It takes a full 24 hours to cook a whole hog, and techniques vary. Of the 36 teams competing at Memphis in May this year, most say the key is to cook the pig slowly over low heat, keep it moist by injecting apple juice and other liquids and retain as much of the fat as possible. First place went to the Shed BBQ & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Meet some of the more colorful competitors on the following pages, and check out memphisinmay.org for full results. Photography: Joe York
Bad boy bikers meet badass barbecue at Mac’s Speed Shop, a restaurant housed in a former classic Charlotte, North Carolina transmission shop and car wash. Jeff Del Mastro, general manager, and Kevin Kuruc, executive chef, prepare their pig for competition. The team has had two top-five finishes and this year won first place in the tomato sauce category. “This pig is a Yorkshire and Duroc heritage breed,” Mac’s J.B. McCarty says. “What’s interesting about these pigs is the amount of fat that they have. That fat is so important when you’re cooking for 24 hours. It’s going to flavorize, moisturize and tenderize the meat.”
Craig Wilkerson of Cordova, Tennessee’s Will Be Cue cuts spare ribs out of his hog. “We’re going to get our seasonings, our rubs and our injections down in there,” he explains. The team placed fourth in the whole hog category last year and first in 2006.
In the tent of Little Rock, Arkansas-based Whole Hog Café, Sarge and Archie Davis, right, carefully prepare Wilbur and Walter for the grill. They’ve been competing at Memphis in May for 15 years, but it doesn’t get easier. “Every time you cook, it’s a new challenge,” they note.
Paging Hammible Lecter…
“It’s more of a party now,” says Whole Hog Café’s Steve Lucci. “There’s not as many serious teams as there used to be.”
No Jell-O shots or fussy decorations for Will Shelton and Shorty of Pickens, South Carolina’s Carolina Traveler, whose headquarters are a military tent. Shelton likes to keep his eyes on the prize. “There’s $36,000 at stake,” he says. “We’re about business.” That focus paid off as the team claimed third place.
Melissa Cookston, pitmaster of Yazoo’s Delta Q in Hernando, Mississippi, placed second in whole hog this year. “The first six hours are the most critical,” Cookston says, and she should know; her team was named grand champion in 2010 and 2012.
Maybe New Yorkers don’t know a lot about barbecue, but Ed McFarland and Rob Shawger of NYC’s Salty Rinse still know how to party. “Rinsing is when you rinse your glass out with your next drink,” Shawger explains. “This is our first year here. It’s a learning experience.”
“We’re about having a good time,” says Lee Pope of Crispy Critters. “This is the only sport that requires you to have a great party and eat the best food around.”
Guess this Crispy Critters hog, all blinged out for the festivities, got the memo...