North Carolina Barbeque

Some from North Carolina believe North Carolina barbeque to be one of the most important contributions to international cuisine. Barbecue has had a long and distinguished history in North Carolina. Barbeque finds it way into political campaigns, church fundraisers, festivals and just about everywhere else. North Carolinians have celebrated their barbeque in song, story, poetry, literature and electronic media.

In North Carolina, the word "barbeque" means roast pork, often the entire pig. In a lot of places, types of barbeque vary by sauces. In Tarheel country, they consider barbequing the entire cooking process, not just the ingredients.

Where the North Carolina barbeque phenomena began isn't really known. It could be traced to slavery, to the traditional Scottish/Irish Boar Roast or even to Native American cooking techniques. Today North Carolina produces the second highest number of hogs in the country, providing a wide selection of roasting carcasses. What is certain is that the practice has almost always included a slow-roasting process, over a low fire of oak or hickory, which lasts most of the day.

The hog roast, or as some of the locals call it "pig pickin'", is the heart of North Carolina culinary culture. The process begins very early in the morning when one or two barbequers dress the hog carcass and light the fires. For the last hundred years pigs have been roasted over wood and charcoal fires, but for the last two decades more and more barbecuers have switched to cleaner burning propane flames, which some argue deprive the pork of its traditional smoky flavor.

No matter what method is used, the roasting is almost always done in a "pig cooker", a fuel oil drum which has been sawed in half, welded to an axel and a trailer hitch and otherwise altered for the purpose. These cooks can get quite elaborate, and almost as much breath is wasted on the merits of particular designs as on the proper way to roast and season the hog. The hog is laid upon the grill over the flame, doused with sauce and the lid is closed.

For the remainder of the day the roasting team stands around the big black steel tank and "watches the pig" - though little actual watching goes on. Every hour on the hour the lid is raised and the carcass is again liberally doused with sauce, inspected for progress and then closed up again.

There are two different styles of North Carolina barbecue sauce, Eastern and Western. In both cases the sauce is vinegar-based and is heavily seasoned; the largest difference is that the Western, or Lexington style sauce adds a small amount of tomato-base to the sauce, and also roasts pork shoulders in preference to the whole hog. That's the only difference, however these tiny differences have caused near blood feuds between proponents of the two different styles.

Barbecuing is so competitive in North Carolina that the state boasts no fewer than twenty five annual cook-offs. Most of these are in the Eastern part of the state and therefore the whole hog/vinegar sauce method is emphasized, including the North Carolina Championship Pork Cook-Off, sponsored by the North Carolina Pork Producers Association, the Newport Pig Cookin' Contest. Adherents to the Western style gather yearly at the Lexington Barbecue Festival to celebrate the pork shoulder/tomato sauce style in Lexington, North Carolina - a town that boasts twenty barbecue restaurants that serve 17,000 people a year.

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