My fame as a barbecue blogger has spread so far and grown so exponentially that I was invited to the 3rd Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking in Lumberton, North Carolina. Now, if you live on the East Coast, you probably have driven through Lumberton, or at least past it. It’s a reasonable stopping point for people traveling I-95 between Florida and New York. Motels, stores, and restaurants, many well past their sell-by dates, line access roads on both sides of the interstate for several miles. It’s not much of an advertisement for the city, but then there are unappealing areas of all cities, great and small. Lumberton, it turns out when you get off the Interstate, has a lovely historic district, and that was the site of the 3rd Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking — at Dan Kenney’s 1910 home with its huge back yard.
I imagine that the genesis of the event was in Dan’s excellent blog, Coach4aday, which you should read. A few years ago, Dan did a year-long series, Beer of the Day, in which he highlighted a different beer every day. That naturally had Dan and friends sampling 365 different beers, and if a bunch of guys are sampling beers in North Carolina, nothing could be more natural than for them to start talking about cooking a whole pig. What’s extraordinary is that they actually did it. Most of us would still be sitting around drinking beer and talking about it. But Dan Kenney is the sort of person who starts out as a basketball coach and winds up as the Chief of Staff to the University Chancellor. He gets things done, and he has some can-do friends.
They’re a diverse bunch, folks from all over. Giuseppe “Joe” Terranova came to the US from Sicily as a teenager, Pedro “Tito” Massol is from the Bronx and brings a lechon asado outlook to the pig, Don Metzger (not pictured) and Ron Roach are both from Ohio, Ken Ransom is a Lumbee Indian from the local area,* Carey Read grew up in Lumberton, and Joe Osman is from North Carolina Piedmont. Dan is from Northern New Jersey.
Of course, none of them had actually ever cooked a whole pig before. Undaunted, they started by borrowing a big portable smoker. There’s Dan.
Next they looked at Youtube videos. They bought a pig, and the rest is, well, a love story.
Here are the 2018 chefs — Dan, Joe Terranova, Don, and Tito.
Joe Osman was off campaigning to be District Attorney (vote for him), and Ron and Carey were in New York to see a play. I don’t want to be judgmental, but that’s ill-considered scheduling.
Let’s look at that pig again, right before they flipped it to be skin side down, and dry for picking.
That’ll draw a crowd, and the Beer Snob Pig Picking was attended by 50 or 60 people. Dan and company provided that beautiful pig, and everyone brought a dish to share and, of course, some beer. The event as scheduled from 4:00 to 7:00, but lasted a lot longer, as events do when friends get together. I got there early, at Dan’s invitation, and started picking at the pig at every opportunity.
Note my laser-like focus. Also note that my pants are baggy and bunched at the back. That’s at the beginning of the event, at my first opportunity to pick off a lot of meat. When you go to a beer and whole pig event, you need to plan ahead to allow room to grow.
And here’s a posed picture of me and Dan that captures me picking some more pig while he silently judges my beer selection.
There is nothing like pulling meat and skin off a whole pig. And if you’re standing up and don’t use a plate, the pork doesn’t have any calories. I keep telling myself that.
Around 6:00, the team pulled the pig apart and put the meat in pans to serve.
I helped with the picking, but nothing I picked made it into the pan.
We all gathered in a circle, joined hands, and Grace was led by the local Presbyterian minister. As is traditional, Dan gave out three Pigs Foot awards to deserving citizens. And then people hit the buffet. First the table —
There’s a lot of good food there, and I wish I could credit everyone who brought some. I do think Myra Kenney made the banana pudding. God loves people who make such good banana pudding. And cookies. And Jose Reyes’ rice with onions was delicious.
After nearly filling their plate, people went for the star of the show, the meat.
The meat was delicious, moist flavorful … succulent. The last whole pig I had was at a high-end luau in Hawaii, and this was much better. Dan added what he called an Alabama barbecue sauce, a home-made mixture of vinegar, red pepper, oil, and a muscadine wine from Duplin County. It had a nice bite and went well with the meat, and the sweetness from the wine didn’t obscure the meat flavor at all. You can live a lot of years and not eat anything as good as that pig.
Oh — the beer. People brought an incredible range of beers to share, many in those larger sizes craft beers often come in that lend themselves to sampling, and sample we did. We were invited to put our names and the beers we brought on a chart. This picture, bad as it is, will give you a sense of the range of beers.
Some people skipped the chart because they had brought light beers, the sort of beer they like to drink. Bringing a Michelob Ultra to a beer snob event takes courage, but then a maple bacon coffee porter is not for everyone. And this is America, where you can drink whatever beer you like (although some people may silently judge your beer selection). Actually, I mention the Michelob Ultra just so I can tell about a guy who came to dinner at our house with a 12-pack of Michelob Ultra. He claimed that if you were on a low carb diet, you could still drink up to 12 Michelob Ultras a day. (Do not try this at home.) I brought some DC Corruption, which is nothing to be snobbish about, but does celebrates our local industry.
What a wonderful, wonderful event! Nancy and I met some great people, friends of Dan from UNC Pembroke, neighbors, people of all ages, occupations, and backgrounds. We met folks from anywhere from Colorado to England, all equally open and friendly. I left full, happy, and, best of all, invited to attend the 4th Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking next year. It’s on my calendar. I can’t wait to pick at another pig, see some good people, and explore Lumberton some more. Think of the things you pass by if you never get off the Interstate
*Robeson County has some 50,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe, and there are another 10,000 in neighboring counties. It’s easily the largest tribe east of the Mississippi. The Lumbees won national attention in 1958 when armed Lumbees routed the Klan in the Battle Of Hayes Pond, and drove them out of the county. UNC Pembroke was founded as the Croatan Normal School back in the 1800s as a school for Indians. It now has an unusually well mixed enrollment, including the largest percentage of international students in the state.