Whole Hog Champion: Equal Parts Cook and Coach

Joe Peterson of Roanoke Rapids, NC took home the crown at the 2015 Whole Hog Barbecue Championship, making him the competition’s winningest cook and only 4-time champion.

What started as a hobby—cooking for the Lions Club and for his office—turned into a winning tradition that spans decades.

In his first contest, Peterson recalls coming in next to last place. Luckily, he knew better than to give up. He kept at it, cooking in contests across the state and moving up the ranks of the elite whole hog cooks and finally winning the championship in 2003. Peterson tacked on two more championship titles in 2008 and 2009.   

After years of cooking, Peterson took on an apprentice in Ernest Twisdale, also of Roanoke Rapids. After six years of soaking up Peterson’s wisdom, Twisdale went out on his own in 2014. In his first year cooking solo, Twisdale took home the Whole Hog Barbecue Championship. Peterson came in second place that year, but was “just as tickled as Ernest” to see his protégé win.

In addition to passing along the secrets of cooking a hog, Peterson also gifted Twisdale with his infamous sauce recipe, a secret that most cooks keep under lock and key.

But Peterson is happy to share everything that he knows, recipe included. He even sold his prized cooker to up-and-coming whole hog cook Amy Whitley from Kinston. He knows the importance of young cooks getting involved and keeping the tradition of whole hog cooking alive.

When asked what advice he’d share with a new cook, he cited the importance of being patient and not getting discouraged. He then quoted his good friend, and a long-time fixture in whole hog barbecue cook-offs, Charlie Meeks, saying, “You gotta be lucky enough to get a good pig. And you gotta be lucky enough to get a good score.”