbecue plates and in bulk.
Both local and visiting cooks come to the contest, which is the largest whole hog cooking contest in the U.S. Among this year’s contestants was Don Lilly of Newport.
Mr. Lilly said he’s attended every pig cooking since it began in 1979, though he didn’t start competing until the 12thcontest. Every year he helps with the setup, though, getting the tables and chairs ready.
Mr. Lilly was cooking with Dale Wooten and Gary Garner this year.
“We were all in the Fire Department,” Mr. Lilly said. “It (the contest) is about getting together with old friends you don’t see till the next year and supporting local organizations.”
Mr. Lilly said he’s never won the contest, though he took second place once. He said he’s been cooking pigs for about 30 years and has competed in other contests in Washington, Kinston and Greenville.
“Newport is the biggest,” he said. “They’re all well organized; a lot of them got started from Newport. This is the granddaddy of them all.”
Another familiar face this year was Smokey Calwell, who has competed in every Newport Pig Cookin’ since the beginning. Mr. Calwell said Saturday morning, as he waited for the judges, that he felt his chances to win were good this year.
“We had a good-looking pig to start with,” he said, “and that’s half the battle.”
While the rain Friday may’ve kept off most of the crowds, Mr. Calwell said it’s not the worst weather he’s seen at one of Newport’s contests.
“We once cooked in a near hurricane,” he said. “We had a couple tents blow away and end up on top of the water tower.”
Also competing this year was Hunter Hinnent of Smithfield. Mr. Hinnent was cooking with D.J. Westbrook, making this the fourth time they’ve competed together at the contest.
“I’ve been coming here since I was seven years old,” Mr. Hinnent said. “We like the history of the competition. There’s a lot of good cooks here, and it’s good to cook against good competition.”
Mr. Hinnent has been cooking pigs for about 20 years; he said he started with his dad, cooking his first pig when he was 8.
Mr. Hinnent has cooked in about 25-30 different contests; he said the highest he’s placed in the Newport contest, however, is 10th.
“Newport’s right up there with the best (contests),” he said. “There’s a few that’re hard to beat, but that’s mostly because of the view.”
Buddy Culbreth, another Newport cook, said this was his 26th year cooking at the contest. Mr. Culbreth was cooking with Joey Wichtl.
Mr. Culbreth said they keep coming back “for the town of Newport” to benefit charitable organization and to have fun.
“We just like cooking pigs in the rain,” he said jokingly Friday. Mr. Culbreth has cooked in several other competitions in Kinston, Greenvile, Benson and New Bern. In Newport, third was his best finish.
“This is one of the most competitive (contests) in the entire state,” he said.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt