APEX — Thousands of people turned up in downtown Apex on Saturday to reignite one of the Souths most heated debates vinegar- or tomato-based sauce? Wet or dry rub?
The second annual Pig Fest was a meeting of 36 barbecue-cooking teams in the Triangles only competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
One of the nations largest sanctioning organizations, KCBS oversees more than 400 competitions across the United States. The winner of Saturdays competition gets a berth in the national competition the American Royal in Kansas City.
Contestants are judged on cooking chicken, pork, ribs and brisket. The team with the highest overall score wins.
This forces competitors to be well-rounded, said organizer Graham Wilson, of the Apex Rotary Sunshine Club.
It can be a little more of a challenge because teams have to cook four different types of meat, he said.
Saturdays teams were up for the challenge. Some included cooks from different parts of the country, each of whom focused on a strong suit.
Rich Campana, of Kings Q out of Raleigh, said the teams cooks include a native North Carolinian to cook the pork and a Texan to handle the beef brisket. Campana, who is from the Midwest, said hes in charge of the groups signature sauce, Dimples.
Weve got influences from all over the country, Campana said. We kind of appeal to all specialties.
Pig Fest attracted a couple of out-of-state teams as well, including last years reigning champion, Pelletheads. The groups chief cook, Bentley Meredith, is from Hanford, Calif. Like Kings Q, they try to mix it up.
No one from this area wouldve ever tasted our barbecue, so I think that helped, he said of last years victory.
Intense for the judges
Both teams said cooking for judges is entirely different from cooking for ordinary people. Todd Meyers, a Nashville, Tenn.-based member of Pelletheads, said samples he cooks for judges are typically bolder than the meat he cooks for customers.
Youve only got one bite to give the judges, he said. Its going to be more intense than what youd cook at home or cook in a restaurant.
The judges said they enjoy the opportunity.
Ben Freeman and James Cooke were among the 36 judges at this years competition, after their team, Hot Roscoe and the Q Review, placed 17th last year.
Freeman called one the samples of brisket he ate one of the best pieces of meat Ive ever tasted.
You get to try a lot of cooking styles you dont normally taste, he said. Im in a protein coma right now.
Variety of sauces
Judges evaluate the samples on three criteria appearance, taste and texture. The last two criteria are subjective, and the sheer variety of sauces from around the country, (vinegar, tomatoes, mustard and even mayonnaise can be used as bases) fuel the Souths endless debate over grilled meat.
Wilson, himself a certified judge, said he likes sauce thats flavorful without overpowering the meat. The meat itself should have the right amount of moisture and tenderness.
Local attendees kept their list of criteria simple. Terry Stratton, of Fuquay-Varina, who was there with her husband, David, said her favorite was BBQ Propah, out of Raleigh.
It was slightly sweet, she said, and vinegar-based the way it should be in this part of the world.