Chew On This

Weigl: What do barbecue cooks cook when not cooking ’cue?

aweigl@newsobserver.comJune 25, 2013 

I wanted to know what competitive barbecue cooks cook when they don’t have to cook barbecue.

That’s what I got to see Friday night when I judged the Peak City Pig Fest’s Anything Butt competition. The contest gives competitors the opportunity to show off their cooking chops beyond the realm of barbecue.

In fact, the rules prohibit the teams from entering any dish in the Anything Butt contest that they could enter in Saturday’s prize-winning barbecue contest: chicken, pork shoulder, ribs, Boston butt and beef brisket. The Friday night contest has two categories: dessert and non-dessert.

This is the second year for Peak City Pig Fest, which attracted an estimated 20,000 people to downtown Apex on Saturday. The competition is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The event, which is organized by the Apex Sunrise Rotary Club, raised money for two charities: Operation Coming Home and Western Wake Crisis Ministry.

I was one of 12 judges for Friday night’s event. While my table of six judges only got to taste half of what was entered, what we did taste was quite impressive. There was prosciutto-wrapped shrimp stuffed with cheese, shrimp and grits, a beef filet topped with lump crabmeat, spicy beef tacos with grilled Anaheim peppers and corn, and a grilled scallop nestled inside a rosette of bacon. And for dessert, there was strawberry trifle, roasted banana cake, blueberry cobbler and a white chocolate tart covered with strawberries, blueberries and kiwi slices.

After the judging, I took the opportunity to stroll among the cook teams with names such as Evel-Que-Nievel, Smoke-N-My-I’s and Beer Meets Grill. I admired their set ups. Some teams traveled in well-equipped motor homes. Others had only a Weber bullet smoker and a tailgating tent.

I chatted with a couple members of last year’s champion team, Pelletheads.com. The name comes from an online forum for competitive barbecue teams. The half a dozen men met online and traveled from Pasadena, Calif.; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; and elsewhere to compete in Apex.

One of them was Billy Merrill of Ayden, who cooked up shrimp and grits for the team’s Anything Butt competition. His recipe calls for Anson Mills stone-ground yellow grits, mascarpone cheese, smoked gouda cheese and European butter.

“Typically, Anything Butt is a steak and tenderloin competition,” Merrill said. “My idea was to give the judges something they probably wouldn’t find in this competition. Hopefully, it would land on a table where enough judges would like it.”

Not far away was the Redneck Scientific team of Raleigh. This was their third competition in as many weekends. Brian and Shannon Turner compete with their friend Jerry Stephenson. Stephenson, who sells a line of smokers and grills and runs a catering company, is in charge of the meat. The Turners help Stephenson but also took charge of the team’s entries in the Anything Butt contest.

“It gives Brian and myself an opportunity to express ourselves,” Shannon Turner explained.

The opportunity was not wasted; Shannon Turner’s white chocolate fruit tart took first place in the dessert contest.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the quality of the food. I mean, really, what did I expect from people who travel in motor homes to spend their weekends competing in cooking contests. I can only hope I get invited back next year.

Weigl: 919-829-4848, aweigl@newsobserver.com or on Twitter, @andreaweigl.

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