Like others of my relentlessly advancing years, I often feel like standards are deteriorating, that many things are worse than they used to be. Often, I am right, of course, starting with the replacement of cane sugar with corn syrup in Coca Colas. I’m all the more pleased, therefore, when I find good things that are getting better. And one of my favorite treats is the Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking in Lumberton.
Regular readers are familiar with the genesis of the event, as described in my post on the 3rd Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking. It’s much more than a chance to eat great pork and drink great beer, although eating great pork and drinking great beer is a highlight of a well-lived life. Lumberton was hit hard by a hurricane last year. There was a lot of flooding and devastating losses. But it is a resilient town, with more than its share of good people.
The host, Dan Kenney, is a remarkable person. You can get a flavor of the man here and here, and especially by following his blog, coach4aday. And Dan is surrounded by other remarkable people, of whom you find many in Lumberton. These include, but are hardly limited to, Giuseppe “Joe” Terranova, who came to the US from Sicily as a teenager; Pedro “Tito” Massol from the Bronx; Don Metzger and Ron Roach, both from Ohio; Ken Ransom, a local Lumbee Indian; Carey Read of Lumberton; and Joe Osman from the North Carolina Piedmont. Add Dan, who’s from New Jersey, and you have quite a varied group.
This is the group that started the Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking. They were sitting around with Dan, having a beer or two, and decided to try cooking a whole hog. Many’s the time I’ve sat around with friends drinking beer and talking about cooking a whole hog, but not one person, least of all me, ever has taken a single concrete step toward cooking a pig — not even looking into where we might get a whole pig. But folks in Lumberton are made of sterner stuff, and they actually cooked a whole hog. I’m still in awe.
Among other steps, for the last three years the group has borrowed a smoker from a friend, James Granger. Here’s the smoker in action last year:
I chose that picture because it shows the gas line from the propane tank. They borrowed that smoker from James again this year, and found its Achilles heel. A fire broke out in that gas line, rendering the smoker unusable. That, friends, is a Class 1 disaster. You’ve invited 100 or so friends for dinner and you have nothing to serve them. But in Lumberton, people find a way or make one. If disaster strikes in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? James Granger.
James brought over his other smoker. (James is from Montgomery, Alabama, so he naturally has two portable smokers.) This second smoker uses charcoal rather than gas. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. As all the world knows, things taste better cooked over coals. Take a look —
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Think how Keats would have waxed had he looked upon such a pig rather than simple sheep, clear rills, and daffodils.
James, Dan, and Jeff Kenney did the cooking. There’s Jeff, starting to cut the meat for serving. (Jeff is the Executive Chef for a group of Knoxville restaurants, including a sushi bar, Nama, and Cru, a wine bar.)
Here they are with your correspondent.
Dan, James, and Jeff enjoyed the Chef’s Privilege of picking at the meat, and I wormed my way in for some picking as a soi-disant Member of the Barbecue Press, and pretty well stayed there, picking away.
The pork was just great — even better than last year. I’m confident that the switch from gas to charcoal was a plus, and you learn by doing. It was everything you want from pork — tender, rich, moist, and full of flavor. And the sauce — James made the sauce, which is a blend of the red sauces with which he was familiar growing up in Montgomery, and the vinegar and pepper sauces of Eastern North Carolina. It highlights and enhances the flavor of the meat.
The crowd (82 people this year) gathered, as every year, in a large circle for words of welcome
and the presentation of the four Pig Foot Awards. Naturally, James got one this year.
We joined hands as the food was blessed, and the table opened up. I should have taken a picture of the food-laden table, but I’d have had to do a video or a panorama shot to get it all in, and my fingers were covered in pork — not to mention the fact that no one was about to delay eating until I took a picture. I filled a plate with more pork, of course, and with more things than I can remember. There was a very good rice pilaf, some of that great red slaw from Lexington No. 1, and, well, the rest is a blur. It was all delicious. If you ever get invited to a pot luck in Lumberton, go.
I never got to the dessert section of the buffet, and intentionally turned my back on it after I finished my entree plate so I wouldn’t be tempted to fill the “dessert shelf” in my much-expanded stomach. You know how every Thanksgiving, even after you’ve eaten so much turkey, dressing, oyster stuffing, bourbon sweet potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes, etc., etc., that you had to tamp the last few bites of potato down your throat with a spoon, you still manage to eat slices of two or three pies. That’s the dessert shelf.
I’ve neglected the Beer Snob part of the event. Everyone listed the beer(s) that they had brought on a large board.
By the time the list was closed, there were 107 unique beers listed. I didn’t try all of them, of course, but red Solo cups were available and much in use so that people could sample multiple beers without acting like they were still in college. I brought a local Stout and a couple of IPAs that I wanted to try anyway, but they paled in comparison to some truly outstanding home brews and some of the other craft beers.
I love going to Lumberton. More and more, Americans live in bubbles, in neighborhoods in which they never interact with people with different views. It drives me crazy — don’t get me started. There’s a book about the phenomenon — The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded Americans is Tearing Us Apart. I don’t see that in Lumberton — certainly not at the Beer Snob Pig Picking, which is a gathering of all sorts of people from all sorts of places. Maybe it’s having both a large university and a large military population, both bringing in people from all over the United States — and beyond. Maybe part of it is having to come together to deal with hurricanes in 2016 and 2018. Maybe it’s Dan Kenney. Whatever it is, it gives me a chance to reconnect with friends and make some new ones. It makes for a wonderful break from the Washington bubble.
In addition to really good people, there’s really good barbecue, and really good beer. Based on this year’s pork, I’ve given the Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking my Top Places tag.
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