Pig Fest brings intense competition to Apex

dquizon@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2013 

  • Top finishers

    These teams had the top three scores overall, including all four categories – chicken, ribs, pork and beef brisket:

    • First place overall: Killer B’s, Evans, Ga.

    • Second place: Redneck Scientific, Clayton, N.C.

    • Third place: Smokin’ Scully’s, Goldsboro

    The rest of the winners are posted at www.peakcitypigfest.com

— Thousands of people turned up in downtown Apex on Saturday to reignite one of the South’s 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 Triangle’s only competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

One of the nation’s largest sanctioning organizations, KCBS oversees more than 400 competitions across the United States. The winner of Saturday’s 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.

Saturday’s 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 King’s Q out of Raleigh, said the team’s 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 he’s in charge of the group’s signature sauce, Dimples.

“We’ve 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 year’s reigning champion, Pelletheads. The group’s chief cook, Bentley Meredith, is from Hanford, Calif. Like King’s Q, they try to mix it up.

“No one from this area would’ve ever tasted our barbecue, so I think that helped,” he said of last year’s 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.

“You’ve only got one bite to give the judges,” he said. “It’s going to be more intense than what you’d 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 year’s 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 I’ve ever tasted.”

“You get to try a lot of cooking styles you don’t normally taste,” he said. “I’m 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 South’s endless debate over grilled meat.

Wilson, himself a certified judge, said he likes sauce that’s 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.”

Quizon: 919-836-5768

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