Washington Daily News
By Vail Stewart Rumley
Every eastern North Carolinian has seen a pig on a grill — has tasted its bounty. But not everyone has tasted the barbecued bounty of championship pig cookers.
This weekend, barbecue made by North Carolina Pork Council competitors and those vying for the North Carolina Barbecue Association state championship will be available at Smoke on the Water. For 17 years, Washington’s barbecue festival has drawn barbecue lovers to the waterfront to partake of the competitions’ leftovers, in sandwiches and by the pint. But only a few are dedicated enough to be there for the actual judging of the pigs, and there’s a lot to be learned about the perfect pig, according to Smoke on the Water judges Brownie Futrell and Spencer Stanley.
This year, Smoke on the Water is hosting two events simultaneously: the Pork Council’s barbecue cook and NCBA’s state championship. For judges, that means different criteria for each contest.
Pork Council judges can sample meat from whatever part of the pig they like, then they tend to stick to sampling the same area on each competitor’s pig. They take into account a pig’s overall appearance, brownness of the meat, moisture, meat and sauce taste, the overall condition of the pig-cooking site and skin crispness — one of the toughest things to do right, according to Stanley. Pork Council competitors are allowed to use gas, wood or charcoal to cook their pigs.
NCBA’s judging revolves around overall impression, taste, texture and tenderness, and judges are required to taste from each section of the pig: ham, shoulder and tenderloin. NCBA competitors are limited to cooking over wood or charcoal — the traditional way.
Futrell decided to become a certified judge after talking with judges at a Smoke on the Water 10 years ago. The role has taken him up and down the East Coast, to Memphis to judge the world championship, an event that draws 100,000 people, five or six times, he said. While he loves barbecue, judging is made fun by the banter between cookers, the personalities the competitions draw and the pride people have in their pigs.
“In a Memphis contest, if you’re a contest judge, teams are allowed to and encouraged to tell you about themselves, their cooking technique and what they’re using and why they’re using it. They’re proud,” Futrell said.
Tonight, there will literally be smoke on the water, as 21 cookers compete in the two contests. Pigs will be delivered to the cookers at 8:30 p.m. and Futrell will visit every site for a pre-cook check, documenting any physical imperfections, as a pig marred by cooking can shave points off a score. Then the cooking begins.
Judges will be back at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. At 8 a.m., judging begins for the Pork Council pigs, starting with an entry drawn randomly the night before. At 9 a.m., the state championship judging begins. Though there are only eight competitors, this round will take just as long, as more discussion is required — for example, the merits of cooking a pig with Apple wood over Hickory wood.
Stanley said the judging is open to the public and enthusiastic barbecue fans flock to the waterfront to watch.
“We usually have a crowd that follows us. They can’t sample like the judges do, but we usually have a crowd,” Stanley said.
The public is also encouraged to head down to the waterfront tonight to experience Smoke on the Water “behind the scenes,” talk to the cookers — if they’re not busy — then head back to pick up some barbecue and enjoy the festivities Saturday morning, Stanley said.
“Where else can you try championship barbecue?” Stanley asked. “We’re blessed in Beaufort County to have some really good barbecue, but this is championship barbecue.”